It is socially acceptable to dress like a slob now. The rise of athleisure—an incredible trend that has made it OK to wear yoga pants to the bar—has helped trend American fashion to the slouchy and the comfortable. Kanye West sells sweatshirts for hundreds of dollars. New York magazine says “Champion vies with Gucci as the logo du jour.”
The coming of the age of athleisure likely began with the rise in popularity of yoga. As yoga’s popularity surged, people started wearing yoga clothes to brunch afterwards. Clothes worn for yoga, pilates, and similar workouts are a bit more chic than, say, football gear. Soon, it became acceptable to wear yoga clothes to brunch even if you hadn’t worked out beforehand.
This comes after nearly two decades of a relaxation in dress codes. At my first job after high school working IT in an office for a Fortune 500 company, I had to wear a shirt and tie for my first week. Then the company instituted a business casual dress code, and now I only wear ties when I want to dress up—weddings, funerals, playing dress-up as a serious journalist.
Athleisure wear is so prevalent that, last fall, athleisure actually outsold sportswear, a fashion term that means dress-up wear that’s less than formalwear (polo shirts, khakis, et cetera). But somewhat surprisingly, Drexel professor Joseph Hancock, who wrote his Ph.D. thesis on cargo pants, says it’s not the work of millennials.
“The yoga pant became the dominant pant last fall and people always assume that it’s young people driving the trend,” Hancock trend. “But I think a lot of this fashion is from the ideology of the 50-plus—the baby boomers.” My mom calls her athleisure gear “her retirement uniform.”
By far my favorite part of the athleisure trend is the sweat short—basically, sweat pants that are shorts. It’s still not quite socially acceptable to wear sweatpants out and about in most circles, but sweat shorts are perfect for warm weather.
They’re comfortable as hell. An elastic waistband will keep you feeling trim even if you’ve gained a few extra pounds. They’re incredibly versatile. You can wear them to work out, or for a trip to the bar. You can wear them with a t-shirt—or a polo shirt, if you want to look a little dressier. You can wear them to bed. You can even wear them to the coffee shop while you’re typing out an Adequate Man essay.
They’re better than regular old gym shorts (or running shorts) because they’re generally longer, and have more pockets. A pair of Nike tech fleece shorts I own has a pocket that goes the length of the short. In sweat shorts, you can carry a lot of stuff with you! With sweat shorts you can carry around almost as much as you can in the dreaded, ugly cargo short. If I lived in an area that was warm year-round, I might never wear anything else.
And right now they’re everywhere, from high-end brands to Urban Outfitters to Target, which has a nice line of C9 sweat shorts (produced for Champion). “I think that everyone’s trying to get into the game and it’s going to continue to grow,” Hancock says. “What’s interesting is your sweat short—in the past, it would have been used for athletics. Now they’re making other shorts of all sorts that aren’t meant to be worn at the gym.”
For a guy who likes to dress comfortably, athleisure is a godsend. And sweat shorts—comfortable, attractive fleece garments that usually wick away your sweat and keep you cool—are the best of it. Wear them this summer, and forever.