Comfy, good-looking and high-tech: The latest fitnesswear has it all
Whether you were around for the first generation of "aerobic apparel" or you've just entered the fitness industry, now is the perfect time to get excited about the evolution in fitness apparel. Read on to discover 16 trends for 2016 in men's and women's gear.
Less "ohm" than "oh, my," yogawear is way past muted solid colors and loose-tie pants. Did you know you can get yoga leggings with song lyrics printed on them? With a matching mat? Kess InHouse carries a full line of bold, artistic prints that you can both wear and lie upon.
And mat materials have evolved, too. It's easy to find a mat that is textured on two sides; is PVC-free and latex-free; uses nontoxic materials; and can be fully recycled. As prAna®, a stalwart of the yoga-supplies business, says in its E.C.O. yoga-mat description, "Conscious practice starts before you enter the studio."
Do you want weights, headbands, straps, totes, hats or water bottles to go with your outfit? No problem. Zen and zany go together beautifully in today's yoga.
2. Athleisure Apparel
The concept of going from the gym to the grocery store is fully integrated in our style sensibilities. In 2013, U.S. activewear sales rose 9% (thanks mostly to sales of children's athletic footwear), compared with 1% for all types of apparel, footwear and accessories (The NPD Group 2014). And it's common to see men at work in hoodies and sneakers, rather than the business suit or denim and brown shoes of just a few years ago. Gap® opened its first Athleta® store, a mashup of street fashion and performance gear, in 2011.
At Lucy®, you can get a "destination anywhere jumper" that's a one-piece work-to-workout-to-night-on-the-town adjustable, quick-dry pantsuit that goes with exercise shoes or high heels.
A bright orange tennis dress that can be worn on the court and in court? Why not? A bold-colored running skirt with crosses so you can run to church? Dona Jo has it. Lorna Jane built the company around an active-living philosophy, emphasizing the link between exercise and daily rituals, and it's worked well. From hoodies to active pants, and shorts with hidden pockets to inspirational tees and tanks, fabrics and styles are now designed so you can easily go from sweat to street while looking (and smelling) totally in place. No more need to cover up or bring a change of clothes when you want to stop for gas after your workout.
"The fashion industry has undergone one of the most dramatic makeovers in recent history," says Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for The NPD Group. "There is an underlying sense of rebellion, but self-expression and creativity also enter the picture. It's a lifestyle that is too comfortable, for consumers of all ages, for it to go away anytime soon" (The NPD Group 2014).
3. Celebrity Fashion
Social media has such a secure place in our relationships with celebrities that it makes complete sense to see them getting into the fitnesswear business, not just as a source of revenue, but also to satisfy consumer demand.
In 2013, actress Kate Hudson co-founded Fabletics, an activewear clothing line with monthly "picks" from Hudson. And TV personality Brooke Burke-Charvet, former winner and co-host of Dancing with the Stars, launched Caelum (Core, Active, Evolve, Life, Uplift, Motivate), with fashion industry pro (and brother-in-law) Danny Guez, to sell women performance apparel that embodies the "spirit of an energetic lifestyle." Singer and actress Rita Ora began a collaboration with Adidas® in 2014, blending street and sports styling with a rebellious feel in a line of "lifestyle" items. And Grammy winner Carrie Underwood teamed up with Dick's Sporting Goods® to launch Calia™ by Carrie Underwood activewear in March 2015, after having trouble finding workout clothes that "simultaneously did their job and looked cute."
These four women have their own lines of clothing, yet they are not the only celebrities who understand the public's demand for their cachet. Demi Lovato has been the spokesperson for Skechers® for the past 2 years; Jillian Michaels, Julianne Hough and Rihanna are the faces of popular fitness brands; and the trend doesn't look likely to peak soon. Shoppers like to buy and wear the same things their favorite celebrities are wearing, especially when they see how great the clothing looks on the stars.
4. Recyclable Fabrics
Want to magically turn your water bottle into a pair of comfy leggings? Thanks to technology, not magic, you can. Those who value sustainability and recycling will be excited by advances that make it possible to turn a plastic water bottle into clothing.
