It’s been almost 4 years now since the athleisure trend came into our lives and judging by the number of people I’ve spotted around campus dressed in sweatshirts and leggings, it doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of slowing down. What began quite simply as clothing for exercise has now interwoven with the fabrics of fashion and become an integral part of our wardrobes. Is this a result of innovations in textile technologies or is it an increased focus on functional fashion that’s behind this trend? Or could it be that there is an even broader social shift that has seen us to move towards a more health-conscious society?
The first fitness wear to come onto the market was by no means wearable in your everyday life. For example, imagine going for brunch with bae or for popping into the Robbo in a 1970s jazzercize leotard or an 80s sweatband, leg warmers and neon tights combination. Up until as late as the 2000’s, most fitness clothes were either too skimpy or too unflattering to make the transition out of gym bags and onto the streets. However, the more serious we’ve become about working out and maintaining a healthy body, the more wearable our athletics options have become. This isn’t just aesthetically; textiles developers work hard to bring us new materials which will breathe, stretch perfectly to our shapes and reduce odours, all of which are then incorporated into our garments. Although performance enhancing kit can perhaps explain rising numbers of people performing physical activities in the UK, it doesn’t answer the question as to why sales in jeans are simultaneously falling, whilst the estimated net worth of the athleisure sector has more pace than the Olympic runners endorsing it.[pullquote]athleisure suggests hope for a healthier relationship between us, our clothing and our bodies.[/pullquote]
Perhaps it is media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat that have opened up the market for sportwear instead of traditional jeans. These networks are a space for people to feel inspired and motivated to exercise and as people’s lifestyles change to become more active so must their clothing choices, therefore we choose to buy garments we are more comfortable in or that we have seen our favourite youtubers wear whilst working out.
Moreover, a study in 2012 suggested that what we wear can impact how we perform, this was termed ‘enclothed cognition’. The idea is that the symbolic meaning you associate with your clothes can increase your success. So if you are dressed to hit your fitness goals, you’re more likely to. This creates a multiplier effect as activewear ranges aren’t just selling clothes anymore, they are part of the marketing of a fitness lifestyle, which we as customers buy into. The following increased sales and eventual saturation of the activewear market then creates a demand for a differentiation in sportswear styles and innovations in design, which we buy to stay on trend and thus continue the cycle. This means that the main focus of athleisure is no longer function. In order for a product to sell, it now has to offer more than a seamless, quick dry, breathable material- it has to look good too.
As athleisure becomes better designed and more flattering the lines between fashion and function begin to blur. This can be seen as a good thing as fashion also becomes more inclusive and caters towards a wider range of body shapes. Concentrating on what our bodies can do instead of what they look like can be seen to represent fashion distancing itself from its past of distorted body images, although that’s not to say fitness campaigns haven’t had their own issues in portraying a new form of body fascism. Ultimately however, athleisure suggests hope for a healthier relationship between us, our clothing and our bodies.