Oh boy. It has happened. All of us got sick of our leggings at the same time and none of us remember how to put on real pants. Fran Lebowitz warned us about this!!!
I was recently examining my legging fatigue when I put a call out on Instagram asking for commiseration. The response was comforting, to say the least. I learned that I was not alone in losing myself to lycra, and that, in fact, there are several subcategories of people who share my athleisure burn-out: Expecting moms, new moms and tenured moms who spoke of comfort and ease over everything else. College students who couldn’t fathom the thought of studying in anything less than comfortable soles and maximum stretch. Athletes, past and present (and a few who worked in athletics) who lived and breathed the athleisure lifestyle for what felt like their whole lives. Those who, after dipping their toes into the leggings sauce, couldn’t un-see all the problems with their non-legging-pants (tight waistbands, self-described “unflattering” fits, waist and leg cuts too telling of suddenly-deceased trends).
And then there were those, like me, who have let ourselves get so comfortable in leggings, sports bras and sweatshirts that we seem to have forgotten what other clothes make us feel happy.
My own unavoidable run-in with this truth came at breakfast. I arrived at a restaurant, late, to meet a friend. I was in New Balances, a cropped sweatshirt over a turtleneck, half-calf socks, and black compression leggings. Because it was Friday, I leaned into casualness even further, with a baseball cap over an unwashed ponytail. In the end I added earrings because, for all intents and purposes, this breakfast was also technically a meeting. And what came out of my fellow dining partner’s mouth — in a beautiful sweater, wool trousers and low-heeled boots — was this: “Oh look at you! All in athleisure!”
Only “athleisure” had in no way been my intention. This was me, dressed.
I’ve always enjoyed the slight thrill that came with wearing athletic wear in public. Back when this was more of a “coming and going” situation (as Tory Sport has aptly named the section of its website that is the not for the gym, but not not for the gym), I liked that it signaled to others what my intention for the next hour was — or what it had been: the gym. It was like a wearable strike-through of an item on my to-do list. A victory! But I used to like the even bigger thrill of dressing up for an occasion even more. Remember when breakfast with friends (brunch, if you must) was an entirely valid excuse to wear your newest favorite dress? Remember when you’d put on a whole outfit just to go shopping? Remember when you wore jeans to the movie theater?
I can’t pinpoint exactly when I started to slip into the delicious trap of leggings and sneakers as everyday everywhere-wear, but I know it was well after college. I want to say it really began, for me, in late 2014, the same year I was introduced to a young Outdoor Voices, but it doesn’t matter. In my mind, in my world, there is only Before Athleisure and The Present, and over the course of the past few years, the latter has become all I know.
It’s become all any of us know!
Forget about the celebrities you see wearing sports bras and biker shorts with baseball caps to formal dinners — I’m fairly certain we, the general public, civilians of the regular old sidewalk, brought athleisure into non-athletic ubiquity. We did so with our subtle nods to one another as we passed in the grocery story:
Me, from my brain to yours, via subtle body language: “I’m not actually working out today, or ever. I’m just dressed like it.”
You to me, via similar wavelengths: “Same.”
Without a doubt, these were and are beautiful exchanges of camaraderie. How satisfying has it been to make hall passes rain on one another that state: “There is no dress code! Wear whatever’s comfortable!”? Doesn’t it feel like we all get to be Oprah handing out cars to one another, only instead of cars, we’re telling our fellow womankind that “you don’t have to wear pants! and you don’t have to wear pants either!” Athleisure makes it such that if you’re trying to get your steps in, you’re already primed and ready to do so. Athleisure makes you far more ready to be down for anything that involves a sporadic hike or a downward dog. In athleisure, you’re always prepared for the park. And there’s no judgement surrounding it — no raised eyebrow to signal, “Uh, a little underdressed, no?” Without a doubt, in this pretty hard world, athleisure makes everything far more comfortable.
I will never take for granted the cloud-like cushion of a sneaker, nor the liberating, stain-hiding stretch of a black legging, particularly one that allows me to go from couch to errand to gym, should I feel so inspired. But I miss real clothes. I miss real clothes on the weekends and outside the office, specifically. (Work clothes don’t count because work, by nature of the word, is the very antithesis of leisure.) I miss the careful consideration of an outfit to meet friends, to see my family, to eat dinner with my boyfriend. I miss knowing what I like, what feels like me, and experimenting when I don’t know what feels like me to find the answers. I think I miss it enough to start making a change.
…But I think, given the meals and desserts and movies and planned couch time, this is a challenge better slated for January.
Photo by Anwar Hussein via Getty Images.