Athleisure: It’s Not Going Anywhere

Adrienne Dawson, Jaci Sander, Rebecca Villavaso, and Matthew Willis

Throughout the past few decades, athletic wear has gradually been incorporated into high end fashion lines and seen on celebrities as fashion statements. Although sportswear was originally meant for the casual clothes that women wore to spectate athletic events, it eventually turned into a broad spectrum of fashion, which in turn, created a large, new enterprise.

Between the 1930’s and 1950’s, clothes for working out was not really in existence for women. It was considered unattractive to have toned muscles or sweat. This meant women wearing very leisurely clothes, such as knee length skirts and dresses, to perform tame activities, like gently hitting the ball back and forth on the tennis court (Lipoff). It is well known that Marilyn Monroe even enjoyed working out, but you will not see any photos of her in what we consider “practical” athletic wear.

marilyn monroe
Figure 1: Marilyn Monroe’s Exercise

Figure 1 is an example of her workout clothes. She is often pictured in jeans or shorts, and a short-sleeved sweater or other “appropriate” top. The clothes Marilyn would wear to work out in would be considered out of place in a gym today. The 1960’s got the ball rolling for a drastic increase in athletic wear for everyone.

The 1960’s was the beginning of formfitting sportswear. With the production of new fabrics, leotards were becoming a staple in athletic attire. It also made way for the classic red, blue and grey cotton and nylon workout suits we are familiar with today. In the late 1960’s, Adidas took their first step into clothing, creating the iconic tracksuit. This would not become a trend until a few years later, when Bruce Lee began wearing them regularly. Although new materials gave companies an opportunity to create new types of clothing, the idea of tight clothes did not become mainstream until the 1970’s.

The 1970’s probably had the most versatility when it came to all the styles that were popular. Tracksuits, which were made popular by Bruce Lee, were suddenly considered appropriate to wear even if the person was not doing any activity that was considered even remotely athletic or sporty (“How Sportswear Became High Fashion”). This appears to be the first instance of workout clothes being worn for relaxation and everyday wear. The tracksuit appears to be the most popular trend, with almost everyone having one. There was also a rise in leotards as more women began turning to jazzercise as their exercise of choice. Lastly, there were the infamous athletic shorts of the 1970’s. These short, high-waisted gym shorts became very popular, for both men and women, for the same reason as the tracksuits. They were great for not only athletic activities, but also for comfortable clothes.

The 1980’s backtracked a little when it came to athletic clothes being worn more in public. Flashy fashion was everywhere in the 80’s, including its athletic clothing. Spandex became a huge staple and was available in a variety of bright colors. With women still focusing on jazzercise and aerobics, leotards and leggings, along with the occasional leg warmer and sweatband, were the main components of a woman’s outfit.

1980s athletic wear
Figure 2: 1980’s Athleticwear

As seen in Figure 2, women would coordinate the colors in their outfits to make a better fashion statement, even if it was only for their hour work out. Ranging from shimmering designs to bold patterns, women were able to express themselves, but generally, these outfits stayed in the aerobics studios.

The 1990’s brought a wave of athleticwear in mainstream pop culture. With the hip hop trend climbing, you started seeing more rappers donning Adidas’ Superstar sneakers with coordinating tracksuits (Babcock). While the 1970’s might have made the tracksuits popular for comfort, the 90’s made them a true fashion trend, with people wanting them for style. The tracksuits also were incorporated into the 2000’s, with celebrities like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton photographed wearing designer suits by Juicy Couture for various outings (Babcock).

Today, athleisure has soared to the top of the charts in popularity because of the fact that it is comfortable and affordable. The market for athleisure has spread from luxury lines, to celebrity brands, to typical retail labels (Fromm). Some of the biggest name-brand athleisure companies are Lululemon, Nike, Fabletics, Victoria Secret, Adidas, and Under Armor. These companies design clothing that uses comfort, design, and color to appeal to the consumers. It has become the normal thing to wear, even if you do not exercise or workout because of its affordability and practicality when you have to walk all day. It is also used to just be comfortable while watching tv. Athleisure has even made an attempt to make a market in office clothing, with a line of yoga pants and tops making their debut at the 2015 Summer Outdoor Retailer show (Musante 42).

