It’s possible you’ve never used the word athleisure in your life. But I’ll bet a nickel you own at least one, if not several, pieces of clothing made by athleisure brands.
A couple of decades ago, Under Armor came out with a line of athletic clothing that wicked away sweat or made you warmer or something of that ilk. While Under Armour is no longer the bell of the ball (its revenue has declined 3 years straight) it did allow new brands not named Nike, Reebok, or Adidas into people’s closets.
Casual “Streetwear” has begun to rise in popularity as the world has become more, well, casual. Men have started wearing tennis shoes with suits. People are more frequently going out in public to take yoga classes and are subsequently taking their yoga wear more seriously. And classes like SoulCycle have made your wardrobe arguably as important as your workout.
Enter athleisure wear and performance clothing. Athleisure brands make clothing that is comfortable enough to work out in, but at a price tag to make you think twice about getting purposefully sweaty. As 2020 launched a new decade filled with paradoxes, incongruities, and possible insanities, it seems plausible that the athleisure wear industry is estimated to be worth a half a trillion dollars by 2025 (the retail auto industry is currently worth $220 billion FYI).
Today, Nike still holds the top position in the athleisure market with 20% of market share. Lululemon isn’t far behind Nike, with 10% of market share and a market cap of $45 billion as I’m writing this. These are two popular brands—the former many have known forever, the latter many have come to know by now and is the de facto face of athleisure’s rise.
But what exactly are performance clothes and when did the athleisure movement become the status quo? If one decides to pick up a few items from athleisure brands, is it going to break the bank or is it no different than buying a pair of jeans?
I consulted Marjorie Striebel, a professional stylist, to contribute to this article and to provide a bit more insight.
Here’s what you should know about athleisure clothing … in 5 minutes.
Why is athleisure clothing popular
Athleisure brands and performance clothing are often synonymous. The best way to describe performance clothing is a multi-purpose short, pant, or shirt designed for function. Think of it like pants or shirts that are designed to keep you comfortable and active, but you don’t make it look like you are on your way to the gym.
It’s not a trade secret that men run hot and can become sweaty and prefer to be comfortable all day. Raises hand. Prior to athleisure, there really weren’t many brands that allowed men to be comfortable unless they wore actual gym clothes. Performance clothing has given men the ability to kill two birds with one stone: be comfortable while looking presentable.
Do performance shorts increase performance?
Conceivably performance shorts or clothing can increase athletic prowess, but athleisure brands use the words “performance” and “tech” more for marketing. The nomenclature implies the clothes offer more purpose than being “stylish” and are stretchy, moisture wicking, and/or waterproof.
Is every athleisure brand offering the same performance clothing?
Not always. Different athleisure brands usually have their own take on what allows people to “perform” better in their particular line. LuluLemon is the standard for style and comfort (their extremely popular ABC pant stands for anti-ball crush).
But a Mizzen & Main for example provides a more formal look, while still protecting men in sweaty and sticky situations. See more on who sells performance clothing and is often associated with athleisure below.
Do athleisure clothes make you look skinnier?
Performance clothing and athleisure brands are meant to make you feel more comfortable, not to necessarily affect the way your body looks. Yes, many athleisure brands place a focus on fitness, which is meant to make you feel better about your body while you’re working out (hiding certain problem areas for women while accentuating certain areas for men). But overall, think of athleisure clothing as expanding where you can wear your wardrobe, with the added benefit of making you feel more comfortable.
Is athleisure wear expensive?
This largely depends on the brand. Lululemon was one of the first athleisure brands to hit the mainstream and can be a bit costly: a top and bottom will likely set you back around $150-$200. But many other brands have entered the performance wear space, which you can now get at any price point.
Are athleisure and Lululemon the same thing?
Lululemon is often credited with spawning the athleisure movement and is one of the most popular athleisure brands. But they’ve been around since 2000 and the athleisure trend is certainly younger than that.
The rise in popularity of LuluLemon and many other athleisure brands can largely be traced to the rise of yoga itself. Yoga has been common in the United States for the better part of a century, but it began to skyrocket in popularity over the past 10 years. From 2008 to 2020, the amount of people who “do yoga” has tripled to around 55 million. Yoga clothing, and the brands associated with the comfort and freedom of yoga culture, have likely helped accelerate the athleisure trend.
What are the differences between major athleisure wear brands?
Lululemon is probably the most popular performance clothing brand, but also one of the more expensive. They’re certainly trendsetters in performance comfort and offer one of the widest variety of athleisure clothing. Their “we made too much sale” does offer some relief, especially for those who might be a unique size.
These are more along the lines of comfortable office or business casual clothing. While comfortable, one likely wouldn’t work out in these. Think of it like a more comfortable or performance-oriented Brooks Brothers.
Skews more fitness. Primarily a yoga brand with comfortable workout gear. Not quite on Rodeo Drive like Lululemon but still in Beverly Hills.
This is casual golf course apparel with a side of board shorts that you can wear practically anywhere…except the gym.
Bandier is an outlet for performance clothing, mainly for women, that skews more fitness active than “formal active.”
Athleisure shoes are no different than performance clothing in that they’re a bit more formal than every day shoes. Even though you could work out in these shoes, you probably wouldn’t. They’re like a nice pair of casual Nikes, but are likely more comfortable and have a more modern style. The following are good examples of athleisure shoe brands that are good for comfortable, casual wear but not for the stress of hard workouts.
- Cole Hann
- Golden Goose
The photo attached to this post is from Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, steps from Prada and Ballenciaga. While prominent brands like LuluLemon and Alo appeal to those who seem to have more money than they know how to spend, they have given athleisure clothes a bit of an overpriced stigma. With options in nearly every price bracket, investing in performance clothing is a great way to make your wardrobe more versatile and comfortable without breaking the bank. Given many of us are working from home and the world is overall becoming less formal, it’s safe to say the trend isn’t going anywhere.