Do you want to work out in wool, practice your tennis swing wearing a scarf, watch the sunrise on a windy beach with a ball cap that keeps flying off your head?
Common occurrences at the start of the 20th Century, but thanks to two American pioneers and a surprisingly progressive view on cross-dressing, we have all been blessed with the the sweatshirt and hooded sweatshirt – hoodie – to make outdoor living much more livable.
First stop, the University of Alabama. A young footballer for the Crimson Tide just so happens to be the son of a clothing manufacturer. Bennie’s father, Benjamin Russell, at the time made material in his factory used in undergarments for women and children.
Now, athletic gear of the day – this was the early 1920s – was typically made of wool. The remedy the Russells proposed was a modification of a ladies’ union-suit top from the thick cotton the factory produced. Without concern for the material origins in women’s undergarments, they created loose, collarless pullovers first for the Tide. Within a decade, Russell had created a new division of his factory just to manufacture “sweatshirts.”
And Russell was not alone in sweatshirts, but Champion took them further. A division of the Knickerbocker Knitting Company called Champion Products, got in the game, making a breakthrough that made it easy for school letters to be printed on the fabric. It is Champion that claims the manufacture of the first hooded sweatshirts.
In upstate New York, factory and lumber workers had adopted the sweatshirt as a means to keep warm during the workday. And the sweatshirt had made its way onto the sidelines as acceptable gear for coaches and staff. Looking to provide that extra bit of warmth and convenience, Champion added a simple hood to the sweatshirt design, and the hoodie was born.
First sweeping through high school and college track teams and football programs, and later catching the attention of Hollywood, the music industry and skateboard culture, the hooded sweatshirt has certainly captured the attention of American culture since its invention. It has been transformed from industrious workhorse to a popular, at times maligned, yet ubiquitous and useful garment.
Ron Hasson is a former newspaper journalist and current Customer Service Representative at Queensboro. Since leaving newswriting, he has penned and produced five original plays for the Wilmington, N.C., stage and is active in acting and directing as well.