What Do We Even Call "Athleisure" Now?

The word feels very 2015, but the trend isn't over.

Person wearing a burgundy jumpsuit with yellow stripes
Photo: Getty Images

Picture it: the year is 2015 and you're headed out the door to meet your 'squad.' But instead of changing into skinny jeans, you decide the leggings you typically wear to the gym are perfectly fine for bottomless brunch. It's not laziness, it's athleisure. And by 2015 standards, it's a daring fashion choice — one you're likely still getting used to since anything resembling sweatpants was once considered a major faux pas.

Flash forward to today, however, and this uniform has become the norm. But stepping out in workout wear to grab breakfast was only the beginning, which makes us wonder: If so much of today's wardrobe qualifies as "athleisure," does the trend still exist? What does that word even mean nowadays?

Well, it kind of depends on who you ask.

Person wearing an oversized off-white jacket with bike shorts and sneakers while riding a bike
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When COVID first hit in early 2020, and stay-at-home guidelines were enforced by the CDC, people were no longer dressing to make a statement. Instead, clothes were viewed as a source of comfort, and if something was too stiff or impossible to relax in, it was out. High-heel sales dropped by 71% as shoppers began investing in comfier options such as Crocs, UGGs, sneakers, and even house slippers while wearing a matching sweatsuit meant you looked put-together that day. Even the most fashionable people, like editors and influencers, were swapping out their blouses and 'real' pants for graphic tees and leggings. Office attirewas gone and athleisure took its place — and, according to celebrity trainer and founder of The Sculpt Society, Megan Roup, that spike wasn't all that surprising.

"The explosion of [athleisure] is even more relevant today as most of us are working from home and the demand for a comfortable, stylish aesthetic has increased," she tells InStyle. "It's more common to see people wearing athleisure while running errands, grabbing a bite to eat, and even hopping on a Zoom."

It's worth noting, however, that the "athleisure" Roup is referring to — AKA the athleisure of today — is not exactly the athleisure of yesteryear. In its early years, athleisure was as much a verb as it was a synonym, meant to describe wearing workout clothes beyond yoga or spin class. It translated to pairings such as 'joggers' (re: sweatpants) and heels, sneakers (re: Nikes) and dresses, and designer leggings (re: anything by Lululemon) with a leather jacket or under a dress. Essentially, the idea was to be comfortable and slightly sporty, while still adhering to the societal expectation of dressing to impress. Models, in particular, loved amping up these active essentials, and the look coincided with another trend that has seemingly lost all meaning, "off-duty style."

Gigi Hadid wearing black leggings, sneakers, a sweater, and a leather jacket
Robert Kamau/GC Images

These days, the norm has become dressing to feel your best, with an extra emphasis on comfort. Athleisure is no longer the trend of the moment but, instead, a lifestyle — a key part of our day-to-day look that makes living a little more tolerable amidst current events. There's no longer a need for runway-ready elements, such as super strappy sports bras (which can be a pain to pull on), leather details, or impractical footwear. Seeing someone style leggings as pants longer feels surprising or rule-breaking.

"What began as a distinct class of performance activewear for fitness lovers has become its very own look and phenomenon, from high-end to fast fashion," proclaims fashion stylist to the stars, Lindsay Flores, the style director of Respin by Halle Berry. "Not to mention," she adds, "it is something that we all partake in, even on days when we have no plans of working out. [Athleisure is] an entire category of functional clothes worn to make fitness, comfort, and style synonymous."

So what, by these modern definitions, does athleisure look like today? It's wearing yoga pants with a bulky sweatshirt, platform sneakers, and layered necklaces. Or styling your exercise dress with chunky socks and loafers. It's the many oversized, matching sets you have in your wardrobe, which instantly work for all the things — lounging, working from home, or going for a run. Today's athleisure is comfortable but elevated, sporty, but not in an 'I-just-finished-up-at-the-gym' sort of way. Much like its predecessor, this way of dressing isn't lazy or haphazard — it's deliberate and sleek, but at the same time, feels somewhat effortless.

When intentional, today's version of athleisure can be the same mix of chill yet put-together as jeans and a button-down — something that celebrity stylist Mickey Freeman agrees with.

"In a relatively short span of time, athleisure has evolved from an often improvised look that involved mixing and matching pieces into a specific aesthetic that designers continue to reinterpret, and even incorporate into a single garment," says Freeman, whose star-studded clientele includes Keke Palmer, Lea Robinson, and Shannon Thornton. "[It] can be achieved in more than one way, such as wearing a spliced coat, where the top half is a hoodie and the bottom half is a cotton gabardine trench. Athleisure can also look like a velour sweatsuit with a luxe handbag and intricately strapped sandals."

Person wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt with a trench coat, leggings, and sneakers
Christian Vierig/Getty Images

In short, the world has moved onto athlivesure — the everyday aesthetic that's comfortable and practical, equipped for whatever the world throws at us, while still remaining cool and fun. It's not just one trend, but an element that has trickled into multiple areas of our lives, ensuring we're both relaxed and ready to go at the same time.

Still, as fashion fans know, what's considered 'in' is always evolving — athleisure and athlivesure included. What, exactly, will this fitness-inspired aesthetic turn into next? Only time will tell. For now, though, we'll be clinging to our co-ords and yoga pants (that's flared leggings to all you Gen Z readers) and styling them accordingly.

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