How can this be done? Leggings are made with polyester and nylon. So are water bottles, fishing nets and carpets. Ergo, sustainably oriented fashionwear companies collect discarded plastic from recycling centers. The companies then sort the plastic, wash it, crush it and melt it down on its way to becoming fiber for making fabric. To come full circle, maybe your next pair of leggings made from plastic will have a bold print showing a water bottle.
Less surprising, yet with the same mission of sustainable fashion, is workout clothing made of flexible bamboo. One of the first to use bamboo this way was Green Apple, whose tag line is "Eco active lifestyle for free souls. Made with the future in mind. All natural, all sustainable and all organic bamboo fabric."
Want buttons made from recycled paper? Motivational jewelry from biscuit tins? Clothing from eucalyptus trees or soybeans? All are readily available. The secret is to read labels.
5. Mommy & Me
Activewear and workouts are being specifically designed for pregnant women and those with small children, a seeming 180-degree turnaround from the days when pregnant women were encouraged not to work out or exert themselves.
FitPregnancy, an online magazine for moms-to-be, picked the Zoot Ultra Kane 3.0 running shoe, the New Balance 711s circuit training shoe and the Reebok Skyscape walking shoe as its top 3 "best sneakers for pregnancy," because they can help to protect against ankle rolls and falls (FitPregnancy 2016).
Athleta has a line of maternity leggings that give women the choice of over- or under-belly waist placement, and use a design to reduce chafing, while GapFit has an entire line dedicated to active toddlers. Want to go to a parent-child workout in matching outfits? You can do it in style.
Both mommy and child can now wear tangerine tops with bright blue socks if they want. Sexy one-piece maternity bodysuit? You got it. Inspirational T-shirt? All yours. Fold-over skinny-leg pre- and post-baby capris? You bet. Frumpy "pregnant lady" activewear is long gone, replaced by hundreds and hundreds of stylish clothes in fun colors.
6. Art as Fashion
Art doesn't just hang on walls anymore, oh, no, no; that's so yesterday. You can now wear a Modernist on your legs, an Impressionist on your tank, a Renaissance painter on your sports bra or boxers, a Pre-Raphaelite on your tote bag and a rendering of your child's class photo on your running cap if you want.
It wouldn't be at all uncommon to be on the treadmill at the gym and see a line of legs sporting panthers, starry skies, cubist color blocks, desert scenes or waves on the shore. Not only can your apparel and gear reflect your mood; they can also reflect your taste in art.
In its "Shop Our Instagram" program, Dona Jo combines a savvy knowledge of social media with shoppers' demands for creativity and artistic expression. Through images of cuddly dogs resting their heads on neon-colored, owl-covered tights, and pics of women in headstand doing the splits in sugar skull leggings, the company is celebrating people who embrace their individualism. It's no surprise that workoutwear makers are reflecting the cultural shift toward greater female empowerment and equality. Blending in is no longer the norm. Standing out is, and wearable art is part of that shift.
7. Super-Dry Fabrics
In 1968, DuPont® Textiles & Interiors (now INVISTA™) invented moisture- wicking technical fabrics. These are specially engineered polyester fibers that improve breathability. Fabrics that "wick away" moisture from the skin allow sweat to evaporate more easily.
In the half-century since this technology first appeared, fitness apparel has evolved the art and science of wicking moisture away from the body. For example, Under Armour® has numerous types of fabric technology, including UA ColdGear® Infrared, HeatGear®, UA Storm, ColdBlack®, MicroThread and MagZip™. None of these words even existed in 1968. These fabrics can keep you warmer through a "thermo-conductive coating to absorb and retain body heat," cool your body via a coating on the inside of the fabric and create a microclimate that absorbs sweat. And the fabrics are not for astronaut suits; they're used in workout apparel!
Reebok offers Speedwick and PlayDry® technology that "dissipates sweat to keep skin dry and comfortable," while Nike uses Hypercool three-mesh textures to provide breathability and comfort. Nike also has a high-performance Dri-FIT microfiber polyester fabric that moves sweat to the exterior surface of the clothing.
