These 30 Photos Show How Much Our Gym Clothes Have Changed Over the Years

Workout clothes through the years

To put it mildly, things have changed. Obviously, right? Well, for as many old trends as we’ve recycled, there are plenty of others we’ve actually forgotten.

The shift in culture is obvious in things like bodybuilding and even porn, but it’s clearest when it comes to fashion. From ultra-small briefs for lifting to windbreaker everything, gym clothes and workout style have taken a major turn.

Luckily, there are plenty of photos to look back on. Just remember: don’t laugh too hard. Even the weirdest of trends has a chance of coming back.

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Jim Conway, 1880​

The uniform for a major league pitcher was a little bit different back in the day. In the case of Jim Conway, it meant capri-like pants and a conductor-esque hat.

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​University of Chicago athlete, 1902

A University of Chicago athlete named Cahill poses in front of weight training equipment in a gymnasium at the University of Chicago.

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​Shot put training, 1903

It’s not all turtlenecks and long sleeves, though. This tank top-clad thrower clearly subscribes the modern-day saying of “sun’s out, guns out.”

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Athletes at the Jeffersonville Athletic Club, 1905​

So you probably wouldn’t pick these matching outfits for your Fantasy League uniforms, but they’re definitely reminiscent of the modern-day diaper.

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Jack Dempsey exercising, undated​

Jack Dempsey was known for being a boxing champion, hitting the ring as the heavyweight champ from 1919 to 1926. He also rocked something you might recognize: leggings.

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Exercising with weights, 1923​

In this case, an outfit from 1923 doesn’t seem so unusual. In fact, a tank top, t-shirt, and white shoes just might pass at any gym or workout class today.

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Virile Victor, 1930​

You’re probably not going to want to recreate this look when you head to the weight room. Dress pants aren’t the norm anymore, though tank tops have remained gym staples.

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​Babe Ruth sparring, 1932

Legendary baseball player Babe Ruth kept his shirt sleeved as he practiced boxing on the side. The excess length in his sleeves was in stark contrast to the shorter length of his shorts, a theme that continued throughout the 1900s.

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Frank Serany and Ed Kweller, 1935

Before drawstring basketball shorts and shiny, stretchy jerseys, there were belted, high-waisted shorts and tight tanks. The uniforms weren’t particularly practical or comfortable, so the official outfits have totally transformed.

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Training tips, 1939

Though we might refer to these shorts as Urkel-style, they’re way before his time. Generally, pants and shorts were worn higher (at times way above the waist) in the early 20th century.

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James Dean, undated

Before acting, James Dean played basketball. Notice the shoes? Chuck Taylor sneakers are still common, albeit more so on the street than on the court.

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Hans Luber, 1940

Hans Luber was a German diver and athlete, known for winning the silver medal at the 1912 Summer Olympics. In his case, not only are the guns out, the thighs (and presumably, the skies) are as well.

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American army football team, 1943​

Football uniforms have changed for the better. The fit has become tighter and the sleeves shorter. Most importantly, Padding has increased in order to ensure players’ comfort and safety.

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Joe Louis, undated

Boxer Joe Louis competed from 1934 to 1951. Throughout his tenure, boxing uniforms didn’t change very drastically. Even today, shorts are the preferred style for heading into the ring.

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​Weight lifting, 1950

Grab your Speedo, it’s time to lift! Oh, that’s not a thing? Back in 1950, it was. Bodybuilders and weight lifters preferred to stick to banana hammocks and singlets while doing sets and reps.

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High school gym class, 1958​

These shorts most likely look like something you’d find at Forever 21 and definitely wouldn’t accommodate a strict school dress code. In the ’50s, schools were handing these shorts out to students for gym class.

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Ron Flowers, 1960​

Football player Ron Flowers chose an outfit that’s not at all out of the ordinary, even by today’s standards. White t-shirt, blue drawstring shorts, and of course, comfy shoes. Ok, maybe the shoes aren’t quite our style, but everything else.

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Cary Grant and Jim Hutton, 1966​

Actors Carry Grant and Jim Hutton kept it moving on the set ofWalk Don’t Run. Hutton’s choice isn’t too shocking, but Grant’s hat, t-shirt, and shorts make for a very unusual combo.

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Wilt Chamberlain, 1970​

NBA icon Wilt Chamberlain was 7’1″ so most shorts were short shorts to him. Nowadays, basketball players sport much longer lengths on the court.

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Muhammad Ali, 1974​

Sports legend Muhammad Ali won nearly every fight he took on. His style was built on practicality, including comfortable sweatpants, as opposed to serving as a flashy, showy fashion distraction.

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Exercising in the Covent Garden Sports Centre, 1978​

Adidas, Nike, and other brand names increased their notoriety over the course of the mid to late 20th century, emblazoning shorts and t-shirts at gyms everywhere.

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Dan Marino, 1985​

Before Katy Perry or Nike, the only things swishing was windbreaker material. In the ’80s, windbreakers were extremely common, acting as the Dri-Fit of their time.

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Dolph Lundgren, undated​

Because nothing says practical and sweat-proof like putting an extra large t-shirt underneath a tank top while doing some heavy lifting.

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Jean-Claude Van Damme, 1988

The ’80s were the era of big, thick white socks, usually paired with brand-name sneakers… and no shirt. Today, most gyms or group facilities require shirts.

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Richard Simmons, 1994

Richard Simmons created a lane of his own with his personal style. Simmons wore bright colors, loud prints, and extremely short shorts as he motivated audiences to get moving.

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Roy Jones Jr.​, 1996​

As trends do, some of the classics from the ’90s have come back full force. Brand names and logos, shiny fabrics, and of course, high-end, highly-coveted sneakers are all pretty common today.

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​Matt Cedeno, 2002

Ah, the 2000s. Bandanas, deeply-cut tank tops, and extremely long and baggy shorts were not an anomaly on or off the court. Not exactly something you’d see on the treadmill now.

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The Biggest Loser, 2004

As the 2000s began, companies introduced newer, more breathable fabrics, all ideal for breaking a sweat. Sweat-wicking clothes have become staples for any gym bag nowadays.

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Kenny Chesney, 2005​

Hats during workouts tend to be a bit polarizing. While some use them as makeshift sweatbands, others prefer to leave their hats at home.

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Barry’s Bootcamp, 2018​

Now, neon colors, sweat-wicking fabrics, and both sleeves and shorts of various lengths are all totally normal. For as many workouts as there are, there are also plenty of clothing options.

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