The Comprehensive History of Summer Olympics Fashion

All the spandex! All the short-shorts!

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We're nearly at the launch of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil, where we celebrate the greatest athletes of our time from around the world. But their performances in the modern age owe those split-second wins not only to athletic prowess, but to the breathable, streamlined sportswear they wear, too. Here, we look back on how athletic fashion have changed since the first modern Olympic games began, from the modest floor-length skirts of the early 1900s to today's expanding range of aerodynamic, sweat-wicking technology.

<p>Greek shepherd Spyridon Louis is the winner of the 40 km marathon at the first modern Olympics games held in Athens in 1986. Women are not <a href="http://visforvintage.net/2012/08/03/olympics-sportswear-a-complete-history/" target="_blank">formally invited</a> to the event, though they're not explicitly barred. </p>
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1896

Greek shepherd Spyridon Louis is the winner of the 40 km marathon at the first modern Olympics games held in Athens in 1986. Women are not formally invited to the event, though they're not explicitly barred.

<p>Helen Provost won the silver medal at the tennis women's singles in Paris, and in a full-length skirt, no less. Females taking part <a href="http://visforvintage.net/2012/08/03/olympics-sportswear-a-complete-history/" target="_blank">had no choice</a> but to play in ankle-length dresses with the long sleeves and high necks of the time period, plus shoes with a heel. </p>
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1900

Helen Provost won the silver medal at the tennis women's singles in Paris, and in a full-length skirt, no less. Females taking part had no choice but to play in ankle-length dresses with the long sleeves and high necks of the time period, plus shoes with a heel.

<p>The winner of the Ladies' National Round Archery at the London Olympic Games, Miss Queenie Newall. Yass queen!</p>
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1908

The winner of the Ladies' National Round Archery at the London Olympic Games, Miss Queenie Newall. Yass queen!

<p>Danish gymnasts practicing for the London Olympics. </p>
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1908

Danish gymnasts practicing for the London Olympics.

<p>A Danish gymnast flying off the pommel horse during practice in London. </p>
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1908

A Danish gymnast flying off the pommel horse during practice in London.

<p>The San Francisco Olympic water polo team in 1920.  </p>
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1920

The San Francisco Olympic water polo team in 1920.

<p>Mexican athletes before boarding a ship to the Olympic games in Paris. </p>
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1924

Mexican athletes before boarding a ship to the Olympic games in Paris.

<p>The women's 800 meter race in Amsterdam, Netherlands. This is the <a href="http://visforvintage.net/2012/08/03/olympics-sportswear-a-complete-history/" target="_blank">first year</a> women are allowed to compete in track and field, following pressure from women's leagues as rights for women expand throughout the world. </p>
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1928

The women's 800 meter race in Amsterdam, Netherlands. This is the first year women are allowed to compete in track and field, following pressure from women's leagues as rights for women expand throughout the world.

<p>U.S. swimmer Jane Fauntz ready to plunge into the pool in Chicago, 1928. At this time, women's swimsuits are becoming more streamlined for water sports, and females are <a href="http://visforvintage.net/2012/08/03/olympics-sportswear-a-complete-history/" target="_blank">no longer prohibited</a> from the sport for showing their legs (like they were in the 1908 Stockholm Olympics). </p>
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1928

U.S. swimmer Jane Fauntz ready to plunge into the pool in Chicago, 1928. At this time, women's swimsuits are becoming more streamlined for water sports, and females are no longer prohibited from the sport for showing their legs (like they were in the 1908 Stockholm Olympics).

<p>This year sees the introduction of the Olympic Village, where athletes <a href="http://visforvintage.net/2012/08/03/olympics-sportswear-a-complete-history/" target="_blank">are encouraged</a> to wear sportswear when off-duty and where uniforms to represent one's country become en vogue. The Olympics also introduced the winners' podium this year, showing off the winning athletes receiving medals.</p>
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1932

This year sees the introduction of the Olympic Village, where athletes are encouraged to wear sportswear when off-duty and where uniforms to represent one's country become en vogue. The Olympics also introduced the winners' podium this year, showing off the winning athletes receiving medals.

<p>German fencer Helene Mayer at the games in L.A.</p>
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1932

German fencer Helene Mayer at the games in L.A.

<p>A swimmer at the L.A. Olympics. </p>
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1932

A swimmer at the L.A. Olympics.

<p>German javelin-thrower Ellen Braumueller mid-throw at the games in L.A. </p>
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1932

German javelin-thrower Ellen Braumueller mid-throw at the games in L.A.

