Before co-founding the business that later became Missoni with his bride Rosita in 1953, Ottavio Missoni, himself an athlete, and his teammate Giorgio Oberweger had an activewear business in Trieste making wool tracksuits christened Venjulia suits. The success of the Venjulia suits, which took into account the need of athletes for functional, warm garments enabling freedom of movement, led to their being worn by the 1948 Italian Olympics team (which included Missoni himself). In the 1960s Missoni became renowned for their uniquely colored, mix-and-match knitwear separates based upon activewear, which have remained desirable and fashionable well into the 21st century.
In the 1930s and '40s, it was rare for clothing to be justified through its practicality. It was traditionally thought that Paris fashion exemplified beauty, and therefore, sportswear required different criteria for assessment. The designer's personal life was therefore linked to their sportswear designs. Another selling point was sportswear's popularity with consumers, with department store representatives such as Dorothy Shaver of Lord & Taylor using sales figures to back up their claims. Maxwell and Potter were two of the first three sportswear designers, along with Helen Cookman, to be showcased and name-checked in Shaver's window displays and advertisements for Lord & Taylor. Between 1932 and 1939, Shaver's "American Look" program at Lord & Taylor promoted over sixty American designers including McCardell, Potter and Merry Hull. Shaver advertised her American designers as if they were French couturiers, and promoted their lower costs as a positive feature, rather than a sign of inferiority. One of Shaver's retail experiments was a 'College Shop' section in the store, opened in the early 1930s and run by her assistant Helen Maddock, with the intent of offering casual but flattering clothing to young female college students. The stock, however, ended up selling swiftly to adult women as well as to the students.
Alongside Dorothy Shaver, Eleanor Lambert was an important promoter of the American Look and sportswear. As founder of the Council of Fashion Designers of America and creator of New York Fashion Week, Lambert is considered the first fashion publicist. In the summer of 1940, Lambert was hired by the Dress Institute to promote American fashion, leading to newspaper and magazine articles about how New York was replacing Paris as a global fashion leader. In 1940, both Harper's Bazaar and Vogue published issues devoted to American fashion.
“I have multiple pairs of shorts, shirts, and tank tops from Rhone. I really enjoy their gear for going on runs or bootcamp-style classes, where I don't have to worry about them wearing from a barbell. They are comfortable, and have enough stretch in them that allows zero restriction. The clothing is presentable and fitted, which in my line of work really is helpful.”
In a 1974 essay titled "Recession Dressing," the writer Kennedy Fraser noted how Halston's work, particularly his success with making basic garments in luxurious fabrics, was that of an "anti-designer" who liberated American women of fashion from needlessly elaborate, conventional high fashion from high-end establishment American designers. She also singled out Clovis Ruffin and Stephen Burrows. Alongside Calvin Klein, Jhane Barnes, and Ralph Lauren, Martin has described Halston, Ruffin and Burrows as "paragons" of 1970s and early 1980s Seventh Avenue sportswear style.
After the Second World War, the emergence in Paris of the luxurious "New Look" popularised by Christian Dior, with its emphasis on accessorising and femininity, was in direct contrast to the relaxed, easy-wear American look. Sally Kirkland, a fashion editor at Vogue and LIFE, noted that McCardell and others had already been thinking along the lines of longer and fuller skirts and fitted bodices, but that unlike Dior's heavily stiffened and corseted designs, they used bias-cut bodices and lightweight, easy-wear circle or pleated skirts to reproduce the same silhouette. Unlike traditional made-to-measure French couture fashion, designed for specific silhouettes, American sportswear was designed to accommodate a variety of body shapes and enable freedom of movement. With the lifting of fabric rationing and restrictions following the War, American designers were able to use unlimited fabric and the development of permanent pleating meant that pleated dresses and full skirts were easy to look after. In addition to this, American stores had begun to recognise the commercial value of separates, with LIFE reporting in 1949 that separates made up an all-time-high of 30% of clothing sales in the States that Fall.