Sporting Life at The Fashion & Textile History Gallery, FIT Museum

Although it is often the larger exhibition space and the Valerie Steele and Patricia Mears organized shows that capture the spotlight at the Museum at FIT, over recent years the Fashion and Textile History Gallery has also housed some really interesting shows.  These exhibitions function dually as an exploration of a concept, while simultaneously providing an informative overview of fashion history through time.

The current exhibition on view: Sporting Life, runs through November 4th and is the work of Jennifer Farley and Colleen Hill, who were recently announced as Richard Martin Exhibition Award Recipients by the Costume Society of America.  This award celebrates their recent co-curated show Eco-Fashion: Going Green.

Sporting Life explores the symbiotic relationship between active sportswear and fashionable dress over time, and as usual, Farley and Hill provide a well-researched pairing of informative wall & label copy alongside over 100 objects from the formidable permanent collection of the museum at FIT.  The exhibition begins with a telling quote from Bradley Quinn’s Techno Fashion: “From sportswear, fashion has learned to protect and equip the body, while from fashion, sportswear has learned to decorate the body and tailor clothing to follow its shape.”  This reciprocal influence is demonstrated throughout the show as technological innovation alters the structure and properties of the textiles that are used to create garments, and social change dictates the aesthetics and ideals that shape them.

Apparel, accessories, textiles, and periodicals illustrate sixteen different sports from roughly 1890-2011.  On display are items such as the above-pictured blue cotton twill gym suit from 1896 with bloomer trousers, a black wool bicycling ensemble from 1888, and a quintessential Norma Kamali gray cotton knit tunic and knickers set from 1981.  Some of the older pieces feel appropriately anachronistic, while others, such as a Claire McCardell activewear ensemble from 1945-55, appear as if they could be found in a fashionable boutique today.

There are many objects on display that merit time and contemplation, and some personal favorites were the Yohji Yamamoto wool gabardine coatdress from 2001 that channels a Victorian Women’s riding habit, as well as a Women’s linen duster from ca. 1900, that demonstrates the importance of the duster in an era of open automobiles.

The swim section is fun and vibrant with a charming grouping of bathing caps and slippers, and an impressive chronology of swimsuits that include four Gernreich pieces from 1963-71 that refreshingly does not feature the monokini–although label copy ensures that viewers do not forget this scandalous contribution to fashion history!

Whether you are an equestrian at heart, cyclist, or ski-bunny—the show has something that is sure to capture the interest of everyone.  The grouping of objects also sometimes mixes the high and the low such as a pair of Manolo Blahnik Stiletto boots from 1994, which subvert and embrace the aesthetic of a neighboring pair of L.L. Bean Hunting shoes from 1984.


There are Sporting Life talks & tours taking place on Monday, September 26, at 6pm, Wednesday, October 12, at 10:30am, and Wednesday, October 26, at10:30am.  Please see the museum website for more info.


Sportswear has been a popular topic of interest at Worn Through also.  Click on the following links to read Tove‘s musings on Bathing suits, Morals and Technology or Bicycle Chic and Athletic AestheticsMonica wrote about a Sportswear symposium and exhibition that took place at the Goldstein museum in 2008, From Sportswear to Streetwear: American Innovation, and Heather wrote about Olympic Fashion and History, as well as compiled some athletically inclined reading suggestions that you can find here.


Related Articles

Leave a Comment

Monthly Archive


Available now: Punk Style by Worn Through founder, Monica Sklar, PhD. Find it at :, Powell's Books, or a bookseller near you.