Sound the alarm at the speed and scale at which active and sportswear has exploded into men’s everyday fashion. No need to attend New York City’s Men’s Fashion Week. Designers can’t buck this growing trend.
Is the weekend athletic wardrobe for men a fashion statement? Or is it simply about being comfortable?
Either way, whether a teenage boy or a 30-something dad—with his dadbod—I’m calling it the gym outfit phenomenon: men whose weekend attire consists of active sportswear but who don’t necessarily work out.
“Fitness has become more integrated into our lifestyle. It’s a not a thing that you do now, but a thing that you have to do. It’s a way of life,” said Scott DaSilva, New York City and European-based fashion designer, formerly at Dolce & Gabbana and Thakoon, in an interview with the Daily Beast.
“And because exercise has become part of our lifestyle, active wear has become part of our fashion whether you go to the gym or not.”
Case in point, men sporting active wear has hit an apex in 2015. There seems to be only three tiers of fashion for men, whether they’re a dad in an upstate New York town or David Beckman running errands in Los Angeles: work clothes, going out clothes, and active wear weekend clothes. And sometimes the latter two merge together.
According to 31-year-old old Jacob Palet, a sales executive in Seattle, “It’s super common to see people wearing workout clothes while grocery shopping and brunching.”
“I just figure a lot of these people did a light workout and either didn’t have time to change or see the workout clothes as a badge saying, ‘Hey, I’m fit.’”
Fit or just faking it, DaSilva thinks active wear does send a message, and most importantly, designers are listening.
“Designers are truly getting on board with people’s lifestyles and it’s become a fashion in it’s own right.”
“Fashion is always changing, but at the same time, so has the technology and fabrics. They too have evolved. Remember the sweat-suit Rocky wore? We now have fabrics that can wick away water and bring it to the surface to evaporate to keep you cool and dry. It’s the utility of fashion, in this case, that is capturing people’s attention, and I think it’s here to stay.”
That there was a solution to sweat-soaked cotton T-shirts after hard workouts led to the creation of Under Armour in 1996. It’s CEO and founder, Kevin Plank, learned this the hard way as he wore cotton shirts that became drenched in sweat under his jerseys during his college football days.
Since the ’90s, Plank has created a multi-billion dollar company and has led the charge in moisture wicking fabric. In 2014, Under Armour earned $3.08 billion in sales, nearly tripling its $1.06 billion revenue from 2010. The company projects $10 billion in sales by 2020.
Though still second to the largest domestic sportswear company on the planet, Nike—which reported a whopping $27.8 billion global revenue in 2014 ($12.3 billion dollars, of which $7.5 billion came from shoes)—Under Armour deserves the bragging rites for first applying the micro fiber fabric technology to shirts, and not just athletic compression shorts.
Whether Under Armour or Nike, athletic wear companies are teaming up with fashion designers to take their everyday active wear to new, trend-setting heights.
“Look at what Stella McCartney did for Adidas. She took it to a whole new level. It didn’t feel like active wear. It was fashionable and re-imagined,” said DaSilva.
Fashion serves a purpose. Some argue it has functional utility, meaning it helps you perform your job better or your duty at hand—be it fitness, as is the case with micro-fiber technology. Others claim fashion distinguishes us and bonds us to an idea, a movement, or a social class; or maybe it just separates us from a dark, agrarian past when we didn’t have time to worry about how we looked.
But what’s to say about painting the town red on a Friday night and dressing up in a glow-in-the-dark Under Armour shirt and jeans?
Whether a fashion statement or just a fad, the weekend gym clothes look for men could be here to stay. If, in the end, wicking fabric wins, it must be a utility thing.
Yet I still miss the cotton t-shirt guys. Their shirts just have better sayings.