Teenagers who are making a decent income are pushing the market of athleisure clothing to the sky by buying luxury brands and clothing from celebrity lines. Athleisure has become the day clothes, street clothes, theater clothes, and what most teens and young adults wear for any occasion (Thompson). No matter the age, size, or athletic ability, it is the most common clothing to see throughout all four seasons. This has become an easy and non-stressful way of choosing outfits for the day. Athletic shorts and leggings go with almost anything a person could plan to wear with it.

lululemon leggings
Figure 3: Lululemon Leggings

Lululemon has defined athleisure wear for the decade by making prettier versions of the practical clothing that has also allowed for the success of elite athletes (Wilson). This athletic wear franchise has provided a quality of athletic clothing that has created the athleisure category that we know today.  With many different variations of the same type of leggings, as seen in Figure 3, Lululemon provides a design for everyone’s different styles. Lululemon has kept a loyal fanbase through offering reliable, cute clothing and free classes such as running and yoga (Schlossberg). The company does not keep many sizes for each of its items because they update their collections so often. This also creates a system where customers have to buy clothing at full prices, out of fear of selling out of their size in a particular article of clothing (Schlossberg). Many different companies have tried to compete with Lululemon, but none have succeeded in bringing down this high-end athleisure clothing brand.

Looking through celebrity profiles on social media, when not going on fancy outings, they can be seen wearing athleisure clothing. Whether the celebrities are walking the streets, having lunch, or touring Disney World with friends or their children, they are seen in the comfortable, stretchy clothing that allows them to roam free without having any restrictive clothing. This adds more fuel to the fire that is the athleisure trend. Most normal, everyday people look to celebrities for the latest in fashion trends, and if they are commonly seen in athleisure clothing, the people are sure to follow.

Athleisure brands boast the durability of their clothing so that they become the new normal for everyday life. The clothes, capable of standing the day to day wear and tear, will last awhile, while other clothing, such as jeans, get worn down and stretched out much sooner. Athleisure has used synthetic fibers such as spandex to make the fabrics more durable and allow you to have more movement (Thompson).  As the athleisure trend grows, so does the industry for new materials.

The athleisure wear industry has moved away from utilizing traditional sportswear fabric such as polyester and polyester-blends, and has diversified its technology to include new and innovative textiles with specialized functionalities. This new development is a result of prioritizing comfort, fashion, and everyday practical use in the manufacturing of athleisure wear while still maintaining the traditional uses of sportswear. This is largely why athleisure wear has such a wide appeal; it caters to comfort and practicality, while maintaining a fashionable, athletic look. This is further explained by Benjamin Fitzgerald, a contributor to Le Souk magazine: “the athleisure attraction lies in the combining of real fashion with active silhouettes and fabrics, allowing women to use pieces across location” (Fitzgerald par. 9). Each of these aspects which make athleisure wear so appealing are due, in part, to the fabrics they are manufactured with.

The types of fabrics used to make athleisure clothing include natural fibers and synthetic fabrics. Natural fibers include materials that are non-synthetic and organic, and are commonly used to manufacture fabrics used in athleisure clothing. Examples of fabrics that lie in this category include cotton, wool, and bamboo. Cotton is a commonly used material in many different types of clothing. It is celebrated for its comfort, but it is generally not considered a practical option for regular sportswear. This is due to cotton’s hydrophilic nature: it absorbs moisture very easily, takes a long time to dry, making it a bad choice for exercise. Many athleisure brands use cotton and cotton-blends in their clothing, but are usually marketed as comfortable clothing that is meant for leisure. Wool is another example of a material commonly used in clothing. It is a better option for moisture wicking than cotton and has the added benefit of providing insulation. This is why wool is a common option for outerwear, and is used to make some articles of athleisure clothing, most commonly sweaters. Bamboo can be a good option for insulation and repelling moisture also. Some benefits of bamboo include UV protection, breathability, and microbe resistance. This makes bamboo fabric a suitable option for manufacturing many types of athletic wear, including tank tops and leggings.

