A Short History of The Running Vest

By Bill Byrne. Posted: March 29, 2017

With the weather warming up gradually, most of us will have already started to trade in our leggings and long-sleeve thermals for t-shirts, shorts and, one of our favourites, the traditional running vest.  The launch of our two new Lancaster vest colourways (in Maple Stripe and Pebble Grey) got us thinking about how long runners have been wearing vests. So we had a look into the running vest's history. 

We’re not entirely sure when runners started wearing running vests but photos from the 1896 Olympics 100 meters final show that competitors were wearing short sleeved three-buttoned Henley tees. The earliest photos we can find of runners in vests come from the Olympics of the early 1900s.

Historically most runners wore cotton vests, sometimes plain and sometimes with a stripe or embroidery.

Jesse Owens at the Berlin OlympicsJesse Owens in a running vest at the Berlin Olympics 1936 (Wikimedia Commons)

The classic striped vest 

Here’s the cotton running vest Roger Bannister wore to the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. We love the Great Britain roundel sew-on patch and stripes. You can even see his name badge (which most of us remember from our school days).

In case you don’t know the story, although Bannister did not win a medal, he came back even more determined to break 4 minutes for the mile, which he finally did two years after the Helsinki Olympics on May 6th 1954.

Bannister's running vest

The string vest 

While the string vest is really an article of underwear, plenty of athletes would run in them. Here’s Ron Hill wearing a string running vest. Not sure about the look, but you’ve got to respect his achievements.

Ron Hill was the second man to break 2:10 for the marathon and set four world records. He has famously run every single day of his life!

Ron Hill in a string vestRon Hill in string vest (Wikimedia Commons)

The technical vest 

This leads us on to today’s vests. The fabric used for modern running vests is far removed from those of the 1950s, where vests were made of cotton. From the 1980s onwards, technical vests became the norm.

At Iffley Road we’ve aimed to capture the classic style of vintage vests with state-of-the-art technical fabrics. The fabric used in all our vests (and running tees) is bespoke to Iffley Road.  They are made from our trademark dri-release® piqué – highly wicking, lightweight and soft.  The cut is slim, with carefully shaped armholes that allow free movement without being too gaping.

Lancaster running vest sketch

Our classic Lancaster vest is now available in four plain colours – Track White, Night SkyGravel Black and Pebble Grey– plus the rather natty Night Sky with White and Green Stripe and Maple with Navy and White Stripe.

Lancaster maple stripe running vest

Lancaster Maple Stripe Running Vest

Lancaster pebble grey running vest

Lancaster Pebble Grey Running Vest

We’d love to hear about any interesting vests or kit you’ve found so please email us claire@iffleyroad.com.  Thank you!

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