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FIT Exhibit Explores Athletic Wear Through the Ages

By DNAinfo Staff on May 26, 2011 8:32am  | Updated on May 26, 2011 8:30am

By Tara Kyle

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

CHELSEA — From wool swimsuits and equestrian skirts to spandex tights and stiletto hunting boots, 150 years worth of sportswear is on view at a new show at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

"The Sporting Life," opening Wednesday, features garments from 16 different sports including dance, golf, skating and hunting.

The development of new textiles, such as Lycra and neoprene for non-industrial uses, drove many aesthetic changes, according to exhibit co-curator Colleen Hill.

Technological breakthroughs allowed women to discard wool swimwear, which, aside from being hot and uncomfortable, had a tendency to lose its shape quickly.

Sometimes, the change in styles was prompted by safety concerns, Hill said. The skirts worn by female horseback riders had a tendency to get caught in the saddle during a fall, leaving women dragged along by the animal.

The exhibit also demonstrates how design elements from sportswear worked their way into everyday street fashions.

While sports have long influenced day-to-day menswear styles — for example, hunting jackets paired with pants for a city look — that didn't begin to happen for women until the turn of the century.

Before that, items like the petticoats women wore while cycling were considered appropriate only for very specific settings.

"It was important that women stayed near their bicycles when they wore those, " Hill said. "Otherwise it would have been quite risqué."

Nowadays, with both men and women decked out in spandex, those modesty concerns are moot.

Other items at the exhibit reflecting the reciprocal relationship between athletic gear and ready-to-wear include a pair of Manolo Blahnik stilettos resembling L.L. Bean hunting shoes.

In the past few seasons, sportswear inspired trends making the strongest showings have included baseball jackets, hunting wear and retro cycling caps, according to Hill.

"The Sporting Life" runs through November 5 at the Museum at FIT at Seventh Avenue and West 27th Street.