Published: December 16, 2013
So long, dingy sweatpants.
Workout clothes for women, once relegated to the back of the closet, are moving to the front of the fashion scene.
Yoga pants are the new jeans, neon sports bras have become the "it" accessory and long athletic socks are hipper than high heels.
"I've actually had more excitement buying workout gear than normal jeans and dresses," says Amanda Kleinhenz, 27, who wears workout gear both in and outside of the gym. "I want to look good."
Blame it on the push by many Americans toward a more active lifestyle. Or call it an extension of the nation's fascination with fashion. Either way, these days jogging suits are as likely to be seen on a runway in New York as a treadmill in Colorado.
In fact, sales of workout gear are growing faster than sales of everyday clothing - by a lot. Spending on workout clothes jumped 7 percent to $31.6 billion during the 12-month period that ended in August from the same period a year ago. That compares with a 1 percent rise in spending for other clothing to about $169.2 billion.
These aren't cheap cotton T-shirts and spandex jumpsuits. Top designers such as Calvin Klein, Stella McCartney and Alexander Wang all rolled out fitness chic clothing lines, with everything from $50 leggings to $125 zip-front hoodies and $225 long john sweatpants. And big, nationwide retailers such as Gap, Forever 21, Victoria Secret and Macy's have fitness lines, too.
"Active has become an important part of what customers are wearing," says Karen Hoguet, chief financial officer at Macy's, which is expanding its active wear label to 400 stores from 160. "Sometimes it's for athletic endeavors. Sometimes it's just to run errands."
This is the latest evolution in fitness fashion. Sweatpants and tees were the hallmark of athletic clothing for decades. That changed with the invention of spandex in 1959, then again with the aerobics craze of the 1980s when tights, leotards, legwarmers and nylon track suits became popular.
Athletic gear giants such as Nike, Reebok and Adidas were popular for years as synthetic material such as Gore Tex and Lyrcra gained popularity because of their performance qualities. Then, in the late 1990s, it became cool to wear workout clothes everywhere after the Lululemon athletic chain opened and gained a loyal following of fitness enthusiasts willing to shell out $100 for yoga pants.
Annie Georgia Greenberg, a New York editor for style blog Refinery29, says she noticed the trend at the New York Fashion week in September as more people were choosing shoes such as the neon Nike Free Flyknit over designer pumps.
"It is almost cooler to be comfortable and athletic and feel like yourself than to be overly glam," Greenberg says.
Fitness chic also sends a message to others that you are living a healthy lifestyle, says Noreen Naroo, senior creative director for apparel at fitness brand Under Armour. Recently, Naroo did a mile run at her daughter's elementary school with leggings, a sports bra, t-shirt and sneakers. She changed from her sneakers into boots to go to work.
"This is exactly what women are doing - running between work and play," Naroo says.