Synthetic fabrics are also commonly used in athleisure clothing, and include materials such as nylon, polyester, lycra, and other patented fabrics. Nylon fabric is a strong, durable, lightweight fabric that absorbs little moisture, dries easily, and resists dirt. Because of this, it is commonly used in different types of athletic wear, including athleisure. An added benefit of nylon fabric is that it doesn’t crease or wrinkle. Polyester is also commonly used in athleisure wear because of its durability, low absorbency, and resistance to creasing. However, unlike nylon, polyester does not shrink and it takes color much easier. This especially makes it a favorable choice as athleisure fabric because it is easier to dye. However, polyester is an odor retentive material and is susceptible to harboring bacteria. Lycra, also known as spandex or elastane, is another breathable material that dries quickly and wicks moisture. However, a quality unique to lycra that makes it especially favorable for athletic wear is its exceptional elasticity. Along with these materials, there are other synthetic fabrics that are patented by and unique to specific companies. Natalie Kimani, a writer for The Designer Studio, states that textile research is widely conducted by these companies, and that “there’s quite a bit of investment in technology and research for improved fabrics” (Kimani par. 8). An example of a popular, patented fabric is pictured below in Figure 4: Dri-Fit Nike.

dri-fit nike
Figure 4: Dri-Fit Nike

Nike’s Dri-Fit fabric is a polyester blend that facilitates evaporation and wicks moisture. It’s a popular product for athletic use, and provides a stylish look for its wearer. There are still more fabrics being created every day, such as polyamide fiber materials that provide lightweight, soft, anti-transparent, stretchable material (“Extra-Functional Polyamide Fabrics for Athleisure”).

In 2010, comfort-wear became the trend on LSU’s campus. Nike shorts, oversized t-shirts, and sneakers became the trademark outfit for women on campus. This began the athleisure trend as women chose comfort over appearance. Today, athleisure is the most common outfit trend found on LSU’s campus. Leggings and running shorts have become the “go-to” pants choice for women as they find that, thanks to the fabric, leggings are comfortable and flattering to the eye. Men on LSU’s campus still choose khakis or jeans, with a rising trend in joggers and sweatpants during the colder winter months. Tennis shoes are the staple footwear in athleisure and are the most popular footwear on LSU’s campus, this is because of their comfort and convenience when walking around campus.

On Tuesday, November 27th an observant study was performed by a group member, Adrienne Dawson. In her findings, she saw in her English class that out of the ten women present in her morning class, nine were wearing Athleisure clothing. For the men, she observed out of the four men present in the class only one was wearing Athleisure clothing. Out of the whole class she observed everyone wearing sneakers.

Athleisure clothing is a popular sale item at the LSU Barnes and Noble. Selling shorts, sweatshirts, leggings, and other various items of athletic clothing, Barnes and Noble took note of the rising fad and developed a whole line of LSU custom athleisure wear.

red shirt
Figure 5: Barnes and Noble “Red Shirt Athleisure Full Zip” Merchandise

Figure 5 shows an example of an athleisure best seller at Barnes and Noble, taken from their merchandise website. If athleisure is searched in the Barnes and Noble search bar, twenty custom items are displayed. This proves how popular the style is since the store has created a whole line of clothing targeting the majority of the students on campus.

Although Athleisure is at the height of its popularity amongst LSU students, not everyone is a fan. The LSU newspaper, The Daily Reveille, published an opinion article explaining how athleisure is ruining the image of the LSU’s campus. The article states how the well-liked fad is distasteful, presenting the idea of implementing a dress code. Writer, Britany Diefender, goes on to explain how athleisure should be limited and business casual dress should be required for once or twice a week (Diefenderfer). It is also stated that comfort attire restricts student’s abilities to develop a professional and serious mindset towards their education. Diefender also believes such attire is disrespectful to professors as students are not putting effort into their appearance, thus appearing lazy.

