The History of the Running Vest

By Iffley Road. Posted: May 05, 2018

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 three new Lancaster striped vests - Night Sky Lichen, Pebble Grey and Track White - 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 metres 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 at the Berlin Olympics 1936 (Wikimedia Commons)

The Classic Striped Vest 

Below is 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 woven name tape (which most of us will remember from our school days!).

In case you are not familiar with the story,

Although Bannister did not win a medal at the 1952 Olympics, he returned from Helsinki more determined than ever to run a sub four-minute 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 run in them. Ron Hill is pictured below wearing a string running vest - We're personally not entirely convinced by him in a string vest... 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 a string vest. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Technical Vest 

This brings 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 blend the classic style of vintage vests with state-of-the-art technical fabrics. The fabric used in all our vests (and running t-shirts) is bespoke to Iffley Road.  They are made from our trademark drirelease® piqué fabric – 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

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

Did you like this Journal post?

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive more content like this, product updates and 10% off your first order.

Privacy Policy


Older Post Newer Post


Search the store