Whether you’ve been in the fitness industry since the ’70s or you’ve done ’70s-style workouts with borrowed outfits from your mom’s closet, you know that the trends in fitness footwear and fashions are always exciting and evolving.

So what’s hot now? The diversity in workouts, value systems, style, function, technology, fabrics, aesthetics, comfort, performance and activities of daily life has inspired fitness-focused brands to design a multitude of choices for exercisers of all ages and preferences. Although the ’70s were fun, we are no longer limited to running shoes, leotards, leg warmers and headbands. Let’s take a look at what’s happening


in materials, design, performance and everything else that makes it so fun to shop for fitness wear.

Dress for the Program: Clothing

Think of all the choices you currently have in fitness apparel, from bold colors to fabric that wicks away sweat; from tiny crop tops to compression layers that “read” your body; from shorts with hidden pockets for your phone to branded clothing that allows you to wear and share your love of your favorite programs.

Twenty years ago, Les Mills™ BODYPUMP™ aficionados would show up to class wearing red and black logo crop tops and shorts, complete with matching water bottle. You can still match the outfit to the workout, but with so much more added than just a logo. How about a BODYCOMBAT™ T-shirt that “beefs up your defenses in a tech-heavy compression tee, with PlayIce construction that helps keep you cool, compression that helps keep muscles humming and mesh inserts that supply air flow when ventilation is a must.”

Even without logos, you can align your workout wear with your workout program. Certain colors are linked to specific classes. Just as BODYPUMP and Jane Fonda are forever linked to the combination of red and black (do you recall Jane wearing her striped leotard?), a number of dance programs are linked to bold fruit colors, pink and sparkly silver. It’s even possible to find clothing that changes color or reveals a logo as you sweat. For those who love exercising outdoors, protective clothing can block 98% of the sun’s harmful rays to protect you from skin cancer, with UV-detector zipper pulls that change color in the sun.
Perhaps in the future you’ll be able to wear fitness apparel that changes color to reveal a personalized message you’ve created, or that shows your heart rate and other stats on a scroll across the front of your fitness top.

The Right Match for the Work You’re Doing

Sometimes what warrants a clothing change is going from teaching a group fitness class to working with personal training clients. For the group class, the emphasis is on clothing that allows the students to see what the instructor is doing, while keeping the teacher from getting overheated; working with individuals might require the trainer to look professional and have places to put pens or keys.

Kristopher Kory, LMT, owner of Korlates Fitness in Avon, Connecticut, faces that kind of choice. “Men’s fitness apparel has come a long way since the days of unitards and tights pulled up with a belt. Now I want clothes that are comfortable, supportive in the right places without a lot of fabric, and sweat-wicking, so I can go from workout to shopping or training a client.

“It’s really difficult to find stylish men’s athletic clothing without looking like a basketball player or a soccer player. Even if it’s pricey, I will buy fitness apparel that’s high quality if it offers what I need, such as a zip-up or jacket that blends with the rest of the attire so I look finished and polished when I am training, teaching or presenting. I especially like the workout shirts with lines sewn into them that emphasize the best parts of your physique and make you feel good about yourself when you have them on.”

One way to “see” the evolution of specific clothing for specific workout programs is to picture runners and yoga practitioners in your mind. At a marathon, the runners may start out in running shorts and a jacket over a tank top. At the finish, that jacket is gone, and most of them are in the shorts and tank. Runners want clothing that wicks away sweat, prevents chafing and helps them race their fastest. In a yoga class, participants are more likely to want long, flowing pants that tie below the waist, with a matching top. Depending on the type of yoga, they may shed or add a pullover as it gets warmer or colder. Clothing choices are based more on comfort (physical and mental), ease of movement and sometimes even the meaning of the color.

As Candace Karu, chief instigation officer of 3C Media and avid exerciser in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, puts it, “Anything is an improvement on the royal-blue polyester gym suit I was required to wear in high school, including the French-cut leotards, tights, ankle warmers and high-top Reeboks I wore to Jazzercise® class.”

