Let’s Get Physical

From Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” to Richard Simmons’ Sweatin’ to the Oldies, ’80s workout culture had a huge impact on the style of the time.

The 1980’s were a time of boldness and excess. Aerosol hairspray, the power suit, shoulder pads, and baggy silhouettes were all a huge part of the decade’s maximalist dress code. In addition, women began entering the workforce and a flux of workout videos came a huge movement for workout clothes as more than just functional pieces to get sweaty in, but as fashion statements. Bold animal prints and patterns were contrasted with bright fuschia, cobalt, turquoise, and neons.

Below is a timeline of some of the most influential moments in ’80s workout-wear history:

  • 1981: Olivia Newton-John released the music video “Physical” where she got fit and hit it off with a bunch of hunky dudes at the gym. The video was later named the sexiest song of the decade.
  • 1982: Jane Fonda released her first workout video ever, spawning an entire new wave of workout culture based on aerobics and jazzercise.
  • 1983: The movie Flashdance premiered, inspiring girls and women around the world to pair oversized, off-the-shoulder sweatshirts with neon pink headbands and leg warmers.
  • 1984: The movie Heavenly Bodies hit theaters, featuring tons of intense dance-offs and spandex.
  • 1985: Madonna embarks on The Virgin Tour, sporting workout leggings as pants.
  • 1985: Also in 1985, Nike released the Air Jordan 1; a sleek white shoe to inspire dad sneakers for decades to come.
  • 1986: Salt-N-Pepa’s music video for “Push It” is released, which is full of spandex, and sporty tracksuits.
  • 1988: Richard Simmons released his first workout video, Volume 1 of Sweatin to The Oldies, featuring totally rad hits like “Great Balls of Fire,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and “Peggy Sue.”

Today fitness classes like Crossfit, and SoulCycle have replaced old-fashioned workout videos, while social media fitness gurus have helped to make getting healthy so much more easy and accessible. Sportswear has undergone some serious changes as well, yet still tends to pay homage to its roots. The ’80s are constantly being referenced in both high and fast fashion; in fact, so much so, that they’ve forged their own category of clothing: athleisure. As life gets faster, so do our clothes. Athleisure emphasizes the idea of comfort in everyday life, as well as the need to keep moving.

While sportswear continues to evolve in meaning and fashion, brands such as Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Calvin Klein, and many more, continue to be reference the ’80s in style and color. Here are some key items that have forged a spot for sports in fashion:

  • Primary colors mixed with bright gem tones
  • Animal print
  • Parachute pants
  • Velour tracksuits
  • Graphic tees
  • Fanny Packs
  • Leotards
  • Leg-warmers
  • Bike Shorts
  • Highrise bodysuits
  • Headbands
  • Fitness briefs over spandex leggings
  • Satin bombers
  • Dad sneakers
  • Windbreakers
  • Slouchy socks
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