Athleisure, activewear, athletic apparel, sportswear—whatever you want to call it—clothing made for movement is a $300 billion segment of the fashion industry. And it's projected to grow by $157 billion more by 2024 in part due to the pandemic pushing people even deeper into their comfort zones when it comes to clothing. A lot of what's driving the market at present are retro activewear trends.
Initially, activewear emerged out of American sportswear—casual apparel, originally borrowed from men's clothing, that allowed for greater movement. "For women, it was always a balance between trying to match with what was considered [fashionable] and being able to be physically active," says Sonya Abrego, a fashion historian based in New York City.
Currently, many of the trends re-emerging in the fitness apparel space are ones originally rooted in the 20th century—you may have even caught a few their first time around depending on when you were born. But it's worth revisiting these activewear trends that are coming back right now because lots of brands are putting their own, unique spins on them.
- Cieja Springer, a New York City-based fashion historian and freelance writer
- Sonya Abrego, Sonya Abrego is a New York City based design historian specializing in the history of American fashion in the twentieth century. Her work examines the intersections between dress, popular culture, modern art, and how clothing communicates and signifies from past...
Here are 10 retro activewear trends that are coming back better than ever
The tennis skirt became famous when designer Jean Patou created the first one for tennis player Suzanne Lenglen in 1920. Though longer than the shorter versions popular today, this innovative style allowed female players a greater range of motion, which felt like a huge win.
While it’s easy to play it safe with neutral shades that “go” with everything, the ’80s are back with a resurgence of brightly colored activewear and athleisure. Think neons and vivid hues that are made to be seen, a nice change after a year of working out at home.
No trend is probably more prevalent at the moment than the return of ’90s streetwear like these Adidas breakaway pants. Brands are bringing looks from the decade back, pairing baggier bottoms with more fitted tops like sports bras or crops. The best way to cap off the look? A bucket hat, of course.
Similarly to how Gen Z is coming for millennials’ skinny jeans, flared yoga pants are starting to take over primary placement in more people’s leggings drawers. While we’d never get between anyone and their favorite pair of tapered tights, this is one trend worth giving a try is you’ve got more pairs of fitted-ankle workout pants than you know what to do with.
Matching sets like tracksuits, which were trendy in the early aughts (see: Juicy Couture), are popping up everywhere. Now, though, they come with more variety in terms of cuts, materials, and silhouettes, meaning they can be worn out to run errands, dressed up for a dinner, or, ya know, sweat in at the gym. Plus, many new offerings are gender neutral too, like these from Girlfriend Collective’s For Everyone line.
Socks are a baseline staple for any activewear outfit, but they can often go unnoticed. A barely there black ankle sock isn’t going to make such a splash. What will? Retro “dad-at-a-BBQ style” white crew socks are on their way back in, as are fun novelty and printed socks. People are even starting to build their entire looks around their socks, and brands have caught on to the trend, pushing their tube sock collections like never before.
Princess Diana made biker shorts a wardrobe staple for a lot of women in the ’90s (and she’s inspiring an entire new generation today who are discovering throwback photos of her in pairs, which she wore with oversized sweatshirts). But so many more cultural heroes have rocked the trend from Florence Griffith Joyner on the track to Serena and Venus Williams on the court.
After a year spent mostly inside in soft clothes, going into the spring and summer months, the goal is still going to be comfort, but this time just a little more elevated—comfort+. There will be more fun mesh, embellishments, cutouts, appliques, and maybe a bit more sparkle added, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the peak of the ’80s fitness craze. The point? Have fun and don’t take yourself (or your outfit) too seriously.
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