THANK YOU, FASHION GODS!
Comfortable and fashionable are two words you don’t often see in the same sentence, but thanks to the fashion world’s current love of all things athleisure, it’s never been easier to embrace a trend, says The Times Fashion Director, Anna Murphy
It started at the fashion shows, as these things tend to. Not so much on the catwalk, this time, but on the front row. It was a couple of years ago on the first day in New York, and I remember reluctantly casting my eye down my fellow ‘frowers’, preparing myself for the usual – all those definitively on-trend and uncomfortable exemplifications of the difference between me and the rest of the fashion pack. The spindly heels, the nipped-in and difficultto-walk-in skirts, the spindly heels, the nipped-in and difficult-to-breathe-in jackets, the spindly heels… You get the idea. I was wearing my smart flats and tailored trousers, as per. Comfortable. Bliss. So imagine my surprise when I realised I had been out-comforted, out-blissed. Everyone else was wearing trainers – from puritanical Adidas Stan Smiths to blinged-up Dior extravaganzas – and relaxed, elasticated-waist trousers that looked like they might be trackpants. (Or were they trackpants that looked like they might be trousers? I couldn’t decide.)
You can guess what I was wearing the next day. What more proof that we live, at last, in the age of comfort? That even fashion’s most diehard masochists have succumbed to the warm – not to mention forgivingly elastic-waisted – embrace of athleisure? Which means, praise be, the rest of us can, too. That’s right. As long as you buy in the best fabrics you can afford, and look for flattering cuts and grown-up hues, athleisure can be the very best fashion friend you ever had.
It goes without saying these are clothes you can run for the bus in, but they are also clothes you can – if you get it right – go to the office in, even wow at a party in. If your diary fixture is something smart, you may want to wear silk trackpants rather than Lycra ones, perhaps offset with a tailored jacket and/or heels. (Trust me, those heels will look fabulous, though will also, admittedly, rather take the ‘ath’ out of athleisure.) Or you may favour a sweatshirt that’s sumptuously embellished rather than YMCA appropriate. Still not convinced? That most soignée of dressers, the fashion designer Carolina Herrera, was recently singing the praises of her £14.99 H&M trackie bums. Told you!
What’s more, this isn’t a trend that’s going anywhere. In fact, it’s gone beyond being a trend. Fashion gets interesting when it represents something bigger than mere clothes, when it reflects the changing ways in which we live and how we want to represent ourselves. When hoodies, trackpants and the like originally moved from the athletics stadium, they became synonymous with the underclass, with Wayne and Waynetta – with, well, hoodies, as the thugs du jour were called. But now a hoodie can come courtesy of Vetements, one of high fashion’s hottest labels, though it will set you back a princely £580. ‘You cannot underestimate the power of Vetements,’ says Sarah Rutson, Vice President of Global Buying at Net-a-porter, who cites its influence across the fashion
‘ATHLEISURE CAN BE THE VERY BEST FASHION FRIEND YOU EVER HAD’
firmament. Her must-watch brands for Spring/summer are street-style specialists Y/project and Off-white, the latter famed for its luxe track-cum-palazzo pants (yes, really). Yes, the rise of athleisure is down to us wanting to look classless and contemporary, but above all it is about the fact that these days we are all too busy juggling our manifold lives – work, family, that really complicated Ottolenghi recipe – to wear clothes that get in the way of being, of doing. Sure, fashion labels will tweak around the edges of athleisure – for the new season it is more sleek and more upscale, at labels like Stella Mccartney, Chloé and, well, practically everywhere. But basically, athleisure is here to stay and – here’s another reason to be happy – there is only so much faffing around that can be done with it by the high-fashion fairies. Buy well now and it will last you.
So, where to buy? Well, where to begin? Such is the lure of athleisure that you can pick it up everywhere. It depends, as always, on how much you want to spend. High-street brands such as H&M and Zara are brilliant at it. (Take it from Ms Herrera, if not from me.) But I would recommend spending a little more, too, because the better the fabrics – for which read the softer and more draped – the more adult-appropriate the look. My favourite sources for trackpants include Hush and ME+EM – I especially like the latter’s flattering black leather ones. Then there’s Clu for beautifully feminised sweatshirts and T-shirts, Kit and Ace for the best cashmere hoodies around, and Penelope Chilvers for a great range of trainers for grown-ups. But you can keep things even simpler than that. My spies tell me the default dress code in the Vogue offices at the moment is – wait for it – those Adidas three-stripe trackpants your daughter probably wears to netball practice, a snip at £32.95. Yes, athleisure really is that easy. So thank you, fashion gods.
Sofie Valkiers, founder of digital platform Fashionata, rocks the athleisure look
Singapore designer Yoyo Cao at Paris Fashion Week Supermodel Rosie Huntington-whiteley demonstrates how to pull off trackpants with heels