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When Did the Athleisure Trend Start?

Meredith Provensal

What Is Athleisure?

Athleisure wear is multipurpose clothing that can be worn to exercise in or perform everyday activities. While activewear is clothing that is specifically designed for use in sports, exercise, and outdoor adventures but can also be fashionable, athleisure apparel is considered more versatile and can be worn in your daily activities even if you never work out. Although it wasn’t very long ago that people never would have eaten in a restaurant wearing their gym clothes, today, athleisure apparel is a highly popular style choice that compliments busy lifestyles, keeps us comfortable, and emphasizes the importance of physical fitness as part of our daily routines. 

 

When Did the Athleisure Trend Start?

Many people trace the modern athleisure movement to the 1970s, but athleisure clothing actually got its start in the late 19th century. The first shoes with rubber bottoms were produced for athletes in 1892, and the rubber gave the shoes better traction on the tennis courts, earning them the name “tennis shoes.” At nearly the same time, intramural sports became very popular at universities in the United States, and men would wear their athletic clothes to class before or after practice. Polo shirts were first designed in the 1920s and were originally designed for tennis players as a breathable alternative to the long-sleeved designs that were popular at the time, and they were eventually co-opted by polo players. Today, few people think of polo shirts as athletic apparel, but that’s exactly how they got their start. Throughout the 20th century, new clothing was designed to meet the needs of athletes, including shorts, which were first designed for use in the gym, as well as running shoes. It wasn’t until the 1970s that modern athleisure apparel really started to take hold, however. As exercise caught on and more people began focusing on their physical fitness, apparel companies saw the value in designing clothing specifically designed for exercise in a variety of different fabrics that offer moisture-wicking properties, improved breathability, and odor-wicking technology. The increasing investment and research into athletic apparel improved the quality of the clothing, and more people began to purchase the products. The term “athleisure” was first used in March 1979 in an issue of Nation’s Business, where it was used to describe clothing and shoes that were designed for people who wanted to look athletic. Over the years, athleisure moved from sportswear, which was clothing designed for a specific sport, to the one-size-fits-all approach to athletic apparel that defines athleisure clothing today. The athleisure trend really found its footing in the early 2000s, shortly after Lululemon was founded in 1997. The company revolutionized the fashion industry with its stylish twists on workout clothes that were previously worn only for exercise, like yoga pants, sports bras, leggings, joggers, tank tops, and crop tops. A 2018 survey showed that upper-income teens were six times more likely to report an athleisure brand as their favorite clothing brand in 2018 than in 2008, and the rates continue to grow.

 

Why Is Athleisure So Popular?

The goal of athleisure pieces from the beginning has been to make sporty clothing that is more comfy and suitable for exercise, but the movement received an increasing amount of support in the 1970s with the renewed focus on materials and function. As athleisure clothing became more comfortable, people were more likely to wear it outside of their workouts. Today, that innovation is one of the major reasons why athleisure is so popular. Every company is constantly working to improve their materials and technology, so today, it’s possible to find athleisure apparel made from fabrics as diverse as bamboo, spandex, and merino wool. Athleisure’s popularity is also due, at least in part, to how easily it fits into a busy lifestyle. The clothing is comfortable and multifunctional, and the increasing acceptance of athleisure clothing in social settings means that it can be worn in many different circumstances. Athleisure clothing is also easy to wear because it doesn’t wrinkle, often has anti-odor properties, and is breathable and durable. Unlike many other clothing trends, athleisure is also suitable for lots of different types of weather and is often produced specifically for working out in a variety of weather conditions, including extreme heat or cold. That means it’s the perfect thing to throw on when you’re running errands in the summer and worrying about sweating through your clothes, or you’re headed out in the middle of winter and want to be sure you’re protected from the elements. There’s also a performative element of athleisure clothing; as living a healthy lifestyle becomes increasingly important and popular in the eyes of many people, athleisure clothing demonstrates a person’s commitment to health and fitness. It makes a statement that says you prioritize wellness, even if you never actually work out. The clothing can be dressed up by layering a leather jacket or a pair of heels and transitioned into more formal settings, so it’s highly versatile and means that you can look stylish and feel comfortable at the same time. Pieces like sweatpants, hoodies, sweatshirts, track pants, high-rise leggings, and baseball caps are all athleisure pieces that are trending right now. 

 

Is the Athleisure Trend Here to Stay?

At this point, calling athleisure a trend almost seems disingenuous, because it has spread across the world and become so pervasive that it’s now more like a movement. Athleisure is becoming more acceptable in a variety of different settings, with some employers accepting the trend in the workplace, especially as people begin to incorporate pieces of athleisure apparel into outfits that are otherwise more focused on fashion than lounging. Between 2012 and 2019, the global athleisure sector increased by 42 percent to a total value of 270 billion dollars, and an additional 30 percent of growth is anticipated for 2020. Forbes projects that sneakers will overtake dress shoes as the largest footwear category through 2021 as more brands shift from performance or fashion footwear towards athleisure styles that blend the best elements of streetwear and athletic wear.  Even brands that previously did not produce active clothing are now starting to create their own athleisure lines, recognizing the popularity of this trending style. There’s no question that the athleisure trend is here to stay.

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