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The Future of Athleisure

April 08, 2020

It should be easy to figure out. “Athletic” + “Leisure” = Athleisure. So as the name suggests, athleisure is clothing that combines the best of two types of clothing, athletic gear and leisure apparel. Activewear for leisure has been with us for as long as people have been appropriating sporty clothing for casual use. Rubber-soled tennis and deck shoes, blazers, polo shirts, sweatshirts, and crew necks — they’re all examples of sportswear that has made the jump from the court, gym, or playing field to the closets of regular folks who have never swung a tennis racket or picked up a polo mallet. 

When Did Athleisure Become a Trend?

While it’s hard to pin down exactly when the athleisure vibe became a trend, we can all probably agree that it started to emerge during those weird days that we call the 1970s. Old norms were breaking down and entrenched ideas about formality started to go out the window. Experimentation in the fashion industry was rampant if not always coherent (anybody remember the “leisure suit? Seriously, look it up.) Over the 50 years since then, casual has conquered the battlefield. And an increased desire for clothing that supports both an active and social lifestyle has combined with new innovations in fabrics to shape modern athleisure — clothing that combines style and function like no other. 

Why is Athleisure Popular?

There are several trends that have contributed to the growth and popularity of the athleisure trend. Athleisure is trending because it has built-in benefits for the wearer that have helped reinforce its adoption. 
  • The rise of more casual wear work environments. Maybe it all started with “casual Fridays.” Whatever the case, there are fewer and fewer businesses and industries that mandate strict dress codes.
  • Fitness as a status symbol. It’s hard to imagine a time when being portly was considered a status symbol (looking at you, William Howard Taft), but our modern image of the successful person counts fitness as one of the markers. 
  • Fitness is empowering. Media and social media present us with plenty of images and examples of men and women changing their lives by adopting healthy and active lifestyles. 
  • Athleisure is comfortable and versatile. Well-designed athleisure clothing offers exceptional comfort and it’s adaptable to all the different activities of our busy lives. 

Athleisure Features

To really understand what athleisure is about, you need to appreciate the three key elements that combine to make a piece of clothing truly athleisure.

Style

Athleisure is the clothing of our moment. It reflects our evolving interest and appreciation with an active and healthy lifestyle. You don’t need quality athleisure wear to be healthy, of course. But clothing that’s cut to flatter and fit well will demonstrate a commitment to your health and fitness better than anything else. An athleisure wardrobe reveals the real you better than pointless bling. 

Function

You’ve probably seen clothing that masquerades as athleisure. Velvet tracksuits and velour yoga pants anyone? Real athleisure clothing isn’t just for show — it needs to work. The true test of quality athleisure gear is measured in function. Like the Willy California Workout Shorts, they are at home both as workout clothes and as streetwear. 

Fabrics

You can’t have good athleisure wear without good fabrics. The right fabrics handle your sweat, move with you, help regulate your temperature, and are comfortable to wear. 

Here are some of the key types of fabrics to look for when you’re shopping for athleisure gear:

  • Synthetic blends. Many pieces of athleisure gear are made from blends of more than one fabric. Polyester and spandex is a common example. It creates a soft fabric that stretches easily and wicks moisture away from the skin. 
  • Synthetic/natural blends. Add a little science to mother nature and you come up with blends like cotton/polyester — it’s soft like cotton, but wicks moisture better. And hemp and bamboo blended with synthetics offer a more sustainable alternative to all-synthetic options. 
  • All-natural. Sometimes you can’t go wrong with what mother nature provides. For example, The Nicer Tee from Willy California is made from 100% Peruvian Pima cotton for a soft and supple feel. 

Evaluate clothing by using these three elements — style, function, fabric, and you’ll understand better what clothing is athleisure (and what isn’t). 

The Advantages of Athleisure

Fashion trends don’t usually stick unless they offer a benefit to the wearer. Athleisure shines in the benefits it offers, and that’s one of the reasons for its growing success and adoption across society. Consider these advantages of well-crafted athleisure clothing.

