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Sporting Life Exhibition

Cheri Fein, executive director, Public and Media Relations
[email protected] or 212 217.4700

The Museum at FIT presents Sporting Life, an exhibition exploring the relationship between active sportswear and fashion from the mid-19th century through the present. Clothing for sporting activities has often influenced fashion—and vice versa. In fact, sportswear manufacturers have been responsible for many innovations in performance apparel, even as they recognize that fashionability is an important factor. Indeed, much of today's active sportswear is just as fashionable as it is functional.

1800s gym suit Norma Kamali tunic and knickers 1880s bicycling ensemble
Gym suit, blue cotton twill, 1896, USA, museum purchase Norma Kamali, tunic and knickers, gray cotton knit, 1981, USA, gift of Oscar de la Renta Bicycling ensemble, black wool, circa 1888, USA, museum purchase

Featuring more than 100 garments, accessories, and textiles representing 16 sports, Sporting Life will discuss the history of active wear over the past 150 years, examining the changes in silhouette, construction, and technology that have improved the performance and aesthetic of active sportswear. Because fashion designers often draw inspiration from the clothing worn by athletes, the exhibition will also juxtapose active sportswear garments with ready-to-wear styles that they have inspired.  

Sporting Life will be organized thematically, by sport, with an introductory gallery dedicated to exercise and dance. As the cultural importance of physical fitness has increased exponentially since the late 19th century, the exhibition will include a number of women's gym wear garments, beginning with a bifurcated gymnasium suit, circa1896. Stylish active wear from the mid-20th century will be highlighted by a Claire McCardell striped ensemble with matching Capezio ankle boots. Examples such as Norma Kamali's fashionable sweatsuit from 1981 demonstrate the less rigid distinctions between fashion and sport attire during the second half of the 20th century.  

Like gymnasium exercise, bicycling was one of the few activities during the late 19th century for which women could wear trouser-style garments. Sporting Life will feature a circa 1888 woman's tailored bicycling ensemble, with a divided skirt that was designed for mobility as well as modesty. Bicycling boots from the same period will also be on view. Clothing for bicycling changed substantially during the 20th century, as evidenced by a 1985 mans cycling outfit by Raleigh/Giordana Sport, which utilized stretch materials and streamlined design for maximum performance in competitive racing. A contemporaneous Stephen Sprouse cycling-inspired menswear ensemble with spandex leggings will also be displayed.

Men's spandex outfits
Manolo Blahnik shoe
Left: Stephen Sprouse, mans T-shirt and leggings, neon green acrylic, spandex, metal, 1985, USA, gift of Stephen Sprouse, Inc.

Right: Raleigh/Giordana Sport, mans bicycling ensemble, multicolor polyester knit, nylon/spandex blend, chamois, 1985, possibly Italy, gift of Raleigh Cycle Co.
Manolo Blahnik, boot, tan and hunter green leather, rubber, c. 1994, England, gift of C. Hooper

The earliest tennis garment on view in the exhibition, circa 1903, will be a two-piece summer ensemble with shirtwaist style blouse and long skirt. By the 1920s, tennis clothing strongly resembled chic sportswear, and in fact, many sportswear designers also outfitted professional tennis players. The exhibition will pair a 1926 silk Chanel dress, with a loose cut and a pleated skirt, with a similar white cotton tennis dress, circa 1926, to illustrate this relationship between sport and fashion. Twentieth-century tennis styles, such as a 1971 dress by tennis star Chrissie Evert for Puritan, have become increasingly streamlinedand a great deal shorterbut the traditional white color remains popular.

As with tennis, clothing associated with recreational sailing has a strong connection to fashion. The exhibition will include a 19th century red and white, sailor-style ensemble; a Norman Norell sailor dress, circa 1957; and a Stephen Jones sailor cap, from the mid-1980s. In addition, a mans crew uniform and a regatta ensemble, both from the 1920s, will showcase clothing worn for more competitive boating sports.

