They are not blue jeans. They are not slacks. They are not chinos or khakis.
“They’re like a jogger,” Lee Davis says of his pants, walking through an outdoor mall in Los Angeles called The Grove. He’s wearing them with a professional black cardigan over a designer white tee, with a crisp fitted baseball cap and fancy tennis shoes. The pants stand out the most. They fit him impeccably, with clear, tapered lines and a high-end, light-khaki material that flows luxuriously.
Davis is just one of several male customers walking through the mall in sweatpants. He says his cost $195, and that they are worth it.
“They’re kind of in between a sweat pant and a dress pant,” Davis says. “Denim sometimes can really be looked at as just casual. This makes it a little more dressy, because of the material.”
He and his nearly $200 sweatpants are perhaps the poster child for fashion’s latest obsession.
What Is Athleisure?
Davis’ sweats are part of a growing trend called “athleisure.” Gym clothes are making their way out of the gym and becoming a larger part of people’s everyday wardrobes — and a bit fancier in the process. The NPD group says sales of athleisure apparel were more than $35 billion last year and that athletic apparel now makes up 17 percent of the entire American clothing market.
H&M, Urban Outfitters, Aeropostale and TopShop have all launched athleisure lines. Certain collections have gotten endorsements from celebrities like Kanye West and Beyonce. Chanel even makes a couture sneaker now. The Wall Street Journal reports that some estimates predict the U.S. athletic apparel market will increase by nearly 50 percent by 2020, even as Americans participate in fewer sports.
How did all of this happen? Will McKitterick, an analyst with IBIS World, says there are two big factors at play in the rise of athleisure: yoga and the cyclical nature of blue jean sales.
First, McKitterick says, there has been what he calls “a change in what’s appropriate to wear.” Think yoga pants. Over the past decade or so, women have led this charge, specifically in their embrace of yoga pants outside of yoga studios. Now yoga pants, tights and leggings have moved from the gym to just about everywhere. That only helped make room for men’s sweatpants to leave the couch.
McKitterick says declining jean sales are part of the equation as well. Reports say sales of denim in the U.S. were down 6 percent last fiscal year. “Men, and people more generally, have a lot of jeans,” he says. “Jean sales have done really well over the last 10 years, and we’ve gone through a number of different fads surrounding jeans, perhaps most recently skinny jeans.
“But, fashion denim is cyclical,” says McKitterick. “So it seems we’re in a downturn period right now, and that’s not too surprising coming off the large amount of sales we’ve seen over the last 10 years.”
Athleisure apparel helps fill that void. For what it’s worth, McKitterick says jeans have faced competition before, from corduroys in the ’70s, and khakis and chinos in the ’90s. Jeans bounced back both times.