Activewear Is the New Office Wear - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Activewear Is the New Office Wear

Activewear Is the New Office Wear

By Lorraine Sanders



Because freelance writers and fitness instructors have owned the sweatpants-to-work look for too long. Now everyone can get in the game. 

By Lorraine Sanders

Call it the apogee of lazy fashion. Call it the American dream. Either way, activewear as everyday wear is in this spring. And not just for lowering into Warrior II.

“The active lifestyle is having a huge focus, and it’s becoming evident in retail strategy at the moment,” says Sarah Owen, an editor at trend forecasting company WGSN. “With increasingly busy lives, people are really trying to multitask their work-life balance.”

This spring promises a sartorial unicorn: a rare moment in time in which chic and comfortable overlap.

fitbit on a woman's arm as she is walking/standing

Fitbit Flex

And get in shape. According to market research firm NPD, for the first time in a decade of tracking consumers’ New Year’s resolutions, people didn’t rank “diet/food” as number one for 2014. That honor went to “health/fitness.” 

This spring promises something of a sartorial unicorn: a rare moment in time in which chic and comfortable overlap. So those of us with average body types can totally get away with wearing yoga pants to work without looking like we forgot the combination code to our gym locker after exercising en route to the office.

Spring fitness-inspired looks from such fashion icons as Gucci and Marc Jacobs floated down the runways at New York Fashion Week last fall, and now stores are stocking everything from “fashion sweatshirts” to real and faux “leather joggers” (a trendier name for the bottoms formerly known as sweatpants).

It’s a response to consumer demand for activewear — up 9 percent for the 12 months ending December 2013, compared with the total apparel market, which was only up 2 percent over the same time period, according to NPD. The uptick coincides with more than a little consumer buzz (hype?) around movements (fads?) such as CrossFit, SoulCycle and the barrage of “quantified self” tracking tools, including the Fitbit, Nike FuelBand and Jawbone UP.

NPD Group Chief Industry Analyst Marshal Cohen recently put it like this: “Activewear has been around for a long time, but not since the ’90s-inspired Juicy Couture warm-up suits have we seen so much attention to the activewear market.”

man in cut off sweats and looking into camear

Gucci Cut-Off Sweatpants

And, of course, the fitness apparel brands themselves are going bonkers and beyond cardio. You’ll find Nike touting demure ponchos made of fleece and Lululemon rolling out men’s shirts designed to go from gym to night out, and there are dolman-sleeved knit tops from Lorna Jane, an Australian company whose fitness clothes are becoming increasingly popular in the U.S.Among J. Crew’s offerings for spring is the Side-Stripe Skinny Sweatpant. On its website, the brand explicitly urges women to “feel free to wear these cute sweats out of the house. The difference between sloppy and presentable is the sleek skinny fit and sporty stripes.”But unlike the Juicy sweatsuit — with its impractical (some might say tacky) velour and rhinestones look — the current wave of acceptable-outside-the-gym fitness apparel brings with it items you could actually work out in. I mean, if you wanted to. At Urban Outfitters, there’s even a whole section devoted to fanciful men’s joggers — in florals, tie-dye and tiger prints, no less.

At the same time, niche players are edging into the space with a twin focus on fashion and fitness. There’s the flowy Chillin’ Pant from fitness label Pheel, whose designers Lisa Lazarus and Lainie Goldstein emphasize how “each stylish piece works together as an outfit you can put on for a morning workout and spend the rest of the day wearing.” (No word on whether showering is part of the vision.)

Women in brown Juicy Couture brown sweatsuit

Betabrand’s Dress Pant Sweatpants

Indeed, the relaxed silhouette and cinched ankles resemble those harem styles paired with heels from a few seasons back, but in a breathable polyester-spandex, with a fold-over waistband that’s more functional than their silk and rayon predecessors.

The office-bound will find, er, comfort in new fitness-inspired designs from Betabrand, whose Dress Pant Sweatpants and Dress Pant Yoga Pants translate classic work slacks into pieces that could also accommodate, say, a high kick over your colleague’s cubicle.

“They are our fastest selling product ever — they came out a month ago in crowd-funding, and we’ve already sold about 2,000 pairs,” says Betabrand CEO Chris Lindland of the company’s stretchy yoga pants — with belt loops and fake rear pockets to mimic the look of women’s dress trousers.

But not all fitness-inspired fashion this spring can hack a real workout. Take leather sweats, for example, an item Chictopia recently described as “the season’s hottest pant trend.” Trying these out on a treadmill would be a notably sweaty endeavor. Still, they’re everywhere from ASOS to ShopBop to Macy’s.

But before you rush out and buy some, note this and note it well: with the democratization of sweatpant style comes responsibility. Just because Gucci says you can now wear sweatpants to the office or pajama bottoms on a date, that doesn’t mean it’s fashionably acceptable to wander around the civilized world dressed like a total schlub. There are still rules to follow when trying to pull of this trend.

Like, you know, no sleeping in the same sweatshirt you want to pair with that pencil skirt. Also unwise: showing up at a posh restaurant wearing the same stretch pants you wore post-surgery.

Owen, the trend forecaster, shares her tip: “I always pair my gym clothes with my biker jacket.” Not a bad idea.

Another thing that could make those leather joggers look better: being in decent shape.  


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