For years, I was resistant to wearing workout clothes outside the gym. I wore leggings and a ratty concert t-shirt to exercise, and saved my money for things like vintage dresses, expensive shoes, and pants with actual waistbands.
But in 2015, athleisure—also known as the wearing of pseudo-athletic gear for everyday life—became impossible to avoid.
Not-sweaty people in gym wear stormed the sidewalks. The designs grew increasingly appealing. My most fabulous New York friend left to work for Nike—in Portland! The question became not “if” but rather when, or how I would surrender.
Today, as I write this, I am wearing a microfiber bodysuit I could easily practice yoga in, but I save for going out. My latest shoe purchase was a pair of white Air Maxes, which I indeed wear to the office. The battle is over, and not just for me; here are a few more ways that athleisure declared victory over the holdouts in 2015.
Athleisure is a real word, defined as “casual clothing designed to be worn both for exercising and for general use,” Merriam-Webster editor Emily Brewster told The New York Times in November. I preferred the flaccid hilarity of the term “soft dressing,” used in a 2014 earnings call by Glenn Murphy, then-CEO of the Gap, but in 2015 Merriam-Webster made athleisure official.
Last year, we grappled with whether a grown man should wear sweatpants in public. In 2015, we wondered whether said sweatpants deserved price tags upwards of several hundred dollars. Enter Vladimir Putin.
The Russian president didn’t officially leave his house in his $1,400 Loro Piana sweatpants, but he did invite photo crews from global wire services to document them, one sun-dappled morning with prime minister Dmitry Medvedev. His athluxurious wardrobe choice is now forever sealed in his presidential legacy, and in our collective sweatpant memory.
But is it right? asked US news show Fox & Friends, in an attempt to make sense of the athleisurely world. Are leggings pants? Should women be allowed to leave the house in them?
Rather than asking, say, a person who designs athletic wear, a stylist, a rep from Lululemon, or even just a woman who wears leggings, the show called upon a all-male panel that included moral and fashion authorities Fox News legal analyst Arthur Aidala and reality show Duck Dynasty protagonist Willie Robertson.
“Are you comfortable with the women in your life parading in public in leggings?” host Steve Doocy asked the men. Robertson started by talking about how his daughters wore longer shirts with their leggings to “cover up the lady parts.” After further discussion of what was appropriate for the men’s daughters and wives, three grown women in leggings were paraded out for judgement.
And it proved the athleisure obsession is not limited to middle American mall-walkers.
In 1985, Donna Karan made the bodysuit an essential for modern working women. Three decades later, the New York-based Alix helped bring it back to racks and webpages at Saks and Shopbop, whose savvy buyers recognized the appeal of office-appropriate athleisure.
Outdoor Voices, another New York-based athleisure label, promotes its 3-piece kits of stretchy, stylish leggings and bra tops with the not-quite-Nike slogan “Doing Things.” (Seriously.) And it has deep-pocketed fans: Outdoor Voices recently raised $7 million in funding, part of which came from APC, the French maker of crisp jeans, svelte suits, and—soon—athleisure.
Sales growth at Lululemon, pioneer of the $100 yoga pant, slowed mightily as new brands flooded the market.
Lululemon has attempted to get shoppers’ attention by marking down prices for clearance. But what really got our attention in 2015 were the hard-tipped drawstrings snapping our faces, as some 300,000 Lululemon tops were inclined to do. (They were recalled.)
At Morgan Stanley, where no one wears sweatpants to work, analysts estimated in October that the activewear industry was worth around $270 billion, and could add $83 billion in sales by 2020. In a note to investors, Morgan Stanley explained that athleisure’s incredible power lies in its global appeal and ability to incorporate demand-driving new technologies.
And of course, it’s just so damn comfortable.