There are many other technical terms for fitness fabrics. Adidas uses ventilated Climalite, Climacool, Climachill and TechFit: the first three to keep you cool and dry, the fourth to help your muscles generate "maximum explosive power, acceleration and long-term endurance" by keeping your body at its optimal temperature in both heat and cold.
While each company has its own terms for technical fabrics, the end result is comfort and performance, which is a huge advantage over the cotton-based "dance aerobics" clothing of the past. Scientists at the various companies closely studied human thermal physiology (how we react to heat stress) and created "magical" coated, structured, conductive fabrics that maximize ventilation. Makes you kind of excited to see what apparel scientists will create over the next 50 years, doesn't it?
8. Outdoor Wear
Outdoor wear is now so advanced, you can work out in almost any weather or season and feel protected and comfortable.
Fun runs, mud runs, Spartan Races®, obstacle races, endurance races and adventure courses have all exploded in popularity over the past few years. What was once seen as an activity for the military-minded or extremely fit is now mainstream, with choices that run the gamut from night runs in costume (similar to laser tag) to brutal tests of extremes that may include ice water and electric shocks. According to statistics from Obstacle Race World, participation in mud runs and obstacle races surged to 5 million people in 2015 from 200,000 in 2010 (ORW 2016).
Besides tutus and costumes, what are all these outdoor enthusiasts wearing, even those who eschew the races and stick to dog walks and daily runs?
Anecdotally, the increase in these "tough" runs shows up in the language of fitness brands and participants. Think of how often you see blurbs like this one for Reebok's Spartan compression top: "Our armored Spartan forebearers fought fiercely back in 431 bc. Too bad they didn't have the competitive advantage of lightweight, compressive technology. Lucky for us, we can manage the mud and battle the barriers in second-skin comfort, while speedily wicking sweat and preventing odors. Now that's a shield."
Or take a peek at the laundry tag inside a pair of Nike Pro Hyperstrong 3.0 compression hard-plate camo men's football undershorts. It says, "Pro Combat." That is very specific wording for a very specific demographic.
From Under Armour, you can get a men's Werewolf jacket made with PrimaLoft® Silver insulation, with a complementary balaclava made with a ColdGear infrared thermo-conductive inner coating for extreme cold. Mountain Hardwear® has runner's arm sleeves made with Cool.Q ZERO—small blue circles embedded in the fabric that react with your sweat to adjust the temperature of the fabric—and SPF 50 sun protection.
Do you think compressionwear is only for professional athletes? Not any longer. You can find long shirts, short-sleeve shirts, tank tops, shorts, sports bras, tights, pullovers, socks, gloves, wetsuits, hoodies, capris, beanies, base layers, swimsuits and even undergarments from brands such as Nike. And if you do want to be like the pro athletes, you can find training pants with "ultra-flexible 7–10 millimeter thick DeTech foam with hard plates" = embedded to protect your hips, thighs, knees and tailbone protected against impact.
9. Running Shoes
In 1920, seven-time Boston Marathon® winner Clarence DeMar crossed the finish line wearing thin shoes made with crepe rubber soles and leather uppers. This kind of running shoe weighed just under 10 ounces. Nowadays, running shoes can weigh less than 3 ounces and have built-in transmitters that can sync data with your computerized devices. And within the next decade or so, it's highly probable they'll be made of protocells—synthetic materials with properties of organic matter, including self-repair (Fuehrer & Douglas 2014).
ASICS—which comes from the Latin phrase " anima sana in corpore sano" ("sound mind in a sound body")—has been in the shoe business since 1949, when Kihachiro Onitsuka started making shoes in his Kobe, Japan, living room. Now ASICS has a 45,000-square-foot research institute that focuses on analyzing human body movements and testing materials and designs to create perfect-fitting performance shoes (ASICS 2016).
