A hoodie, which is a hooded sweatshirt, is a variation of the crew neck sweatshirt with a hood added to it. Usually made of heavyweight cotton, it may (sometimes) be blended with spandex for stretch or (more often) polyester for durability. The exterior face of a hoodie is typically a tightly woven interlock knit, with the interior back threads being either looped (French terry) or broken by shearing or brushing (fleece). There are two types of hoodies: zippered with two front pockets or pullovers with a large single "kangaroo" pocket in front. The earliest history of a hooded garment is thought to be from medieval Europe in the 13th century where hooded robes or capes were worn by monks as part of their monastic attire to provide head covering and to prevent distraction.
Young men wearing hoodies and riding skateboards

The Russell Manufacturing Company (formed 1902), led by founder Ben Russell originally produced women's and children's knit shirts out of a small wooden building in Alabama using 12 steam powered sewing machines. Ben Russell’s son, a student at the University of Alabama in the 1920’s, came up with the idea of producing a more comfortable alternative to the itchy wool athletic wear worn at the time by his fellow students. They used thick cotton to create a loose, collarless pullover with a drop shoulder design that allowed players to wear them over their shoulder pads. Over the next decade profits grew steadily and in 1932 despite the depression, Russell acquired the full finishing operations of the Southern Manufacturing Company. This made Russell one of the few fully vertical “fiber to fabric” factories in the world. Using the newly acquired Southern Manufacturing Company and led by his son, Russell formed a new division dedicated exclusively to the production of team athletic wear, including sweatshirts..

In 1930s America, clothing was not considered protectable intellectual property. (Later legal decisions would decide that clothing was a necessity and therefore deemed as serving a utilitarian purpose.) The fashion industry still tried to protect itself through a self-imposed system led by The Fashion Originators Guild of America (FOGA). Based out of New York City, FOGA prohibited copying among its 12,000 members and urged retailers to sign agreements not to sell copied designs, enforcing the rules through heavy fines. While the system worked to some extent, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1941 that it violated antitrust laws and constituted an unfair method of competition. Although Alabama and New York City are a long distance apart, FOGA had such a strong influence on the industry that it likely might have discouraged Russell from seeking untested legal protections on their sweatshirt products. Time and actions that might have allowed Russell to build a fundamentally stronger position within the market category at that time.

During the early 1930s, The Knickerbocker Knitting Company in Rochester, NY, which is now known as the brand "Champion", took the concept of a heavy cotton sweatshirt and made several key innovations to advance and popularize the product. One of their innovations was the development of a heavy duty cotton fleece called “Reverse Weave”, which minimized vertical shrinkage by being cut on the cross grain, thus addressing the problem of shrinkage caused by newly introduced laundry machines. At this time sweatshirts were standalone items lacking a hood. Some smaller independent manufacturers took the existing Knickerbocker crew neck sweatshirts and modified them by sewing a double layer hood around the neckline. (creating what collectors now refer to as an ‘after hood’) Some also added a large center pocket to the front that acted as a hand warmer. These were widely adopted by warehouse and lumber workers in the cold climate of upstate New York. Knickerbocker absorbed and consolidated these various independently produced “homemade” details and begins to manufacture on a large scale something that very much starts to resemble our modern day hoodie. Up until around that time college athlete uniforms were informal and unregulated - mostly it consisted of everyone dressing in the same color, but that was beginning to change. Teams were beginning to identify themselves uniformly. Knickerbocker recognized these changes and the potential marketplace for school uniforms and they modified their materials to allow for printing school letters on the front. In 1934, the University of Michigan noticed the durability and functionality of Knickerbocker's garments and invited the company to create the first hooded sweatshirt for their sports teams. These hooded sweatshirts (In Athletics) become colloquially referred to as “side-line sweatshirts”.
The early '70s were a low point in the history of New York city. A financial crisis very nearly pushed it into bankruptcy. The police department was severely underfunded and large parts of the city were ignored, crime ridden and in decay. Graffiti exploded onto walls and subway cars across all five boroughs. This usually took place at night and because they wanted to conceal their identity + often times it would be cold; they were usually wearing a hoodie. As the 70s progressed, graffiti evolved from being isolated urban vandalism into more of a legitimate standalone anti-establishment art form. With time, an evolving culture arose surrounding it that also intertwined hip-hop, surfers & skateboarders that quickly spread to the West Coast of the United States.
1940s collegtable white vintage after hood

