Athleisure

The Fashion Trend That Calls for Comfort

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We have all run that late-night errand in a pair of sweatpants or slipped into a somewhat formal gathering wearing a less-than-formal pair of shoes—after all, comfort is a comfort. But perhaps you have noticed more and more people toting casual attire with less concern—and even in fashionable ways. This is no coincidence, but rather, it’s part of a recent clothing trend known as athleisure.

Athleisure is a portmanteau of the words “athletic” and “leisure” and traces its first usage back to the 1970s. Essentially, this trend is a category of clothing that’s centered around pieces designed for exercise but that can also be carried over into nonfitness settings, such as school or even the office. It is a comfort- and mobility-first fashion concept that rose to prominence in 2015 and currently shows little indication of decline in popularity. The market size for athleisure products was more than $250 billion in 2016 alone and the demand is continually being fueled by a new consumer desire for lifestyle-focused clothes and other products.

But just what makes something an athleisure item?

What began as not-so-expensive small-scale lines of clothing, like track pants or running shoes, now encompasses many simple and highly functional items. Some athleisure essentials include yoga pants, flexible cloth shoes, or oversized multifiber sweatshirts. Often, athleisure items are not made from typical materials, like leather or cotton, but rather from materials like nylon, elastane, or polyester that are lightweight and wrinkle-free. These materials (sometimes blended with cotton) provide wicking experiences for the skin during sweating and offer enhanced breathability during exercise.

So naturally, the reduction of sweat buildup coupled with the sensation of a cooling effect has also played a role in the popularity of athleisure. What’s more is that athleisure can also be mixed and matched with items that are not athletic. For instance, a pair of cropped running pants can be paired with a chunky wool sweater and stiff denim jacket to create a very unique look. Even further, the athleisure trend is worn by all age groups—from toddlers to seniors—and earns good rapport from well-known celebrities. Kate Middleton, wife of Britain’s Prince William, was once spotted in full-on athleisure worn over a white cotton polo shirt.

Athleisure items have grown so popular that they are no longer limited to being designed by sportswear brands like Nike, Puma, or Fila. Major luxury fashion houses, like Gucci and Marc Jacobs, have also added these casual activewear items to their runway shows and boutique clothing lines.

But aside from the trends and the fashionability of athleisure, just what can it do in your everyday life?

Unlike denim or leather items, athleisure clothing can provide fuller ranges of motion for the body. Typically, the clothing items are either completely form-fitting or roomy and large—both types of design allowing for easier movement of the arms and legs. For those suffering from conditions like arthritis or simply just general aches and pains, athleisure clothing can provide a small token of relief. It’s also much easier to climb a long flight of stairs or bend down when not wearing stiffer fabrics.

But maybe your goal is simpler. Perhaps you’ve never tried yoga before or want to take an impromptu long walk. Or maybe you’d really love to be gardening but need more comfortable clothing in order to be on the ground planting your summer vegetables. Keeping a few athleisure items in your wardrobe can simplify your exercise or house-
keeping endeavors.

With national (and global) shifts moving in the direction of health and wellness awareness, athleisure clothes and footwear will likely continue to grow as both a fashion category and profitable market. Older adults across the country are joining gyms, activity clubs, or simply taking up pastimes like hiking or birdwatching, and it only makes sense that this clothing niche will become more mainstream and more of a wardrobe staple for seniors. So if you choose to opt for slimming yoga pants while meeting friends for lunch, just know that you will truly be on trend.

Steven Casale is a freelance writer in New York City.

Under Armour was one of the first brands to make athletic wear acceptable beyond athletics. (Courtesy of Under Armour)
Chic showgoers walking outside during Paris Fashion Week. (Valentina Ranieri/Picture-Alliance/DPA/AP Images)