If you’re an athlete, chances are you’ve worn Nike Dri-F.I.T. apparel at some point in your life. And if you haven’t, you’re missing out. From base layer tees, to running shorts, to socks, to track jackets, to slacker tights, to sports bras to hats – the lightweight, moisture-wicking Dri-F.I.T. material has been a staple for athletes young and old for 30 years now. I’ve been wearing Dri-F.I.T. clothing since the late ’90s, and I fondly remember how great that microfiber material felt. The functionality of Dri-F.I.T. was unmatched, and I remember how well it was marketed by Nike. I’ll never forget seeing tennis star Andre Agassi rocking a royal blue long-sleeve zip polo at the US Open during a night match. I couldn’t believe it – it was 80 degrees and he was wearing long-sleeves? What was he thinking? But that was the point. Dri-F.I.T. fabric was moisture-wicking, unlike your standard cotton tee shirts. It worked so well, you could stay cool like Andre on a hot, humid night in New York. I was hooked.
In case you didn’t know, F.I.T. stands for “Functional Innovative Technology”. In the late ’80s, Nike Apparel was known mainly as a tool for branding and promotions. Think big Nike logos plastered on the chest of tee shirts and hoodies. Heading into the ’90s, however, Nike’s new objective was performance innovation, with a reinvigorated focus on materials. This focus was based, as always, on the needs of athletes.
As Nike was perfecting their Dri-F.I.T. material, their ACG line was also taking off. In the ’80s, layering was necessary for hiking in the mountains and other outdoor activities. Athletes preferred a base layer and then a thermal layer that provided insulation when the temperatures cooled down in the fall and winter. For the extremely harsh elements like wind, rain, and freezing conditions, there was also a need for a waterproof layer. And that, essentially, is how the F.I.T. line was created.
Along with Dri-F.I.T. were three other key materials that each served specific functions to aid in the athlete’s performance. Nike designed materials that were versatile enough to handle a wide range of temperature and climate variables. Here is a breakdown of the core four F.I.T. categories:
Quickly wicks the sweat away from your skin to keep you dry and comfortable. This unique fabric was designed to keep you cool and dry or warm and dry in a wide range of conditions. The construction of the inner layer transports moisture from the body to the outer layer for rapid evaporation.
Fabric better than waterproof – allows excess body heat and moisture to escape while keeping water and wind outside. The dense weave of the Clima-F.I.T. microfiber eliminates the need for special laminates or coatings, making it breathable and comfortable in a wide variety of conditions.
Totally waterproof but incredibly breathable laminate fabric. Lightweight, soft, and supple – this seam-sealed fabric was designed for the athlete. It will keep you dry and comfortable from the inside out – no matter the weather or activity.
Engineered to keep the body warm in cold conditions. The tiny spaces between fibers trap air within the material while blocking wind from the outside to provide the utmost comfort for any cold-weather activity.
Nike launched their F.I.T. line beginning in the spring of 1991 after years of research. Soon, the line accounted for nearly 40 percent of the total material Nike used in apparel manufacturing. They even designed special sewing machines to ensure the fabrics were super-thin yet durable enough not to tear.
Prior to F.I.T. technology, Nike utilized outside products such as Lycra, Coolmax and Thermax for apparel construction and components. John Notar, former VP of Apparel Categories, led the F.I.T. project and remembers, “We decided to name each layer by its function, so on simple terms, it was Dri-F.I.T. keeps you dry, Therma-F.I.T. keeps you warm, Clima-F.I.T. protected you from the elements. A few years later we added Storm-F.I.T., where our thinking was around waterproof fabric. That was really the birthing of Nike F.I.T.. When we went to market, we even had a F.I.T. manual. (source: www.swell-graphics.com)
Like most things Nike did in the ’90s, the results of the F.I.T. line were ground-breaking and have had a long-lasting impact on the sports industry. Those early tees, shorts, and jackets set the standard for what athletic apparel could become. Not only did Dri-F.I.T. tees look and feel cool, they actually helped you perform better. Granted, Nike was not the only company utilizing polyester microfiber in their apparel back then, but in my opinion, they definitely made the coolest stuff (both literally and figuratively).
Drew is the creator of @nikestories on Instagram. Growing up in the ’90s, Drew loved playing soccer, basketball, tennis, and even dabbled in cross country running. He ended up focusing on tennis in high school and helped lead his team to multiple state titles. His favorite athletes growing up include Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, Andre Agassi, and Ken Griffey, Jr. He was smart enough to save all his old Eastbay catalogs from the ’90s and loves sharing them with the sneaker community. Follow him at @nikestories