I think sweat suits came in around 1916, 1917 or 1918," says the AAU's Dan Ferris, 82. "I competed from 1909 to 1912, and I know they didn't have them then. The fellows used to wear bathrobes. Then the sweat suits came along, with the legs made big, I guess so fellows could put them on over their spikes. When the girls started competing, they hated those things, but the manufacturers have got them honed down pretty good now. They call them 'warmups.' "
Right on, Mr. Ferris, a capsule history. Of course the sweat-suit buff, if there is such a thing, needn't panic. The baggy gray garment is still around, one of the enduring truths in a changing world. Mr. Ferris does not believe sweat suits have changed at all since 1916 (or 1917 or 1918). They are the same right down to the string—the string that—where is that damned string?
Ah, but the warmups are trimmed down and zippered up now, in white and bright colors, with stirrups to hold the pants neat and taut. They were designed originally for team sports, and that is still the manufacturers' primary market, but civilians of all ages, sexes and shapes are now wearing them everywhere: they turn up on tennis courts and basketball courts, on the golf course and the beach, at the supermarket and in the city streets. People have discovered what athletes have known all along, that there's a lot of comfort and utility and a certain cachet about a warmup suit, and unless one resembles Oliver Hardy, chances are it will look pretty good, too, no matter what one is warming up for. Young Australian tennis pro John Alexander says his father has become so fond of his red warmup that he sometimes wears it to the office so that he can leave directly for the golf course. Once he stopped at his bank thus clad and was greeted with, "Do you have an account here, mate?" John says, "At first people thought he had a touch of madness, but now some of his friends are wearing them, too."
Get Golden State Coach Al Attles for an interview at the Executive House in Chicago or Houston's Shamrock Hilton, when the Warriors are in town, and there he is, working and relaxing in—a warmup. "Anyone close to sports wears them all around," he says. "There's no question it used to be kind of strange, but now it's accepted. When I'm not in a suit I wear the team warmup because it's comfortable and casual. My wife," he adds, "tries to steal them and cut them down to her size."
At Wimbledon and the Queen's Club last season, tennis players wore warmups for practice and to lounge around in at the clubhouse. Wimbledon's all-white rule doesn't hold for warmups, and colors ran the gamut from orange to green. In New York, a young man who lives in an apartment house with a pool says, "I don't want to bother with slacks and shirt, and I wouldn't be caught dead wearing a robe to the pool, so I just pull on my warmup, put my track shoes on and I'm all set. I figure I must wear it at least once a day, just to loaf around in."
A New York executive, less young and a Boston Marathon nut, recalls that after one marathon, "I was at a party where a guy had copies of a special suit made in Switzerland, and he was taking orders—blazing blues, scarlet and one that was the orangest thing I ever saw. In the euphoria of finishing the marathon, I said, 'I'll take one of those.' He said, 'It's fairly expensive, you know,' and I said, 'Expense is no object!' It was $45, and I had to hide it from my wife. I wore it once to a five-mile race, did miserably, and then felt foolish putting on such an official-looking suit. Now, every once in a while I get it out and sneak a look at myself in the mirror. I've also seen people gardening in them," he added. "They seem to be good for that. I think they make you feel better about bending over."
The $45 price tag on the above gentleman's warmup is pretty high. Suits from manufacturers like White Stag-Speedo and Adidas generally run between $12.95 and $31.95. There are three basic warmup styles, pants with stirrups and leg zippers, pants with leg zippers but no stirrups, and the third, the newest, straight legs with a modified flare at the bottom. One can still find plain cotton, but most are made of a woven mesh that is light and airy, a combination of double-knit stretch nylon with cotton on the inside. Another popular fabric is 100% stretch nylon.
On the facing page, Cynthia Korman, in the red warmup, is a fashion model who jogs in New York's Greenwich Village every morning. "I jog very, very early, so that dog walkers [in their warmups] and delivery men won't follow me," she says. Her suit is made by White Stag-Speedo. It is acrylic and features the zippered, tapered leg. Congressman Alphonzo Bell of California and his actress wife, Marian McCargo Bell, who play tennis every weekend, are wearing striped stretch nylon and cotton Adidas warmups with stirrups. Larry King, about to take off in a Schweitzer 233 glider in Fremont, Calif., wears one of the newest warmup styles from Head. It is made of 100% knit nylon stretch with new flared legs, white zippers on the jacket and slash pockets.
Larry isn't the only glider enthusiast in the King family. When she isn't out hitting tennis balls, his wife Billie Jean is learning to soar, as likely as not in her warmup.