  • Athleisure fabric blends wick moisture away from your skin so you won’t suffer from damp, clinging clothing.
  • The soft fabric blends used in many athleisure pieces prevent skin irritation and chafing and feel comfortable throughout the day.
  • Stretch fabrics and fabric blends move with you during activity.
  • Well-placed zippers, specialized fabrics, and venting make it easy to regulate temperature, whether it’s warm or cold outside. 
  • Stylishly cut designs create a flattering profile that accentuates your healthy lifestyle.  

The Athleisure Wardrobe

One of the strengths of athleisure outfits is in the number of options you have available to diversify and expand your wardrobe. Athleisure isn’t about one type of clothing — it’s a dynamic range of mix and match options that work well together and with more conventional everyday wear.

Bottoms

Let’s start with pants and shorts. You’ve got lots of great options for athleisure wear here:

  • Sweatpants. Modern athleisure sweatpants or joggers don’t have much in common with the baggy sweats of old days. Quality sweatpants like the Willy California 401 The Sweatpants are cut to look good and stay comfortable all day.  
  • Track pants. Slim fitting track pants are a classic look that easily make the jump from a group run to your coffee shop. 
  • Stretch pants. Cut to look like classic chino slacks, athleisure variations add a touch of spandex for extra stretch and comfort. 
  • Shorts. Cotton gym shorts are long gone. Modern athleisure shorts combine versatility with practicality through the use of performance fabrics and practical pockets. Even biker shorts are available for use of compression. 

Tops

Tops are one of the building blocks of an athleisure ensemble. Versatile and comfortable, they work well with other athleisure items and mix and match with regular ready-to-wear clothing. 

  • Technical tees. Short and long sleeve tees offer ultimate base-layer comfort that you can build your look around. 
  • Polo shirts. This classic athleisure staple is a go-to choice when it’s made from quality fabrics that keep you cool and comfortable. 

Outerwear

Athleisure outerwear offers cutting edge style and outstanding protection from the elements.

  • Zip-up hoodies. Zip-up hoodies are an athleisure go-to, great for casual activities of all kinds. 
  • Quarter-zip pullovers. With a front zipper that makes ventilation easy, these are an excellent layering tool. 
  • Technical shells and rainwear. Lightweight and breathable shells repel water while keeping weight down. Windbreakers help to keep the elements out.  
  • Lightweight down puffies. Stuffed with down or synthetic lofts, you’ll see these everywhere in the winter months. 

Mastering the Athleisure “Look”

Your personal style will dictate how you wear athleisure. But here are a few tips on how to put your best foot forward when wearing your gear:
  • Experiment with mixing and matching athleisure items and your regular wardrobe. Pair jeans with a tee and a quarter-zip, or match your athleisure chinos with a sweater and tee combination. The possibilities are endless!
  • Check out catalogs and magazines to find new looks and combinations. 
  • Combine different color combinations. Don’t be afraid to go bold sometimes.
  • Practice layering. Slip an unbuttoned flannel shirt or button-down over a tee for a comfortable and casual look. 

The Future of Athleisure

Athleisure isn’t a trend that’s going away. Sales have been on the rise in the United States and worldwide over the last decade, and the rise isn’t showing any signs of abating. The desire for comfortable and functional clothing that suits our busy lifestyles will only increase as more people experience the benefits that it provides.  Like any trend, there will be outliers and excesses. With athleisure, you see that in the number of shoddy products that try to look like athleisure but don’t have what it takes in design and build to truly hold up, and in the absurd articles that try to pass themselves off as athleisure but can’t pass the function test. Quality athleisure that’s designed to be used and enjoyed will always be in demand. 

Athleisure for Comfort and Style

Athleisure can be a big subject when you start to consider questions about what it is, where it came from, how to wear it and more. But in the end, the only important thing to know is that athleisure is clothing that’s comfortable, casual, and ready to perform, whether it’s at the gym or out on the town.

Consider the basics of style, function and fabric and you’ll quickly learn how to identify high-quality athleisure made by companies that care about producing a quality product. Invest wisely to build a wardrobe of athleisure products and you’ll soon be stepping out of your home ready to tackle the day or night in true style and comfort.