Athleisure sounds like one of those desperate buzzwords.  Like spornosexual, hipster, or millennial.  Our parents have been wearing sweatpants in public for decades.  Did we really need a name for it?

But when it comes to selling clothes, it’s never about what we need.  Athleisure is about more than wearing a pair of joggers to dinner.  It’s a lifestyle—one that’s changed the way we approach getting dressed, according to Business insider.  

Man wearing athleisure clothingWTF Is Athleisure?

Some guys can pull this off without a hitch.  It’s like they’ve walked right off the pages of GQ Style.  Others are misguided and look as though they couldn’t decide between a work look or a gym look.  So, they just wore them together.  Perhaps it would help if we had a solid definition of what athleisure actually is.  BI offers one of the best explanations on record.

“Athleisure is a ‘weird hybrid’ of business casual and athletic wear, which has essentially created an entirely new category of clothing.  Many of the clothes that people now consider work-appropriate incorporate sports-inspired materials, like spandex, Lycra, and other synthetic fibers.  It’s combining two trends that have dominated American casual clothing—durability and comfort—in a versatile way.”

Athleisure is the end of having separate wardrobes for work and play.  As we redefine the way we work and the lines between our professional and personal lives are further blurred, our clothing is following suit.  This is why luxury designers are going low-brow with track pants.  And athletic wear is becoming as tailored as your favorite suit.  

Show Me the Money

Clothing retail is having a tough year.  Your local mall is starting to look like a commercial graveyard.  CNBC reports almost 3,000 stores have gone out of business this year.  More than 60,000 retail workers have lost their jobs.  Simply put, people aren’t buying clothes like they once did.  Except when it comes to sportswear.

Global apparel sales only grew 3.8% in 2016.  That’s due largely to sportswear’s 7% growth.  It’s the only apparel category with considerable improvement, aside from footwear.  If you remove those results, apparel revenue looks bleak.  In other words, athleisure is literally saving the fashion industry.

From J.Crew’s Sport line, complete with compression tights and moisture-wicking shirts, to Alexander Wang’s collaboration with Adidas, athleisure-inspired collections are everywhere.  And it makes sense.  It’s where the money’s at.

Athleisure outfit

Function Over Taste?

Athleisure is singlehandedly keeping the fashion biz afloat and it’s redefining dress codes around the world.  But still, it begs the question—is this aesthetic serviceable as high fashion?  Is it acceptable?

Not according to longtime Project Runway consultant Tim Gunn.  He’s less than enthused about the trend.  When Bloomberg asked him about the rise of leggings and tanks in everyday culture, he said, “It’s vulgar.  Unless you’re Robin Hood.”  He advises us all to change before we leave the gym and save the spandex for the weight room.

The Telegraph’s Alex Proud offered stern advice with a twist of humor.  “I’m not going to offer you ten hot athleisure tips.  Just one, which is don’t wear it.”  Harsh, Mr. Proud.

Therein lies the biggest controversy surrounding the trend.  The world of fashion was built on luxurious fabrications, handcrafted goods, eye-popping designs, and envelope-pushing ensembles.  Athleisure is moving the needle in the other direction.  Everyone is dressing down.  Though we’re more comfortable, the art of high fashion is moving out of reach.

Model wearing athleisure on runwayThe Verdict

Regardless of how you feel, whether you turn up your nose at the thought of someone in joggers and a blazer, or you’re wearing that exact combo as you read this, athleisure is like Cher.  It’s not going anywhere.

For starters, fashion is a business.  As much as we all live for the avant garde wackiness of Comme des Garçons, the industry needs to sell what the people want.  And right now, they want sneakers, track pants, tank tops, and running tights.  In this era of extreme closures and bankruptcy filings, retailers will do what it takes to survive.  If anything, expect to see more athleisure than ever before.

The existence of athleisure won’t necessarily cancel out more adventurous fashion.  For all the blending of our lifestyles, it’s still highly inappropriate to go casual in certain atmospheres.  No one’s wearing a compression top to the Met Gala or a black-tie charity dinner.  There are still established boundaries for dressing up and dressing down.

And there are some people who get this trend so right.  They’re able to look sharp in workout clothes and business casual apparel without looking like they just finished spin class.  If only those guys could teach all the others how to do it correctly, we might convince Gunn and the other critics of athleisure’s value.

Only time will tell.  And there’s plenty of that because athleisure is most certainly here to stay.