Athleisure is everywhere and it’s going nowhere. During the pandemic, the entire country traded skinny jeans for comfy joggers, and even though life is returning to normal, Summer 2021 men’s fashion is still all about comfort. If you’re refreshing your wardrobe post-vaccine, it’s impossible to escape the latest athleisure trends, from stylish joggers and sweatshorts to performance fabrics and super-casual summer shoes.
Generally, when we do a fashion trend piece, we gather all the best looks from various fashion weeks and talk to style experts. But this year is different. The fashion world has gone through a major shakeup. During the pandemic fall and winter, fashion weeks were almost nonexistent, and to be frank, the virtual shows didn’t spark any major trends or shopping sprees.
Due to Covid-19 and its ancillary effect on the economy, work and life in general, everyone had to re-think what it means to get dressed in the morning. Athleisure has gone from a trend or niche style to what everyone is wearing.
So how has the pandemic influenced menswear, and specifically athleisure trends? To get a handle on athleisure and how it’s changed the way we dress, we talked to Sharon Graubard, founder and creative director of MintModa, an online trend service, and Even Dunlop, co-founder of Future Proper, an online boutique for premium men’s activewear brands. We asked for their insights into the future of athleisure.
1. Athleisure Trends: How the Economy Influences Style
As you may have noticed, large department stores and small boutiques across the country have been deeply impacted by the pandemic. As Graubard said in an email interview, “Some manufacturers and retailers have gone out of business, while others are thriving, especially those who have managed to pivot into a work-from-home comfy aesthetic.”
This “at-home comfy aesthetic” translates for guys into athleisure. As Dunlop said in an email interview, “Athleisure has become the wardrobe for guys under pandemic life.” He continued, “What was once a consideration for some is now the only way to get dressed. A renewed focus on the more casual, athletic, and multi-functional side of guys’ wardrobes — led by brands like On and Aeance — has caused many to realize that it’s time for an upgrade in this department. The market is answering the call with a broadening selection of athleisure brands, price points, and marketplaces — hence, Future Proper!”
2. The Origin Story of the Athleisure Trend
Let’s step back a bit in our athleisure fashion forecast and do a quick history lesson. Athleisure as a modern fashion trend kicked off back in the early aughts with an explosion of tracksuits. Specifically, the Juicy Couture tracksuits for women. While women were embracing yoga pants and workout wear as everyday gear, men didn’t have an equivalent casual style option. Stepping out of the house in sweatpants was seen as a universal signal that you had given up on life, and that remained true well into the 2010s.
Around the time Stan Smith sneakers re-exploded in popularity back in 2012 (when Kanye was seen wearing them), guys began to acquire more athleisure wear options. And as time rolled on, more stylish and street-ready athleisure wear for guys appeared.
“’Athleisure’ is certainly a long-term mainstream trend,” Dunlop said. “What was a novel trend among cutting-edge designers like Y-3 or Neil Barret in years past has filtered into the larger menswear market.” Early athleisure pieces first trickled into weekend wear and then slowly morphed into the business-casual look.
3. The Pandemic Brings Athleisure Trends Into the Mainstream
While women had Juicy sweatpants and then yoga leggings, it’s only in the past few years that athleisure trends for men became more commonplace. As more celebrities and athletes were spotted wearing sweats and joggers outside the house, it became more acceptable to trade in skinny jeans for comfy clothes. The pandemic definitely accelerated this trend.
As offices closed nationwide and restaurants scaled back operations, suddenly we were all stuck at home. The comfort and ease of athleisure was simply the best option for day and night. During Winter 2020-2021, we even saw outwear take its cues from comfy athleisure apparel. Ski-suits were touted by The Wall Street Journal, and Graubard told us that these outerwear onesies were definitely “having a moment” during the pandemic. After all, they’re built to withstand below zero temps, allow movement, and keep you warm. Plus, they’re fun.
In addition, Graubard explained that “An unexpected benefit of the Covid era is that many consumers have more discretionary income than before.” She added, “With no travel, no restaurants and no event tickets, apparel becomes one of the remaining indulgences. Those purchases are often active-lounge items that fit into the new home-based work life, where a midday run (or afternoon nap) can be part of the daily routine.” Dunlop agreed with that assessment, telling us, “For many, the workday now takes place on the couch or in the home office. For those with disposable income, spending on their office wardrobe feels like a thing of the past. Those dollars are now going towards a cozy sweater from a brand like Holden or a clean pair of sneakers.”
