We all own and wear them, but do you really know the history of your sweatshirts? We will explain how that comfy, fashionable sweatshirt of yours was invented and how it came to be so popular around the world! Versatile enough to be worn any time of year, the classic crew neck sweatshirt is one of those rare clothing items that has become a crucial piece of all-American wardrobes. Ever wonder where it came from? Though it’s regularly updated and reinvented, the first crew neck sweatshirt will never go out of style.

Who invented the sweatshirt?

The original sweatshirt was invented by Benjamin Russell Jr., a football player in 1926. It began with the new idea for an all-cotton practice football jersey. Tired of itchy wool jerseys, the son of founder Benjamin Russell thought to swap out the chafing uniforms with something cooler and more comfortable. As you can imagine, itchy wool jerseys were extremely uncomfortable. Always one to take the lead, Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Benjamin Russell, Jr. decided to do something about it in 1926. He set out to put an end to the constant chafing and itching caused by woolen uniforms, changing the face of fashion forever.


Working with his father Benjamin Russell, (who happened to own a clothing manufacturing company), BR Jr. created a practice jersey modeled on a women’s union-suit top. It was made of thick cotton, which can breathe, as we all know. The Russell Manufacturing Company just so happened to specialize in such materials and designs. The new jerseys were essentially loose, collarless pullovers — the sweatshirt had been born. BR Sr. set up the Russell Athletic Mills in 1930 to just produce sweatshirts, and the company has expanded ever since into a multinational, multi-sport giant called Russell Athletic Co.


It’s true that sweatshirts are great at keeping wearers warm, but as they were typically cotton practice jerseys back in the day, the ‘sweat’ part of the word comes from their origins on the field. So, what is a sweatshirt used for today? Sweatshirts are still used for their original purpose as comfortable athletic wear, but they are also worn for staying warm in cooler temps, repping a collegiate team, or layering to form a fashionable outfit.


In the 1930s American clothing manufactures began experimenting with fabrics traditionally used in undergarment mills to create what we now know as the hoodie. The apparel company now known as Champion Athletic Apparel produced a sweat shirt material to keep athletes and laborers warm and protected from the elements. The design evolved into sportswear for the mass market over the course of the 20th century. The hoodie made a transition from practical clothing to a personal statement when athletes started to give their sports attire to their girlfriends to wear. The trend emerged throughout high schools in 50’s America, along with polo shirts & letterman jackets. This started the early adoption of using sportswear as a fashion statement.


The hooded sweatshirt is a utilitarian garment that originated in the 1930s in the US for workers in cold New York warehouses. The modern clothing style was first produced by Champion in the 1930s and marketed to laborers working in freezing temperatures in upstate New York. The home of the hoodie, origin of the sweatshirt, pioneer of the Reverse Weave, Champion has always had innovation at its core. Rochester, NY, U.S.A. 1970s: Rebellion In the 70s, hip-hop culture emerged in the Bronx, inspiring rap music, graffiti and break dancing. Wearing a hoodie at this time meant you were keeping a low profile, and with a design like a cobra hood it was worn to intimidate others. The hoody allowed unrestricted movement for the dance routines and concealed the identities for graffiti artists on the street. In California, skaters rejected the mainstream culture, and with the closure of many skates parks skaters maintained their lifestyle however they could, legal or not. To feed the rebellion, music in the area gravitated towards hard core punk and hoodies became a staple of the culture. In 1976, the release of “Rocky” added another layer of symbolism to the hoodie. The grey marl silhouette became a symbol of his hard knocks, work ethic, and reestablished the hoodie’s connection to its working class roots, reaffirming its look into today’s mainstream society.

Intersection with Fashion

From humble beginnings as athletic wear, the sweatshirt has achieved mass-market domination, repropelled by the birth of logomania in the 1980s. Designers wishing to cash in on branding, utilized the sweatshirt in part to do so. From Vivienne Westwood's "Anglomania" sailor sweatshirts to Calvin Klein's ubiquitous "CK" example, sweatshirts with designer logos became the affordable version of designer wear for the masses. The sweatshirt's commercial success is a direct result of its connotations of comfort, sportiness, and practicality. In the early 1980s, designer Norma Kamali sought to create a collection for the working woman that epitomized those aforementioned ideals. Her answer was the well-received Spring-Summer 1980 "Sweatshirt Collection" in which Kamali designed an entire wardrobe from sweatshirt fabric.