The hoodie ongoingly continued to represent subcultural rebellion, but also began to find its way into broader mainstream consumer acceptance because of Hollywood movie characters like Rocky Balboa. Rocky overcoming insurmountable obstacles and breaking out of obscurity symbolically portrayed in such scenes as when he ascends the steps of The Philadelphia Museum of Art. Rocky’s unwavering loyalty to friends and inspirational acts of sacrifice, help to connect the hoodie with ideas such as self-reliance and success achieved on one's own terms. Also in the mid-1970s, universities began to print their logo on hoodies and sell them in their university bookstores, exposing the garment to a much wider audience and popularizing it.

Polyester, (invented in the 1930s) experienced fluctuating popularity over the next four decades largely due to its association with low economic status and bad taste. A couple of things occurred that propelled polyester into the mainstream. The primary one being that in the late ‘70s there was a huge surge in the number of people running, hiking and working out in gyms. However, polyester was uncomfortable and did not regulate heat from the body very effectively. (Up until then, people had largely worn cotton or wool during physical activities.) In response to this demand for better activewear fabrics, manufacturers developed new weaving and production techniques that combined different materials, offering the durability of polyester with the softness, comfort and breathability of cottons and elastics. These new advanced microfibers began to be accepted by mainstream consumers, and polyester shed its reputation as a cheap and uncomfortable fabric.

Throughout their history, hoodies were almost always 100% cotton. In the '90s as polyester became more socially acceptable, it became increasingly common for manufacturers to add polyester to the cotton to reduce costs, prevented pilling, strengthen the product and minimize shrinkage. Additionally, to reduce costs further, brands began to offshore the assembly of hoodies and added shoulder seams - Adding shoulder seams allowed the body to be made from two smaller pieces (front & back) instead of one large piece, which reduced overall fabric usage. As the perception of the garment slowly transitioned it into the mainstream and it became increasingly adopted as day to day wear - Where it was sold, its price, and how it was marketed, all began to change with it. As a result, manufacturers moved towards producing a hoodie with a cleaned up and more polished modern aesthetic by replacing what had been crude and obvious zigzag stitching at the seams with less visually obtrusive - single and double needle clean finish seams.
During the late '80s, a cottage industry for screen printing words and designs onto blank hoodies and tee shirts had started to grow large enough that proving wholesale blanks for these smaller businesses became quite attractive to the bigger name brand manufacturers. Due to marketing, material quality, ease of use or some organic combination of it all, Russell was the preferred supplier by these independently owned aftermarket screen printers. Through the 90s, Russell held the top market share in providing fleece “blanks” at 30 percent.
What began as practical workwear in East Coast factories, military training garment and on sporting fields during the 1930s, eventually made its way to international runways in the 1990s as fashion designers began to embrace and incorporate streetwear influences. This was also the period when the term “hoodie” became more widely used, helping to bring this previously niche product further into the mainstream. One of the most iconic sweatshirts and hoodies of the 90s was Gap’s classic arch logo, featuring three bold letters in an arch across the chest, and available in a rainbow of saturated colors. These could be seen everywhere during the 90s as the trend for branded casual and comfortable clothing took hold. Mark Zuckerberg was among the first of a new culture of Silicone valley tech nerds to break existing norms of respectable dress attire by donning hoodies. In recent years, high status individuals have become increasingly comfortable with signaling their status by flaunting the rules and wearing whatever they want.
Few pieces of clothing have garnered as much symbolism and cultural significance as the hoodie, for both positive and negative reasons. Despite originating from humble practical origins, the hoodie has gotten domesticated and undergone a transformation as society has become increasingly trend-centric and casual. As a result, the hoodie has become a ubiquitous piece of attire, making it difficult to distinguish who the important customers are according to Madison Avenue retailers. It has become a stylized billboard for both personal expression and luxury branding, occupying a unique space between mainstream leisurewear and rebellious subculture privacy element. Today, even Kermit the Frog has been spotted wearing a hoodie.
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