Runners today can find shoes designed to accommodate shock, overpronation, oversupination, rain, myriad surfaces, personal taste, comfort, sweat and odor. Recent innovations include "energy return," which Puma® describes as the ability to "disperse impact while providing optimal responsiveness." Adidas promises to help runners "keep every step charged with an endless supply of light, fast energy." DeMar probably had to accommodate his shoes when he ran in 1920. Now the shoes would accommodate him.
Even shoelaces could become obsolete, with devices such as Puma's laceless Disc System. Beyond lace-free, how about tongue-free shoes? Reebok's ZPump removed the tongue. In its place? A pump air cage—controlled by the user via a button on the side of the shoe—that makes it possible to add or subtract compression around the foot.
Early this year, Intel® announced a partnership with New Balance, one result of which is customized, 3-D-printed midsoles enabled by Intel technology. Meanwhile, Brooks® Running is applying 3-D technology to its uppers. Men and women can buy Brooks shoes that have guide rails, a ballistic rock shield, super DNA, heel rounding to force the impact through the center of the ankle joint, and segmented crash pads that look like caterpillars. Of these choices, probably only the caterpillar existed a few years ago!
Runners today can chat comfortably with shoemakers about energy boosts, PowerFrame sleeves, carbonated foam, fusion technology, EVA (ethyl vinyl acetate) outsoles, molded eyestays, propulsion, flexibility, engineered mesh, natural motion design, shoe cables, density, gel and other features that didn't exist even a few years ago. It truly is possible to run faster and jump higher in today's running shoe.
10. Walking Shoes
In its most recent survey about walking and cycling levels in England, the government found that "47% of people walked at least five times a week" in the year ending mid-October 2014 (gov.uk 2015). That's a lot of worn-out shoes. Many of those people may not consider themselves exercisers or runners, yet walking is a well-established activity that's equated with better health and longevity (Lee & Paffenbarger 2000). Whether doing 10,000 steps a day, aiming to improve steps in small increments, or merely walking as part of daily life, people who walk want their feet to be comfortable and their joints protected. And being stylish helps, too!
From Fila's pink and grey "old-school" trail hikers to the Pink Ribbon fitness walking shoe from New Balance, walking shoes are far more than the "afterthought" cousins of running shoes. The new breed of walking shoe is built for stability, comfort and style.
The latest technology emphasizes midsole responsiveness and durability, rebound cushioning and forefoot flexibility, all designed to be aesthetically pleasing—a far cry from the white, "nurse"-type walking shoe of the past.
Skechers has successfully branded itself as a company with a fun, full line of bright, bold walking shoes for nonexercisers who just walk as part of their daily activity and for those who wear fitness trackers and count steps to reach a specific daily goal. Skechers will happily outfit you in a teal-green slip-on with sparkling threads, a multidirectional tracking sole, integrated tracking sensors that provide feedback and a "SQUISH" component made of Resalyte™ (a "lightweight injection-molded compound with memory retention").
Just as with the running shoes, designers and researchers have spent countless hours creating shoes that make your feet the last thing you have to think about during your walk. Unless, of course, you're busy staring at the lime-green neon reflector stripes during an evening walk.
11. Mission-Inspired Jewelry
Do you ever need a visual reminder to keep you on track with your fitness or health goals? While motivational quotes stuck to the fridge or bathroom mirror can be helpful, they are not near you when you leave the house to work out. That's where mission-inspired jewelry comes in. Now your favorite quotes or exhortations can be on your wrist, neck, head, ears and shoes.
Are you a runner? You can get shoelace quotes that say, "2,016 in 2016," or "Boston Strong." Need a little encouragement? Wear "Live fearlessly" or "Stronger every day" on your wrist.
Some inspirational jewelry is word-free, with a focus more on meditation or spirituality and inner peace. A yoga mala (string of prayer beads) or Buddhist bracelet might be the answer. Maybe you have a chant you want to practice. It's now easy to find a ring embossed with it. And the mission doesn't stop with you and your workout. Some companies, like Momentum jewelry, donate part of their profits back to causes that support healthy living. The increase in popularity for mission-inspired jewelry may illustrate our desire to live more in the present while working toward our goals.
