What does this mean and why does this matter?
I love wearing gym clothes — it’s a throwback to my childhood where I wore uniforms to school. Actually I wore the same clothes every day even after school until they were completely worn out — it’s a perverse luxury to have daily laundry. It’s not that I don’t love dressing up — I do — it’s only on busy mornings, I’d rather not think about what to wear and I can see how this has become a habit — I wear shirts and skirts in the summer and slacks in the winter. My favourite work uniform is a dress because it rids me even of the rather elementary task of matching the shirt/slack/skirt.
But work clothes are not my only uniform — I have to carry gym clothes and sneakers and a water bottle in my backpack. I would like to not worry about changing from work to working out — that is how I am dressed on the weekends — that people is the prime motivation behind this zeigeisty portmanteau — athleisure.
Granted I do actually work out but I know the clothes came first — I have adored trendy workout clothes for as long as I can remember — Polo’s RLX was a brand before its time and I was on board — then I was discovered Sweaty Betty and eventually Lululemon — now this fashion issue is the subject of a different post — today I am in a polemical place.
I feel wearing workout clothes does more than nudge me to the gym. When I am wearing these clothes I make better food choices. It’s hard to eat lavish meals wearing a tank-top — I mean you can but you feel like a traitor to the cause of good health. It’s why Charles Duhigg called exercise a keystone habit because it transforms every aspect of one’s life. I want to be totally clear — this is an unequivocal benefit to my life — I am not working out for my appearance — I work out to enhance my health and sense of self-efficacy and as a majorly self-caring activity. Gym clothes engineer the mindset of health and this is a good thing.
Now on to the juicy aspects of the debate — if my wearing yoga pants is considered a distraction or scandalous then I think society needs to move with the times. If women were to choose clothes with the sole intention of avoiding male attention or being distracting then we might as well be wearing hoop skirts and spouting of expressions like “I do declare” or even avoiding makeup. I think gym clothes promote an authentic understanding of women’s bodies — they are not about presenting a duplicitous self to society like shapewear — there’s presenting your best self and then there is a organ-compromising corset by any other name — it’s about owning what you look like and not needing to change to impress strangers in your own time.
I can see that each workplace needs to establish its own dress code of what it deems acceptable but as far as I am concerned 21st century professional environments can do with healthy and happy employees who are less frazzled about schlepping things to the gym and better able to balance work and life that makes it easier for them to exercise. I’m not suggesting people suddenly come into work sweaty but leggings are not much more revealing than skinny jeans and there are thicker wicking materials with UPF protection — there is no reason slacks cannot be made out of performance materials that transition from work to working out.
We are living in a moment when we are emphatically aware of the importance of physical and mental wellness on a personal level — yoga, meditation, bootcamps, green juices — this is not a trend — it’s a movement. A movement toward an authentic and cohesive identity of a conscious individual as part of a more transparent world with more nuanced ambitions. The fogeys of the workplace will eventually adapt — how many important business meetings happen with attendees wearing 3-piece suits? Do we still dress for dinner? Why have men stopped wearing hats?
If we live tethered to our phones and by extension our work and spend our commutes meditating and our weekends decluttering, it is only reasonable to assume that our clothes will change as well. And for anyone concerned about decorum I am sure there are a ton of civil war re-enactment holidays that can transport them back to gentler eras ☺