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From The Gym to Fashion Runways and Back: The Athleisure Revolution

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Long gone are the days when your boss would ban you from wearing sweatpants to the office or where that would’ve been a deliberate attempt to get fired. In a world where work/life balance depends more and more on our health and well-being, the migration of a few yoga pants and sneakers to the office wardrobe was imminent even before silicon valley made a culture out of the ultra relaxed business casual attire.

As companies become more understanding of the fact that it’s not about how you look like, but how productive you are, and as people feel the need to be ready for an Instagram photo anytime, anywhere, two things have happened: 1. sports apparel has become more stylish, borrowing elements from the runways, and 2. It is easier to get away with wearing a full gym attire to non-gym related activities.

A more health-conscious consumer and certain demographic factors have driven part of the steady growth in global sports apparel and footwear sales, which reached $270 billion in 2015 (according to Morgan Stanley), a 42% increase over the last 7 years. “But one doesn’t need to run a marathon to enjoy the comfort of new sneakers and soft stretchy fabrics” -you may argue, and that is precisely the realization that gave birth to the fitness and activewear everywhere trend.

Athleisure, we called it, a term as illegitimate as the look of self-satisfaction on your face from being seen with workout clothes even if you haven't been to the gym in a month. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worn my yoga pants to work, something that before 2014 I never would've done but today is, not only perfectly acceptable, but it puts me in the same category as the Beyonces and Rihannas of the world.

Fueled in part by pictures of celebrities in their Sunday leggings and sweatshirts, the “active” look started becoming a thing (a cool thing, in fact). So much that it made the crossover from the streets to the runways, as high fashion designers realized they could get into the activewear action and charge $100 for sweatpants.

Alexander Wang is one of the main exponents of the chic activewear street style, crafting collections that perfectly combine sporty looking clothes with preppy and understated casual basics and offer zero of the functionality of either at ten times the price. Still, cute as can be.

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Photo: Alexander Wang Pre-Fall 2016

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Photo: Alexander Wang Spring/Summer 2016 @NYFW

And then came Rihanna. And things were never the same.

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The Gucci bag, the New Balance trainers, the body chain… it’s like an athleisure angel fell down from heaven… and became Riri’s stylist. In these photos Rihanna was showing the first look at the collaboration between Alexander Wang x H&M, a fashion event that people waited for from April to November of 2014, when the collection was finally released. As expected, the entire stock was sold out in less than 2 weeks, establishing the massification of activewear as everyday wear as a very tangible phenomenon.

It was just a couple of years ago that Nike’s CEO Mark Parker said leggings were the new denim. And he wasn’t all wrong. Just go outside and look carefully: how many of those women getting together for coffee in their Nikes are actually going for a run afterward? Does it really matter? Clothes that help us feel comfortable and are multi-purpose aren’t only budget friendly, but eco-friendly, if they help us reduce the amount of clothes we buy and throw away in landfills.

The latest novelty in the world of athleisure is, of course, Beyonce’s line for Topshop, Ivy Par, a collection of seemingly “normal” activewear except they are most likely not going to be worn at the gym. Does it look cute? Oh, yeah. Would I buy it? You bet. Except it was recently reported the clothes are made in a sweatshop, so that’s kind of an athleisure mood killer.

Since the athleisure boom of 2014, activewear every-wear is the new normal. Fitter, happier? Maybe not, but it’s nice to know you can be ready for a magical gym date with your future bodybuilder husband right after work when the opportunity arises.