Why the Hell Did We Ever Stop Wearing Sweatbands?

Why the Hell Did We Ever Stop Wearing Sweatbands?
Photo: wavebreakmedia, Shutterstock

Sweatbands, popular in the ’80s, now only really exist as a symbol. Just like a floppy disk lives on as the “save” icon, and an old-school telephone handset is the image we tap when we want to make a call on a smartphone, a set of sweatbands are a cheesy way of indicating that somebody is working out (see picture above). Gerald the elephant sported some in a picture book my daughter recently read to me (he was learning to dance). Nobody actually wears them anymore, right?

Well, nobody except me. I bought myself a rainbow-striped set recently, not for a costume or as a joke but for genuine athletic purposes. (The fact that they come in fun colours is a bonus.) And as I’ve done my workouts in them, I can’t help wondering: Why did they ever go out of fashion?

I mean, in one sense, strips of terry cloth around your wrists and forehead can make you feel sweatier. They do, technically, trap sweat and heat onto a particular spot on your skin. I feel a bit cooler when I peel them off at the end of a workout.

But that’s a small price to pay for their ultimate purpose: keeping some of your sweat off your face, and giving you an easy way to wipe off the sweat that does accumulate.

I don’t wear them for every workout. They’re not really necessary for weightlifting or cool weather running, where you might glisten a bit but you won’t really find yourself dripping. But they’re absolutely perfect for exercises where it’s not convenient to stop and grab a towel.

For example, I did a competition recently that had a 30-minute kettlebell event. If I put the bell down, my session would be over; the point was to see who could do the most clean and jerks (swinging the bell up to the shoulder and then yeeting it overhead) within the time limit. So if you want to win, you have to keep moving.

I ran into a few moisture management issues when I started training this event. One was that my face was always sweaty, and there was no easy way to grab a towel while keeping the bell moving. The other was that if I reflexively wiped at my face with my free hand, that hand would get sweaty, and I’d have trouble keeping my grip on the bell during the cleans. My choices were to threaten my performance in the competition or to simply keep going as sweat dripped off my nose. That is, until I remembered that long-forgotten technology, the sweatband.

Let me tell you, these things were a game changer. Even though I’ve always thought my upper lip is the sweatiest part of my face, some of that grossness must be coming from higher up. With a sweatband around my forehead, my face stayed a lot drier. And with a fresh, dry sweatband around each wrist, I could easily wipe my face between reps. Best of all, the wristbands kept my arm sweat from dripping down onto my hands, an issue I didn’t even realise I had until it suddenly disappeared.

I made it through my 30-minute competition with a winning 392 reps. And I am now so enamoured of the sweatband concept that I’ve started wearing them on my spin bike and in other sweat-inducing workouts. I even put in an order for several more sets in different colours. These things are brilliant, and they never should have gone away in the first place.

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