Active living means a lot of outdoors time for millions of people. For eye protection, it's helpful to know makers of sunglasses are now designing shades with outdoor training in mind. When shopping for the pair that best suits your needs, look at nosepad fit and ventilation. You want sunglasses to be snug and secure, but not heavy or pinching. Fitness-oriented frames will be durable, comfortable right away and made of lightweight, stress-resistant material. Most of us have heard of UVA (the ultraviolet light associated with aging) and UVB (the ultraviolet light associated with sunburn and cancer), but the amount of protection is quite important. Ask for lenses that block 100% of UVA and UVB while filtering out blue light (glare). Check also for stability, multilayered polycarbonate lenses and scratch resistance. For runners in particular, sunglasses with an adjustable frame and deep lens cut for maximum coverage are important. After all these specs are met, it's a matter of aesthetics. And of course, gadgetry plucked straight from the movies. For example, Radar Pace™—a collaboration from Intel and Oakley®—is smart eyewear that features a voice-activated real-time coaching system.
Is it a timepiece? A fitness tracker? A bracelet? A sleep tracker? An email inbox? A calorie counter? A heart rate monitor? A blood pressure monitor? A phone? A stereo system? A calendar and appointment reminder? A social media portal? When you look at what watches have evolved into, a simple timepiece watch seems like eons ago.
Technology is evolving faster than it seems we can track (with our watch, no less). Who could have predicted that Intel and TAG Heuer® would collaborate on a device that does almost everything listed above? Polar® has a wrist-based, waterproof fitness tracker that includes a heart rate monitor and personalized training guidance, plus a smartwatch for notifications. Coming out nationwide from Omron® Healthcare later in 2016 is a wrist-worn blood pressure monitor and fitness tracker with an app that lets you send information directly to your doctor. The new Apple Watch measures custom metrics for wheelchair athletes; reminds us to slow down and connect with our breath; and allows us to playfully or competitively challenge friends and family to reach higher and go farther. It looks like James Bond and Maxwell Smart were fitness leaders without even knowing it.
14. Smart Apparel
If our shoes and wrist devices can give us stats and instructions for performance improvement, it makes sense that our clothing can too. Instructors and trainers can now sign up for classes to learn how to interpret all the data, thanks to a partnership between Intel and Exos™ (Holmes 2016).
Batteries and monitors inside shirts and leggings, or touch screens woven into fabric, were mere fantasies in the movie Tron. Now they exist. The science and art of blending rigid electronic parts with stretchy clothing material is improving every year (Hsu 2012). T-shirts with biometric sensors that help diagnose epilepsy are making their way to the consumer market, as are sports bras that measure changes in a woman's circadian cellular temperature to help detect cancerous tumors (Graham 2014). The era of washable electronics has truly arrived.
15. Smart Insoles
Instead of asking, "What's in your wallet?" people can now ask, "What's in your shoe?" The answer is smart insoles. Digitsole® has three types of insoles: One measures your steps, checks calorie burn and syncs with your smartphone; one does all that, plus it has a self-charging tracker to convert your foot movements into energy that powers the internal battery; and the third measures and analyzes your foot posture and movements, and updates you via your smartphone.
16. Fun Fitness
The final category is for all the stuff that just makes exercise more fun. Attend dance class clad in a wrap-tie sheer skirt from Motionwear® with a bright paisley pattern. Go high-impact with the bold, multicolored neon matching sports bra and leggings from Dona Jo. Accessorize with a tiny dumbbell keychain from Competitor 4 Life™ or a kettlebell bellybutton ring from Fashletics®. Be the belle of barre class in hot-pink striped slip-on footwear from Bloch® World. And when you're all done exercising, grab your Fit Style meal management purse, open the secret side compartment and pull out your insulated lunch.
So much is happening in the world of fitness fashion—it's hard to believe that things that were science fiction are now part of our everyday lives. Of course, the one thing that will probably never be invented is an outfit that will do your exercise for you!