The ’80s had excess, the ’90s had grunge, the aughts had whatever those whiskered low-rise jeans and camisoles were about, and the 2010s have athleisure. So common is the sporty style that in 2016, the word will be canonized by Merriam-Webster and defined as “casual clothing designed to be worn both for exercising and for general use.” It’s distinct from sportswear (which, in fashion terms, refers broadly to casual separates; think Ralph Lauren chinos and cardigans) and performance apparel (a wicking Mountain Equipment Co-op fleece, say) and functional workout gear (your sweat-friendly tights and tank).
But you know it when you see it: sneakers, whether neon or pure white, matched with kaleidoscopic-print tights and a cropped sweatshirt or sweater made of so-called “technical cashmere.” There may be an Apple Watch involved. The woman wearing it looks put together, conspicuously healthy and perpetually orbiting some gym somewhere. Chances are, she’s just dressed for the day, whether it takes her to the office, juice-bar hopping or home to sloth with Netflix.
The slow-burning trend flared last January as Nike and Adidas raced to unroll fashion collaborations. The former, which had recently launched its first-ever model-fronted campaign (starring Karlie Kloss), teamed up with forward-looking Japanese label Sacai on a line of accordion-pleat skirts, peplum hoodies and Air Max wedge sneakers that will likely never see the inside of a gym. Adidas, meanwhile, was riding a succession of capsules from Raf Simons, Rick Owens, Mary Katrantzou, Jeremy Scott and, of course, original athleisure queen Stella McCartney, who designed her first Adidas collection back in 2004.
By summer, designers were producing their own lines or partnering with cult athletic brands. In July alone, Rebecca Minkoff, Mara Hoffman, Derek Lam (with Athleta) and Tory Burch all launched cheerful sets fit for barre class or getting papped. (Our favourite is the feather-print Mara Hoffman one-piece worn by Lena Dunham #onesienation.) And now, as the year closes, Kate Spade has announced a bow-tie-bedecked yoga line that’s far too cute for Ashtanga, and analysts at the financial services giant Morgan Stanley are predicting activewear sales will grow by $82 billion over the next four years.
Recent think pieces have called the phenomenon, with its elastic waistbands, stretchy fabrics and slouchy silhouettes, the death of professional dressing, an infantilizing style born of a collective desire to wear adult Pull-Ups and a sign of shifting cultural values that fetishize health and wellness. It’s even spawned a viral video called “Activewear,” in which cute women “do literally nothing” in tights and sports bras. As for us? Sure, there’s truth in each of those readings, but haute track pants and sneakers are also ridiculously comfortable. In these work-everywhere, #cantstopwontstop times, athleisure may be the perfect uniform.
Click through the gallery below for some of our top athleisure picks
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