Athleisure and the Emergence of Comfortable Clothing

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Let’s start by defining athleisure, which combines two seemingly contradictory terms. An article by Medium explains athleisure as “a blend of aesthetics from the sports and fashion industry.” Tommy John, a clothing brand, describes it as “the fashion evolution of athletic wear and a modern remote working lifestyle, a combination of comfort, versatility, and professional look … It’s all in the purpose and the versatility.” Sophomore Emiko Edmunds defined it in her own words as “athletic clothing that is designed for physical exercise, but worn as casual wear.” Senior Mia Garcia says to her, “it’s clothing meant for working out, that’s also stylish.” It seems that athleisure is best defined by its aim– to popularize comfortable clothing. 

Athletic clothing itself can be traced back to the 19th century, when a rubber-soled shoe, deemed the “tennis shoe,” was first produced for athletes. Tennis continued to provide a  market for athletic wear, including athletic shorts, polo shirts, and classic tennis skirts. 

However, it wasn’t until the late ‘70s that these items became everyday wear. The word “athleisure” first appeared in an issue of Nation’s Business, where it was used to “describe garments and shoes designed for those who want to appear athletic.” As personal health and fitness trends grew, so did the market for stylish workout clothing. 

To keep up with the growing demand, technological advances were needed when it comes to fabrics. Companies needed a fabric that could stretch easily in any way it was pulled while keeping its general shape—not an easy task. Textiles such as polyester, spandex, and nylon were the beginning of these developments, prioritizing breathability, anti-static qualities, and sweat absorption. As the demand for even higher performance activewear grows, so does new technology. Recently, textile scientists have created fabrics that respond to your body’s temperature. Junior Samantha Lin said “the fabric is why I love it, since it’s really comfortable and made of stretchy material, making it easier to go about my daily life.” Senior Fabiana Bolaños agrees, saying “it’s comfortable and breathable, that’s why I love it.”

This high-tech clothing style opened a door for new brands such as Lululemon, Alo Yoga, and Sweaty Betty to create expensive athletic and athleisure clothing. These brands have become hugely popular since their debuts in the late ‘90s to mid ‘2000s. Luxury fashion houses have picked up on the trend, with collaborations such as adidas by Stella McCartney, Nike x Jacquemus, and Reebok x Victoria Beckham.

The $306-billion-dollar industry shows no sign of slowing down either, as its market size is predicted to double by 2028. Senior Heaven Teo said, “I wear athleisure everyday, unless I have to go somewhere fancy… I just feel comfortable in it.” 

Part of this is due to the effects of COVID-19, since athleisure’s market didn’t see as much of a setback due to stay-at-home protocols as other markets. With less to do, people turned to at-home workouts to stay in shape, resulting in an increase in demand for fitness-related products. Online shopping played a big role in this, making sure that the loss of the in-person shopping experience didn’t affect the market growth levels. 

Menswear designer Todd Snyder described the athleisure market in an interview with the SF Chronicle, saying that “What used to be utilitarian is becoming fashion.” The market is growing because people are beginning to value comfort and versatility combined with cool cuts and designs. Senior Susie Wagstaff, Varsity soccer player, said, “Because of soccer, athleisure is a very big part of my wardrobe. I love this type of clothing because not only do I feel comfortable, I feel confident too. Finding the right clothing definitely contributes to my motivation in sports.” 

Athleisure is about more than just how it makes someone look—it’s now also about how it makes them feel. 

Kira Jones is a senior here at M-A! It’s her first year of journalism, but she’s been loving writing and researching about the history of fashion trends, and hopes to also write about local community issues. She hopes to continue journalism in college.

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