Historic Olympics in Advertising

Novelties in athletic costumes, Lloyd Attree & Smith, 1894. Copy 1 111/80, TNA

The National Archives in London has created a webpage to showcase the records it holds of Olympics past and present. I was delighted to see an image gallery that includes many of the advertising documents I have studied in the Stationers’ Hall / Copy 1 archive. These show that attempts to recruit national events for commercial gain were well known in 1900. They also provide some interesting insights into the way that sports were perceived in the past. Pastimes like punting, which seem to us tame and genteel, are presented as modern and titillating – especially when a young lady and gentleman are alone on the river. More importantly, participating in these pastimes could be used to drive sales of specialist clothing or generalised ‘leisure wear’. It takes a stretch of the imagination, but Edwardian tennis whites are probably the ancestor of today’s tracksuit….


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