And as the weather gets warmer, an elevated t-shirt or performance shirt in neutral colors, combined with comfy joggers or shorts, has become the standard uniform for many guys.
Even after the winter ended and vaccines started rolling out, many people swore that they were never going back to the old way of living. Skinny jeans are officially old news, while stylish joggers are now socially acceptable for all-day wear. As the temperatures climb, we’re even seeing sweatshorts make an unexpected comeback.
4. Your Athleisure Shopping List for 2021
Graubard feels that there are three ways to wear the athleisure wear trend. There’s the classic “I just got up and rolled out of bed look.” Then there’s the elevated style of athleisure where you mix “slim sweats, a polished long-sleeved pullover, and maybe an elevated hoodie or a zip jacket.” And the third style is mixing up tailored apparel and athleisure pieces together to create an outfit. Try a button-down shirt with joggers, or even a sweatshirt with a sarong or a kilt, if you’re especially fashion-forward.
As Dunlop pointed out, “Athleisure wear is incredibly versatile given its dual-use in one’s casual and athletic wardrobes. More bang for your buck. We will for sure see a growing number of guys consider single- or limited-use accessories and clothing to be unnecessary.” Look for clothing that incorporates athletic wear properties like anti-microbial or cooling-warming capabilities and are ethically sourced and made.
An athleisure shopping list for 2021 could include:
- Slim cut cargo pants
- Slim cut sweatpants
- Knit lounge pants
- Cozy sweaters
- Polished hoodies
- Zip-up sports jackets
- Utility coveralls
- 70s style tracksuits
- Handcrafted goods
- Lightweight trench coats or a nylon parka
- Terry polo shirts
What does a more formal athleisure outfit look like? This aesthetic is slightly easier to pull off in the winter months when you can pile on more layers to add more dressed-up elements to your look. In the summer, a lightweight blazer over a t-shirt and joggers is a comfortable yet on-trend way to leave the house.
5. Footwear & Athleisure
Athleisure doesn’t stop at the ankles. Since you really don’t need dress shoes for everyday use anymore, what is your shoe of choice?
According to the experts we consulted, the number one shoe of choice for athleisure is obviously a sneaker. You probably have more than one pair in your closet already. There are so many styles of sneakers, from the classic “Dad sneaker” to performance shoes, and there’s a style for every guy.
Graubard suggests that hybrid sneaker styles will be part of the new athleisure trend. She suggests looking for comfortable shoes “like loafer uppers with molded rubber soles.” She also feels that “Other new shoe options will include all sorts of slides and backless styles that can go from home to street. We are seeing felt clogs, molded plastic slides, and thick-soled sandals that can be worn with or without socks.”
6. What’s Next for Athleisure?
Once a trend is absorbed into the realm of “regular fashion” it sometimes creates a sub or micro-trend. The confluence of world events, i.e. the pandemic and athleisure becoming a major fashion force, has given birth to the new trend “Active Lounge.”
Active lounge takes the most comfortable aspects of both loungewear and athleisure and mashes them together. The result is a streamlined silhouette and clothing made from fabrics such as French terry, merino or cashmere wool, jersey knits and woven fabrics. Instead of wearing a long sleeve tee, think instead of a slim-fitting sweater in the above-mentioned fabrics paired with a slim-cut jogger made with performance fabrics that won’t bag at the knee.
That’s just one example of the ways that athleisure trends are taking over the men’s fashion world at the moment. Even after returning to the office, many millennials and Gen Z members are refusing to go back to the days of uncomfortable skinny jeans and formal wear. As a result, we’re seeing more outfits and capsule collections centered around the jogger. In 2021, a comfortable pair of sweatpants or running shorts are a given for many of us, and we build our outfits around that.
For the time being, comfort comes before style and not the other way around. And we don’t expect that to change anytime soon.
Once people have discovered the joys of 24/7 comfort, it’s really, really hard to go back.