In today’s world, fashion trends move quicker than a blink of an eye. To quote the icon Heidi Klum on Project Runway, “one day you’re in, and the next day you’re out.” In this industry where fashion is constantly changing, certain articles of clothing manage to always stay a staple in a woman’s closet, resilient to passage of time. These pieces of clothing, while withstanding the transient nature of trends, cannot defend itself against the changing messages that the clothes represent. Clothing will constantly convey and undergo various transformations season after season; as Wilson states in “Adorned in Dreams,” fashion differs from dress by its innovation and change. “Fashion is change” and the constant changing of fashion brings about new transformations of the interpretation of clothes (3).
One particular article of clothing that is has always occupied space in a woman’s closet is an athletic attire (focusing on the concept of gym wear – irregardless of the specific article of athletic clothing), but the passage of time and trends have continuously altered the perception and acceptance of wearing such ‘work out clothes’ out in public. While the articles of clothing have remained the same, the transformation of the athletic attire has evolved and transformed the image of the wearer through society’s unspoken assumptions. How exactly has athletic attire evolved and transformed the image of the wearer from the gym to the runway?
Transformation is the act of changing from a previous state, whether in meaning or appearance. In the context of clothes, gym wear in particular, transformation keeps attaching different connotations and perceptions to the acceptance of athletic wear.
One of the more recent athletic attire trend that occurred in the beginning of this century was the huge fad of Juicy Couture sweatsuits that were seen on females of all ages. From elementary school students to mothers, the velour track suits were a sought-after trend. While it can be debated whether these flashy sweats were appropriate for working out at the gym, the brand was able to transform the notion of athletic, loungewear from that of ordinary, grey sweats to the colorful fun, (at-the-time) cute sweatsuits. The movement of Juicy suits propelled girls of all ages to done the colored two-piece sets as appropriate attire for everyday wear, regardless of the tracksuit’s initial intended purpose of being gym clothes. The Juicy Couture velour sets transformed the market of workout clothes, but more importantly, changed the mindset of when and where the workout suits could be worn; the original meaning of the workout clothes were stripped of their image of being solely acceptable at the gym as people transitioned the Juicy sweats from exercise clothes and to casual, everyday clothes as well. The transformation of gym attire also has an impact on the fashion trends and styles that have become popular.
Fast forwarding to today, not only has society’s perceptions of certain athletic pieces of clothing transformed, the styling of such comfortable workout wear into everyday outfits have created the trend of ‘Sporty Chic’ looks. The new style mixes casual sporty pieces with more feminine pieces to create a balanced overall look of comfy and put-together. The unique nature of the ‘Sporty Chic’ trend also stems from the blend of wealthy, designer inspirations with a more casual, mass public influence. For example, the Alexander Wang x H&M collection is a blend between the high end designer with the affordable mass public brand. While more traditional theorists, such as that of Wilson’s in “Fashion and City Life,” would say that the trickle-down effect of fashion feeds the mass public with what trends to consume, new trends have drawn on both elite and mass inspirations. With ‘Sporty Chic,’ the balance of wearing jogger/harem pants with stilettos pumps or sneakers with a body-con dress shows the blend of the ‘street style’ with the high end influences. We can therefore questions ourselves, has the incorporation of athletic attire transformed the influential pattern of trends?
Transformation of new athletic wear trends sprout from a brand’s new clothing innovation; consumers merely follow trends that begin to gain popularity and follow what others in society have confirmed acceptable to wear in public and outside of a gym setting. The revival of the athletic attire that could be worn outside of the gym began generating buzz from the growing popularity of Lululemon. It seems that the surge in popularity in the athletic brand transformed the image of the workout wear to that of a cute outfit that could be worn, even when not working out. At first glance, the Lululemon clothing faze has followed a similar transformation to that of Juicy Couture. Delving deeper, the change in athletic wear acceptance from Juicy Couture to Lululemon also changed people’s perceptions of the meaning of gym attire and the symbolization of a wearer’s lifestyle.
Unlike other fashion pieces, the key basics of workout attire remains consistent in people’s closets, yet constantly undergoes transformations in perception depending on society’s views. As a former Juicy Couture tracksuit enthusiast, it was impactful to see how the transformation of the public’s opinion of the velour two-piece sets can easily change in little time. A new revolution of workout uniform erupted with the revival of the legging and as well the reintroduction of wearing workout leggings to the gym. What had occurred to Juicy Couture, seemed to be a cyclic interpretation for athletic wear; when society gets bored with a trend, we transform the meaning and association with the category of clothes to be outdated and unacceptable for public adornment.
When a new, comfortable athletic trend begins growing, the context of wearing workout attire is once again transformed into that of acceptance. This cyclic acceptance of athletic wear seemingly touches upon Veblen’s notion of leisure in Theory of the Leisure Class. Society has transformed the original context of wearing gym attire to that of having time and wealth to visit gyms and to work out; the act of dress helps express the “honorable life of leisure” as the goal is to show one’s wealth (33). The constant presence of workout clothes also closely resembles the role of jeans in Fiske’s “The Jeaning of America.” Athletic attire can also have the cultural linkages along with its functionality. Sources of the functionality stems from the workout clothes’ original purpose and the transformation of society accepting the athletic attire as casual, everyday wear. Popular culture transforms the wearing of athletic leggings to symbolize a sign of leading a healthy lifestyle with the connotation that one is wealthy enough to afford a gym membership. Therefore, the acceptance of wearing athletic attire as casual wear displays the transformation of workout clothes’ significance shows its positive lifestyle connotation in society.
As styles and trends transition in and out of people’s wardrobes, the incorporation of athletic wear may possibly always stay a constant in one’s closet. However, the messages and connotations behind various new athletic trends will evolve depending on society’s labeling of the clothes. What we know for sure, will be the transient nature of the meanings behind athletic attire and the impact each new workout trend will have on changing the future fashion trends.
Fiske, John. Understanding Popular Culture. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989. Print.
Veblen, Thorstein, and Stuart Chase. The Theory of the Leisure Class; an Economic Study of Institutions. New York: Modern Library, 1934
Wilson, Elizabeth. “Adorned in Dreams.” Fashion and Modernity. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2003. Print.
Wilson, Elizabeth. “Fashion and City Life”. Fashion and Modernity. United Kingdom: I.B. Taurus and Co, 2003. Print. 134-289.