Garments worn for huntingone of the oldest forms of sporting activitymust provide protection as well as functionality. The exhibition will display a Norfolk suit, circa 1926, an ensemble which was popular for hunting and outdoor country activities. This relaxed style, first introduced in the 1860s, was constructed to allow for ease of motion. Sporting Life will also feature a mans shooting jacket from 1941, which features extra padding at the shoulder for comfort. The practical design of hunting garments has inspired designers such as Yves Saint Laurent and Jean Paul Gaultier, and the exhibition will include examples of their work. Also displayed will be a pair of sportswear-inspired Manolo Blahnik high-heeled shoes based on classic utilitarian duck boots. 

Blue sailor hat
Red and white dress
Stephen Jones, sailor hat, blue and white cotton gingham, mid-1980s, England, gift of Barbara Jakobso Haas Brothers, two-piece dress, red and white cotton, circa 1894, USA, museum purchase

Many early examples of active sportswear, including garments for swimming, were made of heavy wool. The exhibition will feature a wide variety of women's swimwear, ranging from a modest, two-piece wool suit from the 1850s to the body-revealing styles created by designer Rudi Gernreich during the 1960s. Swimwear also has benefited from the development of new textile technologies, including Lastex and spandex, and today's competitive swimwear has high performance functionality. The exhibition will include a swimsuit by Speedo, whose FastSkin FSII designs mimic sharkskin. Also featured will be the less functional but highly fashionable swimwear of Christian Lacroix, whose flashy 1990 beachwear ensemble has a coordinating swimsuit, scarf, hat, sunglasses, and shoes. Swimwear's influence on fashion will also be seen in the use of bikini-style tops in fashions by designers Azzedine Alaa and Halston.

Examining the development of modern skiwear during the 20th century, the exhibition will feature a wool ski suit, circa 1934, that bears the label Neva-Wet. This early attempt at waterproofing now seems primitive in comparison to the high-tech properties of Patagonia's nylon Super Alpine skiwear from 1995. The exhibition will also include a 1999 ensemble from Tommy Hilfiger and Gucci jacket, circa 1995, that are both fashionable interpretations of skiing styles.

Some synthetic materials most often utilized in active sportswear increasingly are being used in fashion garments—neoprene, for instance, a fabric commonly used in clothing for surfing and aquatic sports. The exhibition will display a neoprene wetsuit alongside a sporty 1994 Donna Karan dress, also made of neoprene.
In addition, the exhibition will have sections devoted to golf, skating, horseback riding, motoring, football, and baseball.

beachwear ensemble Gucci ski jacket Patagonia ensemble
Christian Lacroix, beachwear ensemble, multicolor nylon/spandex, silk, metallic synthetic straw, plastic, metallic leather, 1990, France, museum purchase Gucci (Tom Ford), ski jacket, pink polyester/nylon/spandex, circa 1995, Italy, gift of Dorothy Schefer Faux Patagonia, Super Alpine parka and ski pants, blue nylon, black ripstop nylon, 1995, USA, gift of Patagonia, Inc.

Sporting Life is being organized by Fred Dennis, Jennifer Farley, and Colleen Hill. The exhibition will be on view from May 25, 2011 through November 5, 2011, in the Fashion and Textile History Gallery at The Museum at FIT.

Exhibitions in the Fashion and Textile History Gallery are curated exclusively from The Museum at FIT's extensive collection.  Support for this exhibition has been provided by the Couture Council.  

A Fashion Museum

The Museum at FIT is the only museum in New York City dedicated solely to the art of fashion.  Best known for its innovative and award-winning exhibitions, which have been described by Roberta Smith in The New York Times as "ravishing," the museum has a collection of more than 50,000 garments and accessories dating from the 18th century to the present.  Like other fashion museums, such as the Muse de la Mode, the Mode Museum, and the Museo de la Moda, The Museum at FIT collects, conserves, documents, exhibits, and interprets fashion.  The museums mission is to advance knowledge of fashion through exhibitions, publications, and public programs. Visit www.fitnyc.edu/museum.

The Couture Council is a membership group of fashion enthusiasts that helps support the exhibitions and programs of The Museum at FIT. The Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion is given to a selected designer at a benefit luncheon held every September. For information on the Couture Council, call 212 217.4532 or email [email protected].

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Admission is free and open to the public.