NEW YORK — Which came first for women, the idea of wearing athletic clothing beyond the gym or the fascination with logoed sports apparel? Men have been swilling beer and watching sports on TV for ages, wearing jerseys emblazoned with their favorite team or players’ numbers — it makes them feel like they’re part of the action.

It took the hip-hop movement and street fashion, however, to inspire young women to don logoed jersey dresses, tops and pants. Rappers, often the people setting the trends, have long wanted to be sports stars and sports stars want to be rappers. Both groups are a critical part of today’s cultural zeitgeist.

The trend of women wearing team numbers began with girls borrowing their boyfriends’ shirts. Savvy marketers realized there was money to be made with sports apparel designed especially for women. Clothing manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon, signing deals with professional teams, such as the National Basketball Association in the case of G-III.

Logoed sports apparel is one of the few sweet spots in the market today. While total women’s apparel sales are down 6 percent, sports apparel is enjoying a hefty 18 percent increase for the 12 months ending July 2003, according to NPD Fashionworld.

Total retail sports apparel spending in 2001 — including fitness and licensed clothing — was $34.4 billion, according to SGMA International, an industry trade group.

While discount stores captured the top slot on the WWDLIST, they are primarily a source for women over 35 years of age. On the other hand, sporting goods stores were the most popular retail channel for young women between the ages of 13 and 24.

With athletic wear becoming increasingly fashion-conscious —think of Venus Williams’ collaboration with Diane von Furstenberg — the category is becoming more appealing to a broader spectrum of the female population.

Fila outfitted ball girls and ball boys and sold its licensed U.S. Open collection onsite at the August event. The company also teamed up with The Sports Authority to sell its performance tennis apparel and footwear, as well as event-licensed product in the New York tri-state area, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts and Georgia.

The rise of Juicy Couture and similar brands may have been fueled by the increasing popularity of logoed sports apparel. Young women — who are the primary purchasers of Juicy Couture, whose hip-slung pants and tight T-shirts favor the fittest bodies — became accustomed to seeing logoed sweats being worn by soccer moms and stroller-pushing Upper East Siders, who prized them for their comfort. Juicy Couture arose from the desire for a more fashionable take on athletic clothing.Whatever its origins or permuations, athletic apparel seems to be here to stay. As has gone the workplace, so too has gone the doctor’s office, local restaurant and school. It’s even infiltrated the luxury market. Deisgners such as Rory Tahari are offering their sophisticated take on athletic wear. Tahari’s T-21 collection, which will be sold at Bergdorf Goodman, features innovative fabrics such as double-faced jersey. The pieces can be worn to the gym or out to dinner.

“Part of the growth is the trend of logoed apparel in the junior market,” said Marshal Cohen, co-president of NPD Fashionworld. “The other factor is the lifestyle trend of athletic apparel. People want to look like they participate in fitness, but may never see the inside of a gym.”

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