font loading for Top nav



Athleisure – the trend for blending casual fashion with functional sportswear – might feel like a modern phenomenon, but when it comes to activewear, M&S has been an innovator since the Twenties, and our winning workout gear is still making its mark today


Active beginnings

Beyond knitted bathing suits, early women’s activewear options were limited. From 1958, they got on board with a sailcloth leisure trend, boasting slacks, shorts and jackets.


More than 90 years ago, M&S embarked upon a journey of retail innovation, selling casual men’s shirts, marketed for their sporting versatility, and bestselling swimwear that became progressively more functional.

Throughout the Fifties, M&S catered for men tackling typical English leisure pursuits. It wasn’t until the end of the decade that we revealed our tailored women’s blouses were also suitable for sports. Of course, this didn’t come as news to the thousands of female tennis players, bowls enthusiasts and others who already relied on M&S for their sport and leisure wardrobes.

By the Sixties, the idea of liberation was having an effect on women’s wardrobes, both in terms of trends and practicality. Our Bri-Nylon range included stretchy slacks and women’s shirts – sold as modern, on-the-move outfits, perfect for those popular Sixties past times of country walks and keep-fit classes. Oh, and housework of course – liberation was still very much an aspiration rather than a reality.

From a lingerie perspective, in 1967, while we were still a few years from

what could be defined as a sports bra, women’s panty girdles were the only foundations that could be worn without stockings and were a practical solution for playing active sports like tennis and hockey.

The following few decades saw the activewear market move forward in leaps and bounds – an explosion in celebrity-endorsed sportswear, casual leisurewear (or what is now defined as ‘athleisure’) and heaps of new fitness trend apparel began to appear.

The era-defining tracksuit came into its own. A men’s ‘active tracksuit’ launched in 1984 and included modern features such as a hood and drawstring waist.

The late Eighties saw an increase in demand for both technical clothing and sports-inspired designs. Crop tops, cycling shorts and sports bras were all big sellers in the Nineties – a trend that shows little sign of wavering.

Today, M&S’s activewear blends fashion and function at the highest level. Whether you’re a gym bunny or just love to look the part, we have an outfit to help you achieve your goals.


Dive in: A market leader in fabric technology, in 1963 M&S’s Bri-Nylon range included swimsuits delivering ‘two-way stretch’ for ‘real swimmers’.
Winning formula: Dedicated sportswear sections in store were a hit in the Eighties, with trial sales topping £200,000 for the first 10 days.
New line-up: In the Eighties our lingerie was given a sporty look, while bikinis became increasingly brief, bright and bold.
Women’s ‘active sportswear’ launched in 1985, offering the must-have tracksuit in a new crinkle-cotton fabric.
Supporting act: The first recorded evidence of M&S selling sports bras was in the mid 1980s. This white design was also pitched as ‘ideal for everyday wear’.
Step it up: Today, M&S’s activewear offerings continue to innovate, from sculpting leggings to high-impact sports bras.

Trending stories