Last week I tried out a class at a friend's kickboxing gym. You don't expect a boxing gym to be the nexus of all things style, but I found myself deep in conversation with two other women debating the merits of loose tank tops for exercise (comfy but slides around and gapes too much when say, doing push-ups).
The women were in leggings that weren't just any leggings - mesh panels and seams mean to flatter; gorgeous prints, and sports bras with elaborate strappy backs, shown off by drapey tanks. They looked great, just like the women in Instagram accounts of Lululemon, Nike, Under Armour, et al.
(The men just wore shorts and no shirts. So simple, life for a man.)
There's so much going on out there in this sportwear market because a crazy amount of women are willing pay big bucks for sports bras and sweats - if the style is right. This is all very new to me, since I've always bought my sportswear in discount bins and during warehouse sales - the point of sport wear was that while they weren't very interesting, they didn't really date. You buy something that works, and wear it forever. Literally - being made of essentially, plastic, my exercise gear last eons. One of my sports bras date from my college years. Running shoes were the only things that fell apart and needed changing.
On a performance level, it's nice to have so much to choose from now - there's actual progress on the materials front. Things have gotten incredibly comfortable. I used it be grateful for any kind of wicking and breathability but now you get wonderfully light fabric, some of them woven like fine knits, soft as air.
Second, they're finally flattering, and there's a style for everyone, whether you like it aggressively sporty and "pro" looking, vintage-y like a Wes Anderson movie, fashion-y with bright prints and complicated straps, or minimalist, in cool, tasteful palettes.
I was inducted into this world of fancy sportswear recently, when I got a Lululemon gift card for my birthday. I'd only gone into the shop once and left intimidated by the prices and creeped out by cultishness of it all, without trying on anything. So this time, when I did try stuff on, I was pleasantly surprised by the fact the things are actually quite nicely made, and the materials definitely feel more luxe on the skin than most.
It's easy to let all this great marketing get into your head - pictures and videos of women working out with each other and doing amazing things and looking all glowy and sweaty. It's the photogenic version of what I loved about sports growing up: being part of teams and sharing in the camaraderie that comes with pushing yourself and rooting for each other and the exhilaration of your body actually becoming good, or at least able, at something.
Now it's becoming another lifestyle, another aspiration being pushed to us by companies looking to make money. But it's also pushing fitness and sports for women into the spotlight. These ads showing women playing football (soccer to Americans), tennis, swimming, running, climbing mountains, skiing, practising MMA, Crossfit, yoga, boxing, dancing - these are all things I want my hypothetical daughter to know they're capable of. Yes, most of these are athletes that also happen to be good-looking and marketable, or they're models, but at least they're demonstrating something positive and empowering. I can get behind that.
But as always, there's the need to separate the gold from the dross. I find most of the high-fashion options out there laughable - which is most of the stuff you find on in the Net-a-Porter sports section. Marmot and Patagonia make tops and leggings that are surprisingly suitable for regular running and studio-based classes, considering they're better known for their outdoor gear. Among the big mass brands, Nike and Under Armour suit my body type best, and I think they win in the quality + accessibility stakes. I admit that Lululemon wins in the "who can make the softest jersey of all them all" stakes, but I can't really get behind the company's vibes and am pretty put off by the bad press.
I think Stella McCartney for Adidas is shockingly poor quality and and the designs are impractical. I do have one of her tops purchased for a mere S$15 years ago during a sale that's not bad, but the brand often uses materials that feel plasticky and the leggings in my experience never sit right on my body. Also, I love Uniqlo but they definitely haven't quite hit the mark where sportwear is concerned. Cotton On Body makes cute things, but I had one top that lost its colour and shape so fast that I'll never try it again.
Which are your favourite sportswear makers?