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The versatile 90s shell suit – a must for every wardrobe

April 16, 2019

From humble beginnings in the late 60s and 70s, it’s made history for decades. From fancy dress parties to gym workouts, you’ll find the 90s shell suit everywhere!


What started as a fad, quickly turned the 90s shell suit into a fashion necessity. And there’s good reason for making it a fashion icon for decades since its “discovery”. The sleek outer nylon shell immediately drew you in to it, while the comfortable cotton lining enticed you to keep it on.

shell suit 90s

shell suit 90s

Incredibly nylon 90s shell suit shocked!

True, the shell suit tracksuit didn’t always enjoy a stellar reputation. Some of the most infamous, and one might even add “notorious”, of characters to favour one of those outfits included David Icke.  Even today, you can leave people nylon shell shocked if you went to a fancy dress party dressed as Icke – even though that look is so easy to pull off!


But even as the nylon shell gained notoriety – thanks to the chequered past of some who wore it – it gained even more acceptance among the masses. And that’s thanks to the array of A-list celebrities, pop music icons, break dancers and rappers that didn’t mind being seen in their favourite 80s and 90s shell suit.

World leaders in 90s shell suits

World leaders didn’t shy away from making the shell suit tracksuit their very own signature outfit either. Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro was routinely seen wearing one at various occasions – including official ceremonies. And while that may have left onlooker’s nylon shell shocked, Castro undoubtedly felt very comfortable – thanks to the incredibly soft cotton lining.


Even U.S. President Jimmy Carter could be seen strolling around on the grounds of the Whitehouse in his nylon shell.  And later presidents, notably Barak Obama, weren’t too shy to get into the public eye in a shell suit tracksuit either.


Closer to home, we can’t forget the famous images of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, cycling in the streets of London – dressed, of course, in flash-back 80s and 90s shell suit. Shocking? Sure! A head-turner? Definitely! But with their inside cotton lining, and waterproof and wind-resistant outer shells, these are garments ideally made for the outdoors. In many ways then, especially because he wishes to add “people appeal” to his appearance, Mr. Corbyn’s shell suit tracksuit look shouldn’t be all that shocking!

Suiting history

What originated as athleisure for the hippies and hipsters, quickly became into a fashion statement in the 80s and 90s. And even though you may often recognise a blast from the past at some fancy dress party, the 90s shell suit has an impressive track record of its own that continues to make waves even today.


The early versions of the nylon shell, which would later evolve into what would ultimately become a fashion revolution, were just known as “tracksuits” – that’s because track and field stars like American Tommie Smith and John Carlos publicly wore them on-field for warm-ups and practice workouts.


Unlike the shell suit tracksuit that evolved in the 80s and 90s, the ones from the 1960s were typically made from terry cloth. And because they were meant to be worn by athletes and sports people, the cotton lining inside served dual purpose – comfort and sweat absorption. These early editions also didn’t feature zippers, like their successors from the 80s and like 90s shell suit did. Instead, they were fastened by buttons.

 Geometric Print Jacket

Geometric Print Jacket

Health and fitness bandwagon

It was not until the 1970s that the tracksuit came into its own. With everyone jumping on the health and fitness bandwagon, the early incarnation of the shell suit tracksuit became an instant hit with the masses. Iconic stars like Michael Jackson and action hero Bruce Lee added impetus to the popularity of the predecessor to the 90s shell suit.


You could see everyone wearing one – suiting-up and doing laps around the field. These “uniforms” were so ubiquitous, that you saw soccer moms and corporate executives alike wearing them. The cotton lining meant the suits could be worn for hours at end. And the relatively loose-fit meant that you could wear your favourite nylon shell anywhere and for any occasion – and still not feel uncomfortable in it.

90s Grey Geometric Print Shell Suit Jacket

90s Grey Geometric Print Shell Suit Jacket

Making tracks of your own

Today, you can find some amazing deals on a vintage 90s shell suit on sites like Ebay and Etsy. And you’ll find great ideas on how to pull off your very own personal shell suit tracksuit look across the internet. But making your own tracks in one of those suits is really easy. Here’s are some ideas for you to consider:


  • Wear your nylon shell as you go around trick-n-treating with your kids.


  • Having a fancy dress party at the office? Just reach back into your closet and dust out that 90s shell suit you’ve been saving for the “right” occasion – and you’re good to go!


  • And if you really want to get with the groove, don on a hippie afro wig and you’ll be all ready to turn back the clocks!


  • Wondering what footwear will go with your costume? Well, we’ve got you covered! Because the shell suit tracksuit is so versatile, you can slip on almost any pair of joggers, trainers, runners or sneakers – and still be in style!


  • The adaptable nylon shell suits are ageless in their appeal. If you have an errand to run at the mall, you’ll fit right in with your tracksuit – and no one will give you a second look.


  • And you don’t just have to save your suit for a fancy dress A trip to the gym is a great time to wear your 90s shell suit and feel perfectly comfortable doing so.

Matching tops and bottoms

It’s true, the nylon shell suit is best worn with matching tops and bottoms – but who said it always has to be that way? Your 90s shell suit pants will look equally good with a contemporary sporty jacket or Tee – especially if you have a nice pair of Reeboks and a pair of shades to go with them.


Making your own tracks with a shell suit tracksuit doesn’t have to be too complex. In all likelihood, if you reach behind your closet and take a look at all your “accumulated” stuff, you’re bound to find a lot of things that can act as accessories to your 90s shell suit. That’s how easy it is to turn back the clocks to the 90s!




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