The history of athleisure (and how to wear the sports luxe trend)
It’s not often I admit I’m wrong. But readers: I was wrong about athleisure.
Yes, I’ve written many times that sports luxe is a trend I will just not get behind. I’ve always argued sweatpants and leggings belong in the gym and nowhere else. But, er, they are actually really comfy. And who doesn’t like to be comfy?
The truth is, this trend isn’t going anywhere. Whether you know it as sports luxe, athleisure, loungewear, activewear, or any other vaguely sports-related term, wearing gym clothes as regular clothes is a look the fashion world (and consumers at large) just can’t get enough of.
So what is sports luxe, exactly?
In short – the ‘wearing activewear as actual wear’ trend is a broad church. It could be used to describe the unparalleled ascent of leggings into a socially acceptable trouser, adopted by everyone from school mums on the run, to the Kardashians attending million dollar business meetings. But equally, the ‘luxe’ side of sports luxe suggests a more fashionable take on wearing workout-inspired garments.
This trend is about merging comfort and style; practicality with glamour. Think less 00’s style rhinestoned, velour tracksuits as made popular by Juicy Couture, and more edgy London street style blended with Scandi cool. Still sound like a lot of fashionista buzzwords? Let’s break it down.
You could opt for tie-waist trousers in a luxe fabric, or wear a sports bra as a top. Fashion Week street style is awash with women wearing trainers with a skirt, shellsuits with heels, and rocking hoodies as dresses. Basically, if Little Mix or Dua Lipa would wear it then you’re sorted.
That’s the thing about ‘sports luxe’: there’s got to be a bit of luxe in there. Sorry people, your old paint-stained nylon Adidas track pants are not going to be appearing in any fashion editorials any time soon. There’s a sexy, pulled togetherness about a fashionista’s approach to this look. It’s more ‘sports-adjacent’ than ‘just out of the gym’.
But let’s stop being slaves to fashion trends for a second. Let’s focus on what feels good to wear. And man, wearing athleisure feels good! And therein lies the success of anything ‘sports luxe’: this isn’t some abstract look that works on the runway but nowhere else. Just like our affinity to skinny jeans, consumers have fallen in love with this highly wearable (and comfortable) way of dressing.
Where did our obsession with sports wear come from?
With the risk of sounding like an old lady, I remember back in the day, when leggings were for gyms, and trousers were for going out in public <shakes fist wistfully>. However, the athleisure phenomenon has been a long time coming, and its origins may just surprise you.
While terms like ‘sports luxe’ might have cropped up in the fashion world’s vocabulary merely a few years ago, the origins of sportswear influencing our day-to-day wardrobes arguably dates back to the early 1900s. Converse were invented in 1917, while the shoe brands Adidas and Puma were created by former US athletes in the 1940s.
It was Adi Dassler of Adidas who created the first tracksuit for the general public in 1963. Bruce Lee has a lot to answer for when it comes to tracksuits entering mainstream, although it was arguably the hip hop stars of the 1980s – 2000s who really made sportswear a must-have for the average fashion lover. In fact, many items we now consider a key part of any wardrobe started out as sports gear. Polo shirts, knitted jumpers, tennis skirts, shorts, and puffer jackets are just some garments with athletic origins.
As for our current love affair with leggings, Lululemon is largely considered to be the instigator. Legend has it that the company’s founder was entranced by the stretchy spandex (also known as elastane) trousers worn by his yoga instructor in the late 90s, and was inspired to launch the Lululemon brand. The company’s once unique yoga pants have led to a global spandex market that is likely to exceed 1,550 kilo tons by 2023. That’s a heck of a lot of leggings!
There’s a great episode of the Netflix documentary series Explained that breaks down athleisure’s rise to dominate our wardrobes. I definitely recommend watching this if you want more of an overview to our obsession with sportswear. The documentary is truly fascinating, and only 20 minutes long!
How to wear the sports luxe trend (a cheat sheet):
OK, so you could just wear gym leggings with anything and call it a look. But for style’s sake, here’s a few tips for a more fashion-forward approach to the sports luxe trend.
- Balance yo’ silhouette – Team an oversized sweatshirt with fitted trousers, or vice versa to avoid looking overly 90s hip-hop. Unless that’s your thing. You do you.
- It’s all in the details – Whether that be sports tapering on jeans, or sequin trainers, look for something a little ‘extra’ to keep your look more fashionista than sweaty gym goer.
- Add accessories – What’s the difference between a Kardashian and your average leggings wearer? Well, massive fortune aside, it’s the accessories, darling! Wearing a smart handbag or purposeful jewellery suggests you’re rocking a look, instead of that you just couldn’t be bothered changing after yoga.
- Rock a two piece – The High Street is packed with cute sports tops and bottoms sets. I love my little tracksuits as they are an instant outfit. Plus, wearing a matching set instantly looks more pulled together and dressed up than randomly wearing any old sportswear together.
- Focus on fabrics – Look for silk, bold prints or other luxurious touches to make your athleisure ensemble high end. Maybe avoid velour unless you’re specifically after that ‘early 00s Paris Hilton wears Juicy Couture’ look.
- Girl bands got your back – Take inspiration from your favourite girl bands and hip hops stars of yesteryear, like Salt-N-Pepa, Destiny’s Child or The Spice Girls. Or, quite frankly, any female in the UK Top 40 right now. I told you athleisure was a style mainstay!
What are your thoughts on the sports luxe trend? A total win for women who crave comfort everywhere, or a fashion fail?
I’d love if you shared your favourite trends right now with me on Instagram, @styledbyalicex