The 1990s was a decade of overlapping fashion trends and the onset of alternative styles. There was the rise of grunge and the decline of grunge, and the revival of hippie and retro accessories. Still, the ’90s were emblematic in their own right — a time of crimped hair, scrunchies and Cindy Crawford workout videos. Sports-influenced clothing and workout wear, in particular, were popular and paved the way for some iconic and unforgettable fashion trends.
No matter what garment you wore to the gym, it probably resembled a combination of fluorescent colors — pinks, greens, yellows, blues and oranges. These colors were often paired with other bright colors or plain black. Women and men both followed this fashion trend with everything from neon tracksuits to spandex tights, one ’80s trend that many failed to reject.
Spandex came in a variety of bright colors for women’s tights as well as workout outfits for weightlifters and wrestlers. It was the most common fabric for sports bras and tank tops and came in all shapes and sizes for bottoms: shorts, pants, singlets. The appeal was that they were easy to fit into. By the mid ’90s, most colorful spandex tights were replaced by black tights.
Compression shirts, a combination of Spandex and polyester, were the gear of choice for serious athletes and are still used today as men’s gym wear.
In the latter half of the ’90s, tracksuits reentered the game as the go-to outfit for warm-ups and workouts. The pants portion, usually with stripes down the sides, remodeled itself throughout the decade. For example, Adidas three-stripe track pants become a staple item for both males and females as the idea of loose-fitting clothing became widespread among both genders. These pants were worn both in and out of the gym and still paired with a full-front zip jacket.
If you thought regular track pants were boring, you probably invested in a pair of Zubaz pants. The creators, Bob Truax and Dan Stock, owned a Minnesota gym popular with bodybuilders. They created baggy shorts with an elastic waist band, in loud, distinctive patterns. The classic zebra pattern was the first look created for people who wanted to “Dare to Be Different.” With this slogan, they promoted the idea of comfort and style with more than just shorts. Zubaz long pants were meant to stretch and expand with your body as you worked out and make you look fly while doing so.
The ’90s were the peak of another unforgettable item: Umbro’s shorts. These shiny nylon shorts made their way from youth soccer games to casual workout wear. They had a distinct checkered pattern that was made popular by Manchester United and other soccer teams who represented the logo in a new wave of sports gear. Not only did these shorts come in a variety of crazy colors as well as classic black and white, but they dried quickly and reflected light, which made them the ideal summer shorts. Teenagers and young adults often paired them with Adidas sandals.
You cannot ignore the hoodies of the ’90s that sprouted from the use of tracksuits. The sweatshirt fad began later in the decade and is still popular today. Full-front zippers and over-the-head hoodies were essential for the sporty wardrobe. They were convenient and comfortable for exercising, especially because you could take it off when you sweat and put it back on to cover up on your way home.
Especially for aerobics or step class, high-ankled shoes became an admired athletic item. FILA, Reebok and Nike were just some of the companies that created sneakers for the fitness jockey, in many different styles. For example, if you played basketball in the ’90s, you probably have memories of Nike Air Adjust Force, which was famous for its removable straps and color variety. Any kind of Jordans were also the rage. In addition to high-top sneakers, gym junkies invested in cross-training shoes, such as the Nike Air Trainer.
While yoga pants have become a regular fashion item for the chic and sporty girl of the new millennium, they were introduced in the late ’90s as fashionable, spandex-based leggings for loungewear and gym attire. Today, you might see the straight-legged, skin-tight and capri versions of these pants, but in the ’90s, they were fit and flared and sometimes had spunky writing on the back.