Sweating in style: how athleisure has transformed fashion trends

December, 2023
Katie Qin


Layer a sweatshirt on top of a bright-colored tank top paired with some leggings, and boom: an effortless yet elegant look that can keep up with anyone throughout the day, whether they’re at home, school, work, or the gym. A style in which comfort intertwines with style, athleisure has emerged as a fashion statement, becoming more than a mix between athletic and leisure clothing. Some examples of popular brands who have redefined this look are Lululemon, Nike, Athleta, and Champion. Their staple items include sweatpants, yoga pants, sweaters, hoodies, and sneakers, among other clothing.

As athleisure continues to dominate the fashion industry, more and more people opt for comfy, convenient, and casual clothing without sacrificing style. It seems pretty obvious why it’s such a hit, but when did it really start picking up steam?

Origins of athleisure dates back as early as the 1930s when the brand Champion invented the hoodie –– a staple in almost everyone’s closet now –– for their laborers during the chilly winters of New York, as reported by Inc. Magazine in 2019. Another milestone in technology and fashion was reached when a chemical company called DuPont invented spandex in 1958. It is a fabric used commonly in sportswear and athleisure for its comfort, fitted style, and resistance to a variety of stains, including those caused by sweat. With new inventions in the fabric industry and more people inspired to exercise, fitness regimes became more prominent in the 1970s and the lines between athletics and normal attire began to blur. In fact, the word “athleisure” was first used in 1979 to describe clothing for people who wanted to look athletic, according to Tasc Performance. From here, brands dedicated to athleisure, such as Lululemon in 1997, started to form and continue to influence the fashion industry and current trends.

Since its exponential growth, aided in part by celebrity endorsement, and transition into normalcy, athleisure has been changed to accommodate everyone. As stated by Medium in 2018, many popular aesthetics contain components of athleisure. Take ballet core, for example. Leggings, tank tops, skorts blend seamlessly with lace, leg warmers, and bows to mimic (or romanticize) ballet. Another popular trend is oversized clothing. Hoodies, sweatpants, and sweaters are commonly worn to maximize comfort and perfect… ambiguousness. Either way, athleisure is everywhere, and it isn’t a surprise that it’s also breaking social and gender norms: in this case, the use of men’s leggings. Hugging close to the skin, leggings are traditionally seen as a garment for women. However, they aren’t just flattering, they’re also comfortable and convenient, qualities that have piqued many other peoples’ interests. People have even dubbed this trend as “meggings,” or mens’ leggings, supporting the idea that people should be able to wear what they'd like without being confined to traditional ways.

With such inclusivity, athleisure isn’t just a passing trend; it’s a sign for change in the fashion world. As more individuals begin to explore their style, unrestricted by the typical gender norms, athleisure has become a way to show empowerment and self-expression. The power of athleisure is on its way in shaping the future of fashion, transforming into a statement piece that celebrates individuality and empowerment.