Providing comfort, style, durability and variety, athleisure has something to provide everyone.  Hated by some, loved by most, this trend does not seem to be leaving anytime soon.

Works Cited

Babcock, Gregory. “A Brief History of the Tracksuit.” Complex, 6 November 2015, https://www.complex.com/style/2015/11/history-of-the-tracksuit. Accessed 25 November 2018.

“Extra-Functional Polyamide Fabrics for Athleisure.” Technical Textiles/Technische Textilen, Vol. 59, Issue 3, August 2016, 86. Discovery. Accessed 8 November 2018.

Diefenderfer, Britany. “Opinion: LSU Should Implement Dress Code for Respectful, Tasteful Attire.” The Daily Reveille, 11 October 2018. Web. Accessed 17 November 2018.

Figure 1: Marilyn Monroe’s Exercise. “The Crazy Evolution of Workout Clothes, From Petticoats to Lululemon” 2017, www.huffpost.com/entry/evolution-workout-clothes_n_5838164. Web. Accessed 25 November 2018.

Figure 2: 1980’s Athleticwear. “The Crazy Evolution of Workout Clothes, From Petticoats to Lululemon” 2017, www.huffpost.com/entry/evolution-workout-clothes_n_5838164. Web. Accessed 25 November 2018.

Figure 3: Lululemon Leggings. 2018, Lululemon. Web. Accessed 28 November 2018.

Figure 4: Dri-Fit Nike. “Material Movements: A Guide to Athleisure Fabrics” 2017, http://tdsblog.com/material-movements-guide-athleisure-fabrics/. Web. Accessed 20 November 2018.

Figure 5: Barnes and Noble “Red Shirt Athleisure Full Zip” Merchandise. 2018, Barnes and Noble: LSU. Web. Accessed 17 November 2018.

Fitzgerald, Benjamin. “Meet the Active Fabric Mills Running the Athleisure Trend.” Le Souk, www.lesouk.co/articles/tex-style-news/meet-the-active-fabric-mills-running-the-athleisure-trend. Web. Accessed 10 November 2018.

Fromm, Jeff. “The Lululemon Lifestyle: Millennials Seek More Than Just Comfort from Athleisure Wear.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 6 July 2016, http://www.forbes.com/sites/jefffromm/2016/07/06/the-lululemon-lifestyle-millennials-seek-more-than-just-comfort-from-athleisure-wear/#29231aba14d9. Accessed 17 November 2018.

“How Sportswear Became High Fashion.” Origin. www.originoutside.com/insights/how-sportswear-became-high-fashion. Accessed 14 November 2018.

Kimani, Natalie. “Material Movements: A Guide to Athleisure Fabrics.” The Designers Studio, July 2017, http://tdsblog.com/material-movements-guide-athleisure-fabrics/. Web. Accessed 10 November 2018.

Lipoff, Sarah. “Fitness Fashion Through the Decades.” Popsugar, 6 April 2015, https://www.popsugar.com/fitness/Fitness-Fashion-Over-Decades-37025021#photo-37025022. Accessed 23 November 2018.

Musante, Glenna B. “Trending Near You: Athleisure.” AATCC Review, vol. 16, Issue 4, 2016, 40-45. Web. Accessed 13 November 2018.

Schlossberg, Mallory. “Lululemon’s Secrets for Beating All the Competition.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 30 July 2015, www.businessinsider.com/lululemon-and-the-rise-of-athleisure-2015-7.

Thompson, Derek. “How Athleisure Conquered Modern Fashion.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 28 October 2018, www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/10/bicycle-bloomers-yoga-pants-how-sports-shaped-modern-fashion/574081/.  Accessed 15 November 2018.

Wilson, Chip. “Why the Word ‘Athleisure’ Is Completely Misunderstood.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 18 April 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/chipwilson/2018/04/18/why-the-word-athleisure-is-completely-misunderstood/#4a30d70d4697. Accessed 15 November 2018.