Do You Have to Be Active to Wear “Active-wear”?

I can’t even believe I’m asking this question. The answer is obviously “no.” We can wear what we want. But this NY Times article, “When Active Wear Has No Activity” and a popular YouTube video that makes fun of women wearing “active wear” while going about their daily business, appear to take a different attitude.

The video is admittedly a very funny parody.  But I have to take issue with the article’s author, Guy Trebay, when he says the trend is “lamentable.” What’s so lamentable about it?  I mean, says who that there is something wrong with being comfortable? And a lot of the clothing isn’t just comfy, it’s actually attractive–great colours, soft fabrics, flattering design and style.

Above all else, “athleisure” clothing feels good. Why should something that comfy be reserved only for working out or going to yoga class? Isn’t it really just another style of casual clothing?

Now, lest you think I’m trying to defend a style of dress because it’s mine, that’s not quite right. I’m much more of a jeans person. But as someone who is partial to jeans in my down-time, I’m really happy about the melding of casual clothing and “active wear” because it’s produced jeans that feel as comfortable as leggings or tights.

For years it’s been okay to wear running shoes when you’re not running. I’m sure almost everyone has worn an athletic shoe of some kind without working out.  And why not? They’re comfortable and they give you good foot support.

Same with active/leisure wear.  Is it the body-hugging element that is objectionable? My only question to that point would be: why? And notice how the focus is entirely on women. Rather than get down on us for wearing athletic clothing when, as the video says, “there is no finish line,” I think we should all be rejoicing at the increasing social acceptability of comfortable clothing and shoes, for things like grocery shopping or doing laundry. I fail to grasp the problem.

Or do people think of today’s styles the way we used to think of baggy sweat pants? Is there some suggestion that if you’re dressing like that, you’re not making an effort to be presentable, you’ve given up? That this stuff is only appropriate for working out?

I don’t think it’s a fair comparison. Those thick grey sweat suits like the one Rocky wore were never what you would call stylish. They served a utilitarian function and yes, though comfortable, maybe they are just one step away from going out in your flannel pajamas. But the athletic wear of today is nothing like that.

The NY Times article outlines one problem with the active wear trend like this:

A gulf is ever widening between the days when proper grown-ups dressed in clothes requiring the dexterity to zip a zipper and an increasingly unsightly present, when an awful lot of adult garments are designed along the same overall principle as Pull-Ups.

Here I think the suggestion is that they’re too easy to put on. Like real grown-ups do up their shoelaces, not their velcro. Similarly, real grown-ups wear pants with zips and buttons, not elastic waists.  It’s not clear to me why clothing that doesn’t require a lot of dexterity to put on is for that reason childish or offensive.

Nope. I’m not on board with the criticism. We don’t have to be active to have a right to wear “active wear.” And even if we are active, we can wear it at other times.

I must be missing something.

What about you? Do you find yoga pants or running jackets to be objectionable choices for leisure wear? If so, what’s the problem?

If you haven’t seen the video, here it is:

18 thoughts on “Do You Have to Be Active to Wear “Active-wear”?

  1. Yeah, like you I’m not worried about the infantalization of adult wear. Hate pants, love comfortable clothing. But I have heard people complain about aspirational dressing and the motivation to exercise. The worry here is that some people feel like it’s enough to wear exercise clothing. You don’t need to actually exercise. I’d be interested in a study about whether it’s true that people who wear exercise wear as clothing exercise less. For me, I’m more likely to run with the dog, for example, if I don’t have to change to do it.

    1. “The worry here is that some people feel like it’s enough to wear exercise clothing.”

      OK, fine, then let’s trash the “sports jerseys from your favorite team” segment of the market, too. Seriously, people who do this will skip exercise no matter what they’re wearing. At least if they’re comfortably dressed, they might accidentally speed up to catch a bus or something because they aren’t trying to protect more formal clothes.

  2. Great post. The writer of the column, what a fussy misogynist jerk! Near the end he reveals it’s really women he’s making fun of. I guess when the paper needs to fill space or needs click bait, it can always fall back on mocking women. I think workout clothes are comfortable and stylish and I love it when I can wear them all day.

  3. I’m all for comfort. I have a closet full of lulu Lemon!
    Perhaps I occasionally see a person wearing a sports bra and short shorts in the grocery store and think it might be a tad bare, but people should feel free to dress as they please.

  4. Hey, lots of people with a range of abilities wear clothing that looks like it has zippers or buttons but really doesn’t. Comfort and function trump proper grown-up-ness. Geez.

  5. I am so in love with these articles-this is my new favorite! I did not read that NY Times article but I am a girl who lives in sweatpants and in college, I lived in my “active wear.” I never thought about how “unpresentable” it made me look because there were so many other people wearing a similar style! Guys wear muscle tees and “wife beaters” outside of the gym-who cares if I wear cycling shorts, sneakers, and a tank top out just like them? I’m not sure that you necessarily need to be in a gym to wear “active wear” aka gym clothes although I do think there are some people (maybe this was just my college campus) that like to wear their active wear as a way of showing off-who’s wearing lululemon vs old navy’s active line, etc. I like my sweatpants though..I’m going to keep wearing them!

  6. There isn’t any aspect of our lives that goes untainted by the meddling eyes and hands of bureaucratic statist buffoons. Question. If “authorities” know so much more about what is best for us, whether clothing, cars, food or politics, then how is it they spend so much of their time, energy and monies to convince us they are “in the know?” Is it indeed us they are attempting to convince?


  7. I used to be one of those people who would not be seen dead, even just at the local shops, in active wear if i wasn’t doing some sort of sport activity. Those days are over, mostly because i fit more different kinds of activity into my days now and getting changed multiple times is just annoying. So i wear ‘active wear’ for exercise, post-exercise gardening, shopping, and desk-related activity etc. I can also do that same sequence of stuff in jeans, depending on the weather and what is clean and available to wear.
    That said, i won’t go the shop with my husband when he is wearing his horrible old athletic shorts that he wears around the house, because they just look bad.

  8. It alla ends up a usual to the good ol’ question “so what?”. And “do you really get paid by the NYT to write such a nonsense, useless article? I don’t care what other people wear and as long I don’t go around in my underwear, something that maybe would make people doubt my mental health, I’m not open to criticism about my fashion Style!

  9. Everybody looks good in fitness like clothing! I don’t believe that you have to be active to wear active wear, however you can’t use it as a security blanket to not wear other clothes. I wear active clothes probably 95% of the time. However that’s because my major is Exercise Science and we bust into pushups at any time. I know several people who wear active wear who don’t lift a thing, however I would never judge them for it! Great article!

  10. Wow, that video is something, Tracy. Notice how the women are mocked FOR DOING THEIR CHORES in their activewear: walking the baby, laundry, shopping. I know the vid mocks yummies above all, as opposed to “working class women”, but that only means the message is more plain: we don’t believe you are actually doing anything taxing with your time, you middle class gals who appear not to have “real jobs.” So these ladies would be much more socially acceptable if they were zipped up like Betty Draper, socially isolated, and on the verge of a nervous breakdown, right? Holy 1957, Batman!

  11. I have absolutely no objection to people wearing whatever they are comfortable in, and if that be clothing designed for exercise, that’s cool.

    But I do actually have a problem with the meshing of “leisure wear” and “active wear”, because I find it frustrating when I’m trying to shop for clothing designed for working out, how the majority of it seems like it’s designed for just being comfortable just lounging around in, not actually working out in. Though I also find this to be even more so a problem when shopping in plus sizes, which gives it this feel of “we don’t think you actually plan to do any serious exercise, so we designed all our ‘active wear’ to be most comfortable for sitting on the couch!” And at least for me, there is often a significant difference between these. The pants I have that are most comfortable for lounging around in tend to be stuff that was sold as “active wear”, but they are not as comfortable for when I’m really doing strenuous exercise. The clothing that is most comfortable for working out in, isn’t stuff I would choose to wear for lounging around.

    So that is my problem with the meshing of the two. There should be nothing wrong with designing, selling, buying, and wearing clothing that is simply comfortable and cute- stuff that is comfortable for lounging around in, or going about daily chores in, et cetera. I just wish if that is what it is really being designed for, it was labelled as such. Rather than going places where none of the exercise apparel seems like it was really designed with the expectation that I would be working out in it.

  12. Ugh, now they’re writing “these kids today” articles about adults!

    I didn’t used to own any active wear. I just worked out in old cotton t-shirts and the pants I wore to bed. Then I started exercising way more, so I broke down and bought clothes specifically for exercise. Before I owned and wore much active wear I felt under-dressed if I wasn’t in jeans or trousers, now I don’t care about wearing the workout clothes or yoga pants outside. Because I exercise more, and got used to feeling confident outside in those clothes.

    Of course I still don’t wear the workout clothes in other venues that often because more than half the time they’re dirty from my workouts. Clearly I need more active wear! I like the thought of annoying ridiculous people with my clothing choices. And the new leggings I got that are supposed to be used as a winter sports base layer might be just what I need to actually keep me warm through the winter at work.

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