By Hannah Pierangelo
Among the rows of ellipticals, treadmills, and weight machines at Ambler Rec, fashionable gym wear strikes. Strappy-back sport bras, vividly patterned leggings, sleek-and-shaping yoga pants, and, of course, a sea of sneakers in every color combination imaginable.
Fashion meets athleticism, it seems, in a fast growing trend that’s sweeping the nation. According the global information company The NPD Group, US consumers spent more than $300 billion in the active wear industry last year. With the market expanding in a such a huge way, it’s not hard to see why an increasing number of companies are eager to jump in.
Stores like Forever 21, Gap, Free People, and H&M are among a few fashionable clothing stores that have joined the trend and added lines of active wear. In fact, H&M’s collaboration with Alexander Wang last year for sporty, stylish active wear and casual apparel was massively popular and sold out almost immediately.
The Business of Fashion guesses that the trend for wearing gym clothes beyond the gym most likely spurred from 80s aerobics culture, when sweatbands, legwarmers, and leotards were fashionable in every day outfits. Now, the trend has turned to yoga pants, athletic shorts, and stylish sneakers.
For many, it’s comfort that reigns above all. Functionality still matters, and the added fashion is just a bonus.
“I typically wear athletic clothes on campus and while I am lounging because it is comfortable to me and looks better than wearing a big t-shirt and shorts,” says Lanie Leek, a senior journalism major. “It’s easy to wear in any weather. I am able to layer and sometimes I still feel like I have a sense of style while wearing workout clothes.”
Leek says she prefers to wear Gap athletic clothes because of their cost, but also wears Lululemon for its high quality clothing, despite the price tag. Her favorite item is a green Lululemon tank top that she wears all year long.
“I like to express my style with gym wear by pairing fun patterns together and wearing bright color in the summer and darker colors in the winter,” Leek says.
Since gym wear has suddenly gained a sense of style, it’s not uncommon for athletic clothing to be worn casually, too. It’s becoming increasingly popular to wear gym wear everywhere. Yoga pants are attending brunch with friends and fashionable sports bras are dressing up casual street style. While this is nothing new on campus (we’re all too aware of the important role Nike sneakers and leggings play in college day-to-day style), it’s also a hot trend with other demographics.
Dawn Dowers, 46, is a competitive bodybuilder from Wichita, Kansas, and also a health and wellness coach with Isagenix.
“I like to wear stylish athletic wear to the gym, but first and foremost, fit and function have to come first,” says Dowers. There are a lot of times I’m in my gym clothes almost all day long.”
Dowers estimates 90 percent of her gym clothes are Lululemon, and the rest are either Nike, Under Armor, and Victoria’s Secret.
“The reason is they simply hold up. Yes, you may pay more initially, but in the long run, it saves me money because they wear the best,” she says.
For Dowers, stylish and functional gym wear matter beyond comfort. They’re part of her job. “I take all of my gym clothes and have them branded with my company’s logo,” she explains. “Since my business is in the Health & Wellness Arena, I do not walk into a gym without being branded. That also plays into why I’m very aware of how my attire looks. If I look like I just threw something on this morning, it’s not going to make a very good impression for my business.”
From work to play, and everything in between in the day, gym clothes seem to fit almost any situation. According to The Huffington Post, we’re now living in the Age of Athleisure.
Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at The NDP Group, says, “Casual and ‘athleisure’ have taken on a life of their own. This is no longer a trend—it is now a lifestyle that is too comfortable, for consumers of all ages, for it to go away anytime soon.”
Photos by Hannah Pierangelo