<p>Jules Noel, a French athlete who competed in the discus  and shot put, at the games in Los Angeles.  </p>
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1932

Jules Noel, a French athlete who competed in the discus and shot put, at the games in Los Angeles.

<p>American athlete Babe Zaharias holding a javelin and wearing her Olympic uniform. </p>
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1932

American athlete Babe Zaharias holding a javelin and wearing her Olympic uniform.

<p>On your mark, get set, go: The 100 meters sprint race at the game in Athens.  Comfortable sportswear is <a href="http://visforvintage.net/2012/08/03/olympics-sportswear-a-complete-history/" target="_blank">now de rigueur</a> for both female and male track and field athletes, seen here in loose shorts and fitted vests.  Jersey cotton and silk tops and trousers, tracksuits, and off-duty sports blazers become the norm, a departure from the hot wool suits that athletes wore in prior decades. </p>
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1936

On your mark, get set, go: The 100 meters sprint race at the game in Athens. Comfortable sportswear is now de rigueur for both female and male track and field athletes, seen here in loose shorts and fitted vests. Jersey cotton and silk tops and trousers, tracksuits, and off-duty sports blazers become the norm, a departure from the hot wool suits that athletes wore in prior decades.

<p>German women competing in the 4 x 100 meter dash race at the Berlin Olympics. </p>
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1936

German women competing in the 4 x 100 meter dash race at the Berlin Olympics.

<p>Jesse Owens, an American track and field athlete who walked away from the Summer Olympics in Berlin with four gold medals. </p>
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1936

Jesse Owens, an American track and field athlete who walked away from the Summer Olympics in Berlin with four gold medals.

<p>Jesse Owens and Helen Stephens, another American runner who won two gold medals that year, at the stadium in Berlin. </p>
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1936

Jesse Owens and Helen Stephens, another American runner who won two gold medals that year, at the stadium in Berlin.

<p>The American gold-medal-winning rowing team wearing headdresses in Berlin.</p>
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1936

The American gold-medal-winning rowing team wearing headdresses in Berlin.

<p>British Olympic women's fencing team having lunch on the lawn prior to the opening ceremony of the 1948 London Olympics. The A-line skirt <a href="http://visforvintage.net/2012/08/03/olympics-sportswear-a-complete-history/" target="_blank">becomes popular</a> for women's female uniforms. </p>
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1948

British Olympic women's fencing team having lunch on the lawn prior to the opening ceremony of the 1948 London Olympics. The A-line skirt becomes popular for women's female uniforms.

<p>Athletes pass the torch at the Opening Ceremony in London. After WWII, stretch fabrics in sportswear <a href="http://visforvintage.net/2012/08/03/olympics-sportswear-a-complete-history/" target="_blank">become more common</a>, since they're less restricting on the form during exercise. </p>
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1948

Athletes pass the torch at the Opening Ceremony in London. After WWII, stretch fabrics in sportswear become more common, since they're less restricting on the form during exercise.

<p>British Olympic canoeist Joyce Web taking her canoe out to train on the Thames River at Richmond. She's seen as one of Britain's best hopes for winning the kayak racing events at the 1952 Olympic games in Helsinki. </p>
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1949

British Olympic canoeist Joyce Web taking her canoe out to train on the Thames River at Richmond. She's seen as one of Britain's best hopes for winning the kayak racing events at the 1952 Olympic games in Helsinki.

<p>American swimmer Ronald Gora shaking hands with his Japanese opponent, Toru Gotu, in Helsinki following a race. In the '50s, we see the rise of functional <a href="http://visforvintage.net/2012/08/03/olympics-sportswear-a-complete-history/" target="_blank">synthetic fabrics</a> like Spandex and Lycra that are stretchy and often used to make swimwear.</p>
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1952

American swimmer Ronald Gora shaking hands with his Japanese opponent, Toru Gotu, in Helsinki following a race. In the '50s, we see the rise of functional synthetic fabrics like Spandex and Lycra that are stretchy and often used to make swimwear.

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1956

Wrestler V. Maneev of Russia at the games in Melbourne, Australia.

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1956

Great Britain's gold medal-winning fencer Gillian Sheen in Melbourne.

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1956

USA's Milton Campbell throwing a discus in the men's decathlon.

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1956

Danish equestrian Lis Hartel with her horse Jubilee at the Equestrian Olympic Games in Stockholm.

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1960

Wilma Rudolph, an American track and field racer who was considered the fastest woman alive in her time, wearing a straw hat and her team uniform at the Summer Olympics in Rome.

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1960

U.S. athletes at the Summer Olympics in 1960. The '60s sees the rise of coordinated tracksuits for men and women.

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