KALIS: Fitness wear has come a long way, baby!

With the long stretch of incredibly cold and snowy days this winter, I can’t help but reflect upon how far fitness wear has come.
Feb 18, 2014

Even on the coldest days I can throw on just a couple of light layers and be perfectly comfortable.

But believe me, it wasn’t always like that. 

Gather ‘round, kids — let me tell you some stories about the days before Dry Fit.

As a runner in high school, I carried a few extra pounds — even more if it was raining! You see, at that time, if it was cold, you had to layer cotton sweat socks, long underwear, sweatpants and sweatshirts. It was heavy and bulky — and, if you got wet, well then, it was really heavy, and cold. But there were no other options.

Back then, I ran a lot of road races, and on one particularly cold race day, as I stood in my Michelin Man-like outfit, I looked down the starting line and recognized a woman who was a well-known runner in the Detroit area. She was wearing something I had never seen before — skin-tight shiny leggings. They looked really comfortable and she appeared to not be the least bit cold. 

I pointed them out to my dad who somehow tracked down a pair and got them for me as a surprise. But the very first time I donned them under my track shorts, the controversy ensued. The rule book was consulted, and the meet was delayed until a decision was made. Since I did not match the rest of my team, I had to take them off.

Ironically, in just a couple of years, running tights were part of standard-issue uniforms for schools everywhere.

But the top half of things lagged behind. I was still layering cotton shirts. If it was raining, you could put on a windbreaker, but they were usually made of nylon, which was not a breathable material. So, despite keeping the rain out, it also kept the sweat in. As a result, you were still wet and cold.

Even after college, when my roommate and I would go for a run, we’d put on our tights and several sweatshirts, then spend the first half-mile spewing strings of unmentionable words until we were warm enough to have a normal conversation. 

It wasn’t until my husband and I received a camping catalog as a wedding gift that we discovered elsewhere in the country that polyester was making a comeback. It was no longer the fabric known for bad bell bottoms and big pointy collars, but now was the key to a wondrous new material called “fleece.” Fleece kept you warm; but, at the same time, wicked away moisture to keep you dry. 

Before long, they figured out how to make it wind resistant, too. And that was just the beginning. 

Eagerly, we bought all we could — jackets, socks, pants, underwear, headbands, hats, mittens, gloves and shirts. 

For years you couldn’t find it anywhere in stores and you had to mail-order it (believe it or not, there was no such thing as Internet shopping! I know: How in the world did we exist?) Nowadays, however, I challenge you to find a clothing, department or sporting goods store/website that doesn’t carry fleece, Under Armour, Dry Fit or similar products. It’s everywhere, and everyone is wearing it. 

Today, when I go for my run, I will wear tights, a single Dry Fit base layer and a wind jacket made of breathable polyester. I will have Dry Fit socks, and a wind-blocker fleece hat and mittens, nothing more. Yet I will be warm, dry and comfortable — not bulky, wet or cold. 

Kids today might not think twice about it, but I can truly appreciate how amazing that really is. 

Of course, now fitness wear is not only lightweight and warm, it’s also sleek and stylish; in the beginning, that wasn’t the case.

The other night, I just couldn’t shake the cold, so I pulled on my original fleece. It did not have a Nike, Under Armour or any other recognizable logo on it. And the deep plum color with dark turquoise trim screamed early '90s.

My son and daughter took one look at me and said, “Where the heck did that come from?” 

I said, ”Gather ‘round, kids — let me tell you some stories about the days before Dry Fit.”  

— By Kelly Kalis, Tribune community columnist

Post a Comment

Log in to your account to post comments here and on other stories, galleries and polls. Share your thoughts and reply to comments posted by others. Don't have an account on GrandHavenTribune.com? Create a new account today to get started.