Fashion Meets Fitness – The Rise of ‘Athleisure’

By Brad Schultz

Athleisure, the fashion craze that’s transformed activewear from 24 Hour Fitness to 24-hour wear, has women and men alike donning sporty designs for the cubicle or cocktails. If conventional sweatpants are a sign of defeat, as Chanel head designer and creative director Karl Lagerfeld once criticized them as being, the new athleisure wear is a sign of the opposite. It’s not for the lazy; it’s for the wearer so busy that it’s easier to be in some sort of activewear throughout the day.

Yoga pants, leggings, tights; whatever you call them, athletic wear isn’t relegated to the gym any longer. The skyrocketing popularity of athletic wear has contributed to billions of dollars in sales on activewear, sneakers, and bags just over the past year, and has been on the rise for the last five. It’s becoming a much larger part of our everyday wardrobe, and nearly every apparel retailer you can think of is cashing in on the billion-dollar industry. The category has grown so quickly even Merriam Webster has taken notice: “athleisure” will be included in the next edition of the dictionary, defined as “casual clothing designed to be worn for both exercising and general use.”

This isn’t just a new trend taking the fashion industry by storm, it’s proving to be much bigger.  In fact it may be culturally shaping iconic fashion as we know it.


Up until this point, jeans have been in the forefront of American fashion and pop culture for decades, evoking images of James Dean wearing Lee in Rebel Without A Cause, or Marilyn Monroe in Levi’s for The Misfits. For many of us, buying your first pair of jeans was an adolescent rite of passage. Jeans were a statement of freedom and individuality. They weren’t so much a choice as a necessity. Denim was part of growing up. However, this generation is growing up in yoga pants and activewear.

It would have been unthinkable a decade ago, but there’s a new generation of twenty-somethings who might never own a pair of jeans. In the same way this new era has swapped TV for Netflix and face-to-face chat for online, they’re saying goodbye to good old-fashioned denim in favor of yoga pants and joggers.

Clothes have now advanced to serve a dual purpose; look stylish and sophisticated enough for a casual business meeting or a night out, while still remaining functional, should you wish to drop by the yoga studio or the gym for an hour of sweat.

Instead of adapting to consumer trends, Levi’s, which is the world’s most iconic denim company, stuck to its core product – resulting in major losses.  Over the past couple years Levi’s sales have dropped from over $7 billion to $4.8 billion; prompting Levi’s CEO to publicly admit that the company is threatened by the athleisure trend of wearing yoga pants.

This trend isn’t stopping anytime soon either. In fact the hottest of celebrities have embraced this approach to dressing, from Victoria Secrets models like Candice Swanepoel and Miranda Kerr to the world’s most famous singers, actresses and reality stars, such as Kate Hudson, Kim Kardashian, Katy Perry, Mila Kunis and Jennifer Lawrence. Now, the growing popularity of health and wellness bloggers and insta-famous health coaches have further solidified the legitimacy of this trend.

Noticeably, the public’s certainly jumped on board, sporting their yoga pants all over town in the trendiest hotspots. With the resurgence of all things health and wellness in the current zeitgeist and positive living’s consequent cool-factor it’s no wonder activewear is the fastest growing sector in fashion right now.

Even Lagerfeld has come to the party designing ready-to-wear apparel and accessories for the gym, including sweatpants.

Activewear is officially ubiquitous and fashion-sanctioned.

bradBrad Schultz is a fashion designer and sewing teacher in Gainesville, FL specializing in special occasion apparel.


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