The Story Behind the Iconic Tracksuits of Bob Marley

How the singer became a sportswear pioneer
Published: 18 February 2024

If music was Bob Marley’s first love then football was a close second. It'd be one that he would interweave with his day job as frequently as possible.

While touring, he’d make the most of his breaks with an impromptu match against his Wailers bandmates. Even if the only available pitch was a petrol station during a tour-bus pit stop. His manager, Allan ‘Skill’ Cole, was credited as Jamaica’s greatest footballer well before taking up Marley’s job offer. The latter was even known to say that he wished he could sing as well as Cole could play football.

After Marley moved to London following an assassination attempt in Kingston, Jamaica, his love of the beautiful game got noticed for a different reason. It wasn’t only his dribbling skills that caught attention, but his drip, too.

The Look

Marley's most iconic sighting came when he was papped kicking a ball about in Battersea Park, sporting a navy tracksuit tucked into socks, over a striped knit, a pair of adidas Copa Mundials on his feet. Perhaps not as eye-catching as the Rastafarian jackets or double denim ensembles he’d wear on stage. But a look that was more easily replicable in the wardrobes of footy lads around the world.

Marley wasn’t one to reserve these looks for the pitch, either—as the new biopic, Bob Marley: One Love, depicts. From the recording studio to downtime with family, the famous adidas set (often worn as separates) features within the film, reflecting a long-standing relationship, and love, of the German brand. In an interview in 2017, the curator of adidas Spezial, Gary Aspden, credited the musician as the first person “to adopt head-to-toe sportswear as a look off the field, way before hip-hop and rappers took [it] on”.

To honour what would have been the musician’s 78th birthday this year, adidas dropped a 70s-inspired Jamaica Originals football collection. It comes with tracksuits, T-shirts and a football kit doused in the colours of the Jamaican flag. It has also collaborated with the Jamaican Football Federation to create the kit for the country’s national teams, the Reggae Girlz and the Reggae Boyz. All these under the design direction of British-Jamaican designer Wales Bonner.

Marley has often been referenced in the wider fashion world, too.

Other Homages

On the catwalk, Prada (for SS05) and Tommy Hilfiger (for SS16) both paid homage, where the latter included his own take on the look. In 2018, Noah collaborated with Marley’s record label Tuff Gong, peppering pieces with the man’s charming aesthetic and that of the Jamaican music scene. Wales Bonner also used Marley as the inspiration behind her first collaboration with adidas. Since its launch in November 2020, the fruits of that partnership have become more covetable with every passing season.

A still from Bob Marley: One Love, where Bob Marley (Kingsley Ben-Adir) wears an adidas track jacket

Part of Marley's authenticity came from his devotion to his native home. It’s the same spirit that’s found in a group of up-and-coming designers with Jamaican roots. Bianca Saunders and Martine Rose are two London-based creatives who’ve risen the ranks in the menswear scene. They honour their heritage with a forward thinking approach. Even smaller brands, like Diotima and Theophilia, have been nominated for (and won, in the case of the former) awards from LVMH and the CFDA respectively.

But back to the tracksuit. Because if there was one ensemble you could take from Marley, it should be this. Why? Because the two-piece effortlessly works for all casual occasions—doesn’t hurt that you’ll be comfy while wearing it, too.

Originally published on Esquire UK

related posts