Much has changed in the racing world since the first 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1923. Vehicle technology has evolved, and along with it, the special clothing worn by racing drivers. In this four-part series, we take a look at how outfits have adapted to requirements, from the first major races to the present day.
The first few years of the post-war period saw vehicles reappear from beneath dust sheets and worn clothing emerge from moth balls. Apart from eccentrics like Biaggi, who thought nothing of extracting his Ferrari from the Tertre Rouge gravel pit in a three-piece suit and bow tie, drivers all wore a similar uniform. Overalls soon gave way to all-in-one suits complete with sponsor’s insignia.
First Dunlop and then other manufacturers financed driver outfits in exchange for publicity, displaying their logos on breast pockets or trouser pockets.
The racewear in vogue in the 1950s was a very lightweight cotton in pale blue. Then white became fashionable once again, thanks to Cibié and Goodyear. The outfits were comfortable, with elasticated sleeves and ankles – which – had they existed a few years earlier – would have prevented Fangio from breaking his gear lever at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. However, some broke the dress code, namely one Carroll Shelby, who preferred to don extravagant striped dungarees, which didn’t prevent him winning Le Mans in an Aston Martin with Roy Salvadori in 1959. After a fleeting pre-war appearance, lambskin gloves with mesh backs became a wardrobe staple with the introduction of varnished steering wheels.
Perhaps a consequence of wartime, helmets were perfected and more lightweight materials such as cork, card, leather and fibres tested. Protective visors and glasses were improved too. Ankle boots became the norm, made of supple leather with an insulating sole. As was often the case in motorsports, the British were the prime suppliers, with Leston heading the field. In France, Jean-Louis Marnat’s shop on Paris’ rue Brunel was the place to go for those in the know. Marnat drove the Mini Marcos that was one of the highlights of the 1966 Le Mans 24 Hours.
More change was afoot. Find out how the seventies revolutionised racewear in the next instalment.
If you missed the beginning of the story, catch up here: