today is Jan 17, 2022

Young woman in purple velour tracksuit. Show caption ‘It would be great if athleisure could be just a little less visible.’ Tracksuit, a href="" emPhotography: Suki Dhanda. Styling: Peter Bevan/em
Jess Cartner-Morley on fashion

Exercise is great, but we don’t need to shove it in each other’s faces by parading around in the kit all day

My fashion new year resolution is to cut myself some slack. To quit trying to be someone I’m not. So I am going to stop wearing things that make me feel bad about myself. As of today, it’s goodbye to clothes bought on their promise that they would transform me into a shinier, sleeker, optimised version of myself. It’s time to breathe a sigh of relief and get back to wearing what I feel comfortable in.

So I am breaking up with athleisure. I am throwing off the shackles of compression leggings. Burning the racer-back long-line sports bra with its modish charcoal-and-terracotta colour palette. Breaking free of the breathable mesh tanks with empowering slogans in Yale University-adjacent font across the front. Unzipping the cropped hoodie and unlacing my trainers.

Athleisure is supposed to be comfortable, but as a fancy urban uniform it has begun to feel a lot like peer pressure. High heels rightly get a bad press for showcasing physical sexuality, exaggerating the sway of hips, emphasising breasts and bottoms. But athleisure also puts your body front and centre of who you are – and not just because leggings and crop tops put your musculature and body fat percentage on display. Athleisure doesn’t have to be skin-tight to put the spotlight on your appearance. Even if it is a tracksuit, modern coordinated workout gear tells the world that exercise and fitness are of paramount importance to you, that the physical shape of your body is a core value. Athleisure is power dressing for narcissists.

This is absolutely not about giving up exercise, by the way. That’s not the point, and anyway for me it’s not an option, because like a lot of people I start to lose the plot if I go more than a couple of days without a run or a class. But that doesn’t mean I have to parade around in the kit all day.

Exercise is great, but we don’t need to shove our workout schedules down each other’s throats, right? I mean, I cook dinner most nights but I don’t go to work in my apron. So I plan to embrace old-school gym clothes. The stuff we used to wear to work out before the advent of public-facing yoga gear and running tops that come with matching scrunchies. To be clear, I’m not intending to burn sports bras, or anything else. But I still have a drawer full of promotional T-shirts whose provenance has been lost in the mists of time, and tracksuit bottoms whose best days date to a world pre-selfies, and I’m going back to wearing those.

It is not so many years ago that wearing flat shoes to a cocktail party was a bold and brave wardrobe choice. These days, comfortable shoes are the norm and no one is wearing high heels unless they happen to feel like doing so that evening. So it is, now, that in a queue for an oat latte and a sourdough loaf on a Saturday morning, the shiniest, most living-their-best-life people will be in athleisure, and wearing jeans feels a bit beta.

If fancy athleisure could be just a little less visible all around us, it might help us de-escalate a situation in which body image takes up way too much headspace. Like, I love going to pilates, but I don’t think it’s the meaning of life, you know? Lycra gives plenty of stretch, but the mindset of wearing athleisure doesn’t cut you a lot of slack.

Athleisure is the whalebone corset of the 21st century. I’m off to slip into something more comfortable.












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