Old School Athletics Aesthetic

The old school athlete aesthetic is epitomized by black and white photos of famed athletes from the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s with “USA” or “GIANTS” written across their chest in the classic varsity font. This was the era of the toughest of athletes. Athletics equipment was nowhere near as advanced as it is today, so sports were in some of their most raw forms. Many sports movies portraying this time period are all about grit, perseverance, and eventual victory and those are the emotions that aesthetic elicits.

The clothing is a large part of the aesthetic as well. Royal and navy blues, reds, blacks and greys make up the color pallet for this clothing. Often all cotton or the material or the old jersey material that your 4th grade soccer team’s pennies were made out of to use for practice. All gray sweat suits or fun colored , short baggy shorts, tall socks, shirts that say “Athletics” across the front all fit the bill. The design of the jerseys and other workout gear have bold simple numbers and letters and the rest is very plain. The outfits you see them wear during P.E. in the movie “Grease” are the perfect example of this aesthetic. Similar clothing is worn in the movie “Remember the Titans” and basically all other older sports movies.

The very early days of Nike shoes and the Oregon Track and Field team are another more niche aspect to the aesthetic. What today would be considered as lacking support, worn out and overall too simple to be of any help are the shoes that Nike was creating in the 60’s and revolutionizing the running world with. This aspect of the aesthetic shows the innovation that sports technology was going through at the time. So many companies were trying to make better equipment for athletes to train and compete in. This was also the era of Steve “Pre” Prefontaine who was crushing every distant event available and representing the Nike brand while doing it. In distance running, Pre was the poster child for hard work at the time. One of his most well known quotes “To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift” [1] is another example of the sports mindset that highlights the aesthetic.

For my Upcycle project I’m planning on creating an “Ode to Track and Field”. I’ll be using my old running bibs and newspaper articles to create a large art piece in the shape of the CU logo (pictured below). This is something to commemorate my time as a track and field athlete throughout high school and college. I have saved all of my running bibs since my freshman year of high school and was never really sure what I would do with them one day, so this is the perfect project to Upcycle them into a work of art. I’m planning for it to be a work in progress through the semester as my season will continue through early June, and I will receive more bibs to add to the piece. I think the unfinished look, plus the weathered bibs and newspaper clippings will give the old school athletics aesthetic that I’m looking for.

Reference Images:

  1. Cross Lake, 2008, featured image
  2. Basen, 2012, Image 1
  3. Pinterest, Image 2
  4. Scroll.in, 2020, Image 3
  5. Youtube, 2018, Image 4
  6. Rothstein, 2020, Image 5
  7. Beckman, 2017, Image 6
  8. Nike, 2015, Image 7
  9. Nike, 2015, Image 8
  10. Oregonian, 1973, Image 9
  11. Running Warehouse, 2015, Image 10
  12. University of Colorado, Image 11


[1] “Steve Prefontaine Quotes.” BrainyQuote, Xplore, www.brainyquote.com/authors/steve-prefontaine-quotes.

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2 Comments. Leave new

  • Hey Valerie, this looks like a cool idea for project. I definitely agree that the raw and gritty look of the old school athletes makes for a unique and iconic aesthetic. I was drawn to the look myself when I saw the movie “Without Limits” and got inspired by the hard work and perseverance of Pre. When you assemble the bibs into the logo, do you plan on adding any sort of coloration? I’m looking forward to seeing how it comes out.

    • Hi Daedalus, thanks for your feedback! I didn’t have a plan for adding color, however, many of the bibs I’ve received since racing in college have more color and designs on them. This will add to the overall look and it won’t be all black and white and just numbers. A lot of them have my name on it too!


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