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  • Wendy Lehmann

The Emperor's New Clothes might just be Athleisure

So there’s an all-round fave kid on the Covid -19 fashion block, an entirely fabricated (in every sense of the word) trend known to its friends and followers as ATHLEISURE and made popular some 10 years ago by the New York fashion industry, to piggyback on the phenomenon that was (and still is) Lululemon. Athleisure appears to be a collective noun for your joggers and leggings -that’s tights to my American friends- that in some way needs to be distinguished from your loungewear joggers and leggings or your activewear joggers and leggings. Now the cynics amongst you (or should that be amongst us - I am honestly not sure) might think this is just a way for Nordstrom or ASOS to sell more joggers and leggings; but fuelled with curiosity for this almost entirely uninteresting element of the average woman’s wardrobe, and with more fashion-free time on my hands than any one stylist knows what to do with, I decided to check it out.

Lululemon was the first company of its kind to offer clothing that looked athletic but had no inherent technical function at all. Lapped up by West Coast Yogis and East Coast Yummy Mummies alike the dollar signs began to mount and traditional giants in the athletic space started paying more attention to this emerging women’s market. Companies that had built their success on soccer cleats and basketball shoes began collaborations with top designers , or recruited them directly, to secure their place in this multi-million dollar trend. Think Stella McCartney for Adidas, Riccardo Tisci for Nike. By 2016 Athleisure had officially become high fashion with Kanye West, showing a $555 cream-coloured sweater by Adidas on the runway at New York Fashion Week, while designer Tim Coppens steered Under Armour’s debut into this space with amongst other things a $1,500 woollen trench coat. Two weeks later in Paris, Puma in combination with Rihanna unveiled track suits and tennis dresses adorned by 18th century inspired ruffles and bows. Athleisure, the faux-athletic gear sold largely to non-athletes who cared not a wit about function, was officially a high end fashion must-have.


Everyone got busy selling us Athleisure. From Givenchy to Gap, people were at great pains to assure us that we can turn activewear into everyday wear, allowing us to look amazing ( hmm, really?)whilst we move seamlessly - literally and metaphorically - from Metabolic Conditioning to Mergers and Acquisitions without so much as a backward glance or a whiff of body odour. You could apparently safely blur the lines between the clothes you wore to the gym and those you’d wear to lunch, without sacrificing style.


My take on all this? As a stylist there are very few things I outlaw entirely (OK, OK: Crocs outside of an Operating Theatre, but not a whole lot else) and so I think there is a place for Athleisurewear. A place, not ALL places. Fashion Joggers teamed with a stacked trainer or Chelsea Boot and a blazer or coat is a great look for travelling or shopping, but joggers per se are not appropriate workwear unless you are a Phys Ed teacher or dig flowerbeds for a living. If you have a lot of Natural in your Style Personality and you are under a certain age, you may be able to get away with joggers for the coffee/school run but trust me the rest of us just look schlumpy. Not cool, not hot, just schlumpy. And leggings present a whole other set of challenges. Firstly there’s the whole nush creep, camel toe thing to be aware of; leggings are hugely unforgiving items of clothing. I’ve dressed hundreds of women and every one of them looks better in something other than leggings. And please don’t even get me started on the new ‘Bodysuit’ trend. Truly there can only be 5 people in the entire Universe who can be said to really be able to wear one of these in public. Unless you would be prepared to go to the office dressed only in tights -that’s nylons to my American friends- from the waist down, you need to rethink leggings as workwear.


When the great lockdown eases, purveyors of Athleisure will get busy persuading you that your weeks of WFH have heralded a real shift in your working wardrobe. Don’t be fooled. It is hard to be taken seriously, to be influential or powerful, to lead or inspire dressed in workout gear and that, my friends, is what Athleisure really is. It's play-clothes for grown-ups. And whilst there is doubtless a spot for it in a well-stocked closet, embrace it with caution.

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wendy@wendylehmann.com