“You’ve got to love what you’re wearing,” Bill Rodgers says. He’s talking both about the apparel he helped create in the late 70s and early 80s, as well as the new Tracksmith collection unveiled today that updates the original designs with premium modern fabrics.
Back in the late 70s when running started booming as a mass-participation sport, Rodgers was one of several elite runners, including Frank Shorter and Ron Hill, who started clothing brands both to help them make a living during those amateur-sport days, as well as to advance the quality of running gear.
Rodgers remembers blood streaming down the front of a rival’s shirt after a marathon and thinking, “We need better gear. That was the backwardness of running gear, and how we were trying to experiment to improve running gear.”
While Bill Rodgers & Co. apparel lasted only 6 years, Rodgers says, “We had fun with the business. It was quite an experience. I’m really proud, that, for a small company, we helped runners do their best by having good quality gear.”
Any runner who lived through the era remembers well the mesh singlet Rodgers wore during his multiple Boston and New York City victories, the iconic track jacket, the stocking cap, and of course, the white gloves, which Rodgers first wore during his breakthrough Boston victory in 1975. They then became his good luck charm.
Tracksmith co-founder Matt Taylor says he became fascinated by the Bill Rodgers apparel line back when he was first developing the new company’s style and ethos, circa 2013. Eventually, he was able to obtain a full set of the line, which impressed him for their innovation and simplicity of design and served as references for Tracksmith’s designers. After Rodgers did a book signing at Tracksmith during marathon weekend two years ago, they started working together on the idea of recreating some of the classic items as well as “give an opportunity to tell Bill’s story a little more properly, tell that side of the story about being entrepreneurial and having his own clothing line,” Taylor says.
In addition to the iconic running gear, the collection includes a rugby shirt. Taylor explains the reference for this somewhat incongruous piece: After the 1977 Boston, where Rodgers dropped out, he was filmed outside the Elliott Lounge runners’ bar wearing an oversized rugby shirt loaned by bar-tender Tommy Leonard. Taylor says, “The rugby signifies to us that post-race comaraderie in our sport… That relief and elation that comes post-race when you’re talking about the race with friends and teammates and other runners who went through the same experience together.”
Whether on the run or hanging out after, we’re excited about wearing these pieces, which bring back memories for some of us masters — I wore a blue striped BR singlet for hot weather training and racing throughout the 80s — and make us look retro cool for the whippersnappers.