Is gym gear the new casual?

Paula Joye April 11, 2012

Helena Christensen

Heart smart casual ... Helena Christensen dresses down for a stroll through the streets of Milan.

Is it just me or have people suddenly got very serious about their exercise gear?

I was away over Easter at Blueys Beach on the NSW north coast - and was struck by the outfits my fellow pavement pounders were wearing. They were pretty swank for 6.30 in the morning in a small surf town. I’m talking technicolour tops, leggings with lights, sparkly sports bras, sneakers with snazzy laces, chunky watches, wrist bands. Where had I been? I felt positively retro in my daggy sweats.

Maybe enthusiastic exercise dressing never really went away – it’s much more likely that I stopped watching. Possibly it’s a phase that we all move through at some part of our physical education journey. My moment was in 1990. For a brief period I worked in a gym while I was at university. Behind the desk. I was very into my fitness and the outfits that went with it. When I say into I mean borderline obsessive. I was an aerobics groupie/junkie with a wardrobe to match. My look went something like this: fluoro green leotard, pale grey bike shorts, white tube socks artfully scrunched with matching fluoro green gym socks, high-top Reebok gym boots (possibly with green laces) and an elastic belt. I actually worked out in all that clobber - I wish I had photos because I could dine out on them for the rest of my life.

Psychologists agree that what you wear when you exercise can have a real impact on whether you actually complete your workout and how you feel while exercising. It’s similar to the whole starting a diet on a Monday philosophy - if you feel confident you’ll perform accordingly – but how we exercise is also deeply personal and differs from person to person.  We layer ritual upon ritual just to make sure we get it done. For some it’s time of day, for others it’s music and for many of us it’s the outfit.

Take my girlfriend Anna. She will only exercise at home in her children’s playroom on a treadmill. She wears underpants, a sports bra and Yogi Bear novelty ears to keep the hair of her face. Sometimes she adds a face mask. She’s answered the door to couriers and tradesmen in this outfit. For Anna it’s completely normal and the outfits simplicity ensures that she works out four times a week. 

On the opposite side of the spectrum is Louise. She's a gym junkie who favours the latest high-tech label look. She wears slick designer compression tights (both before and after her run), two sports bras (one for support and one for show) and tight singlets with mesh panels for ‘breathability and a touch of sexiness’. She replaces her runners every six months, has a watch with built-in GPS tracking that monitors her heart rate, counts calories, and displays the NASDAC.

In recent years, it's this kind of uber-exercise look that I've noticed slide over into everyday wear. Just as surf gear has leaked into the closets of men you know have never ridden a board the same has happened with workout wear. It’s become standard café attire. People even have ‘good' gym gear that never sees any sweat. This happened to me when I had babies. While on maternity leave I wore work out clothes all the time. I didn’t do a tap of exercise other than pram pushing and yet I was never out of sneakers and tights. This had something to do with mobility and baby vomit, a lot to do with elasticised waist bands but mostly it was because that's what all the other new Mums seemed to be wearing. There were hundreds of us in the park dressed in this new kind of Mummy Casual all pretending we were on our way to and from the gym. I still do it occasionally. Particularly if I have to get my daughter to an early netball game on a Saturday morning. I throw on my exercise gear because some days it’s just easier than jeans and a shirt.

When it comes to the clothes I actually wear when I exercise, I like to keep things low-fi. No more co-ordinating socks with elastic belts, no more gyms, nothing tricky. Now it’s all about my husbands old t-shirts, a pair of track shorts and the open road.

Whatever gets you through.

Paula Joye is Editor of www.lifestyled.com.au or you follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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