What Is Athleisure? A Comfortable Fashion Trend
The athleisure trend is a comfortable and functional aesthetic that is suitable for wearing both as activewear inside the gym and out in public. It’s a fashion trend that has swept over the globe and is worn by millions of men and women, including some of the world’s wealthiest and most influential people.
Athleisure staples are often made from soft, sweat-wicking, breathable, and stretchy fabrics perfect for workouts, and sometimes feature tech aspects such as discreet zipper pockets, antimicrobial properties, or low profile insulation. People wear athleisure for its comfort, performance, and versatility of style as athletic apparel that is perfect for everyday wear.
To break it down technically, the name is a combination of both “athletic,” and “leisure,” referring to clothing that you’d wear as athletic wear and also for leisure activities respectively. The exact origins of this term are debatable, but likely to have been first used sometime during the mid 20th century.
Historically, the idea of athleisure refers to wearing clothing designed for sports and athletics in a casual setting entirely separate from its intended use. By this definition, athleisure brands came about as soon as the most rudimentary athletic wear was created, at least a full century before yoga pants were invented.
The three main factors that have contributed to the emergence of athleisure as we know it today are:
The development of synthetic fibers such as spandex and nylon.
An increased fixation on maintaining a healthy and fit lifestyle and appearance.
The decline of formality in American fashion.
Today, athleisure represents not just a combination of casual and athletic clothes in the same outfit, but also a whole catalog of garments that were specifically designed to appeal both in an athletic sense as well as a leisurely sense. It’s no longer just a mix of casual and athletic, but a synergetic fusion of the two. It’s a whole new category of clothing that represents contemporary society as well as any other trend or style of clothing.
Comfort has always been a defining characteristic of athleisure. If it wasn’t more comfortable than its alternatives, people wouldn’t wear it as often as they do. It wouldn’t have an appeal outside of its application to workouts and physical activity. But it is comfortable (very comfortable) and people love it for that.
Athleisure is the new casual clothing because of its comfort. Denim jeans get nowhere close to athletic tights, sweatpants, or yoga pants when it comes to a wardrobe full of casual comfort. Common fabrics can’t touch a meticulous blend of material made to maximize softness and stretch. It’s not athleisure if it’s not comfortable.
Athleisure is performance apparel. It will move the way you move and stand up to your workouts. Materials used in athleisure garments are often made from stretchy, breathable fabrics and synthetic fibers like spandex. This makes it ideal for physical activity because it allows for an unhindered range of motion, and helps regulate body temperatures.
But it’s not only the fitness performance that people appreciate about athleisure clothing but the healthy and fit appearance as well. Athleisure clothing as casual dress allows people to present themselves in a healthy and fit light.
It's clothing that represents lifestyle values of physical activity and wellbeing while also being perfect for general use. It’s not a substitute for going to the gym, but for some people, it’s a way of complimenting their gym-going habits even when they’re not working out.
Part of what constitutes the style appeal of athleisure brands is the aforementioned comfort and fit appearance. Comfort and fitness are stylish on their own. People want to be comfortable and fit because it’s in vogue to be comfortable and fit.
In addition to the appeal it has by itself, athleisure is also a style category that opens up a wide range of personal expression. It can be mixed with pieces from other styles. Athleisure staples blend with pieces from other style categories in a complimentary way. It brings them on as a partner to create a fresh look that brings out the best qualities of each individual piece.
Athleisure staples are often minimal and sleek. They’re designed with close attention to fit and form and made to complement the human body like a second skin. There is an understated and luxurious appeal to a well-made and well-fitting garment in the fashion industry. It speaks for itself well, but will also complement just about anything you want to pair with it, like accessories and footwear.
The style is extremely versatile. Since the garments themselves are commonly found in solid colors, free from unnecessary graphics or patterns, they won’t get in the way of the clothes you pair them with. Athleisure clothing generally maintains neutrality on its own. One of its defining characteristics is that it can take on the characteristics of whatever you pair it with.
For example, joggers will appear casual when worn with a t-shirt and baseball cap, but when you pair them with a button down or blouse, they suddenly become a bit more formal to meet dress codes. A modern bomber jacket will go just as well with pants or hoodies that come from the same athleisure family as it will with a pair of ripped jeans or flannel trousers.
Creating a great athleisure outfit is easy; there are many directions you can take it and none of them are wrong. The key to pulling off an athleisure look that’s right for you is narrowing down the specific athleisure look you’re going for and choosing pieces that support it.
Take a look at the examples below for outfit examples, and use them as a starting point to assemble an athleisure look that is totally you.
High Waisted Joggers with Sports Bra, Crop Top, and Cap: This combination is an athleisure staple for women that is fun and comfortable for the gym, yoga class, or weekend brunch. The high-waisted joggers and cropped top play with the concept of length in an aesthetically pleasing way. A solid cap is an easy way to add sporty character to a casual outfit from athletic brands.
Black Joggers With Patterned Blouse and Heels: Dress up your joggers and bring them to new heights with a patterned blouse and high heels. The tapered and cuffed joggers will accent your high heels and make your legs appear longer. A blouse will work with the classy black color of your pants to dress up your favorite athleisure pants for dinner or a night out.
Cozy Joggers With Matching Sweatshirt: A pair of fleece joggers with a matching sweatshirt is a cozy outfit that’s ready to binge-watch a show on the couch or head out for errands around town. It is a monochromatic outfit that will stand on its own but can also be used as a blank canvas for the coat or jacket of your choosing.
Joggers With Flannel Shirt and Chelsea Boots: This look balances the modern, streamlined look of joggers with a classic outdoor-inspired flannel to create a casual and street-ready outfit. Chelsea boots are the perfect blend of sleek and rugged to complement the shirt and pants. Wear an essential crewneck under your flannel for an unbuttoned option.
Pants With a Henley and Blazer: Wearing your comfortable and fashionable athleisure pants with a blazer is an easy way to mix formal and casual. You’ll know they’re the same pants you wore to the gym last week, but to everyone else, they’ll look like a great fitting pair of chinos or slacks that compliment your blazer. A henley shirt is a cool and casual option to wear under your blazer. Finish off the look with a pair of plain leather sneakers or a pair of loafers.
Smart Pants With Polo and Cardigan: This pair of athleisure pants feature a traditional five-pocket design. Wear these with a polo and cardigan for a formal look that’s office ready. Match oxfords and a belt to your colorway and the outfit is complete and polished. Substitute the polo for a button down to increase the formality of your outfit, or sub it out for a v-neck to look more casual.
Fashion trends are constantly coming, going, and coming back again. But that principle doesn’t necessarily apply to athleisure. This is especially true when you consider it’s origins at the beginning of sportswear and the ways in which it has evolved into what it is today. In many regards, athleisure is not so much a fashion trend as it is a change in the way that people view clothing.
This change is a result of improvements in technology, a shift in the way society values health and fitness, and a progression away from formality in fashion. Athleisure is the sector of contemporary fashion that best embodies a modern lifestyle.
It’s prevalence today has been long coming, and it’s not going away any time soon. Perhaps we are now in the age of athleisure, and if you have yet to embrace it, perhaps now is the time to do so.