Dress for the Program: Shoes

Way back when, it was easy to dress for a “dance aerobics” class—the choices were running shoes, jazz shoes or bare feet. Now you can also get “barely there” yoga shoes, barefoot “slippers,” and cardio, studio, cross-training, dance, CrossFit®, kickbox, walking or studio-to-street casual shoes that emphasize individual style. You can even design your own shoes or get adaptable ones that inflate to match your foot’s contours.

For regular exercisers, aesthetics doesn’t seem to influence choice with shoes, as much as it does with apparel. Tamara Grand is a personal trainer in Port Moody, British Columbia, and online at http://fitknitchick.com. “When it comes to workout shoes, I tend to frequent small, boutique stores where the staff can analyze my gait, examine my foot, question me about my workouts and recommend a shoe that not only fits the sport but also supports my feet, ankles and hips. Sometimes the recommended shoe for an activity isn’t the shoe that serves you best. For example, I wear running shoes when teaching step class, although traditionally a cross-trainer is recommended for activities where lateral stability is important.

“I’m willing to pay a higher price tag for footwear, as I consider it an investment in my body. I’m not overly concerned with color choice, but have been known to swap out the laces on a pair of shoes that [were only] available in an ‘unfortunate’ color combination.”

Keeping Up With Runners

Some people want the future to be very similar to the past, at least where running shoes are concerned. “I tend to freak out a little bit when my favorite running shoe decides to come out with a different version of the same shoe. Runners are like that,” says Mary McManus, MSW, of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, author of the book

Journey Well

(CreateSpace 2014).

“I’m finicky [about] my fitness clothes and shoes. Fit, comfort and versatility are crucial when it comes to buying shoes, and are what will make me buy one style over another. Cost is not a factor, because I know the investment is well worth it. The reputation of the company also influences my choice. I tend to go with what I have bought in the past [if]
I know it works for me, and I hesitate to change brands.”

One brand that has never wavered in its commitment to creating women’s exercise shoes is Rykä®. According to Debbie Krivelow, senior vice president/general manager of Rykä in St. Louis, “So much has changed with our footwear, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is our focus on women. The main differences are the advancements in design, materials and technologies. Styles are much more lightweight and flexible, yet supportive and cushioned. For example, in the training category, we have styles that are great for core training, high impact, low impact, and water aerobics.”

Heading into the future, Krivelow sees two macro-trends. “First is the need for a truly authentic women’s athletic brand and messaging at retail. Second is the cultural shift to more ath-leisure fashion. Specifically for us, we will continue to push the envelope when it comes to design, colors and materials as long as


responds to it. We have had amazing reaction to our newest styles, including a 2015


magazine award for dance-cardio shoe for our Vida RZX.

“Stay tuned for a few versions of our Tenacity (training high-top) in custom colors. These are being sold in our international market, but we will be selling limited pairs in the USA later this year.”


It seems so long ago that yoga was considered an emerging trend. Now it’s a fitness staple, with consumers of all types driving demand for an ever-widening variety of yoga products—compostable mats, specialty shoes that grip the mat, statement clothing, additional sizing options for apparel, aromatherapy spritzers to keep yoga bags and mats fresh-smelling—everything that promotes a yoga lifestyle (which has as many definitions as practitioners).

Originally producers of hiking and running shoes, Ahnu® footwear noticed that many of their “active-lifestyle” consumers were also participating in yoga. This crossover led the company to create a line of yoga footwear and apparel. Jacqueline Van Dine is cofounder and brand vice president of Ahnu, which is based in Richmond, California. “There’s been a lot of development of ‘on-the-mat’ products for your feet, such as grippy socks and softer materials. We’ve taken that to the next level and will be launching ‘on-the-mat’ footwear that not only provides flexibility but also comes with underfoot comfort and support, along with strategically placed gripping zones to maximize your poses.”

Blending Form and Function

Acknowledging that functionality and style are equally important, Van Dine emphasizes that Ahnu shoes and yoga apparel are all in bright colors and prints that don’t compromise on the technical aspects. “Products have to function to meet consumers’ performance needs, but we also infuse trend-right colors and materials. We look at the specific activity, then work with biomechanics experts to ensure our products deliver what they’re designed for.”

One Ahnu shoe caters to a specific group of people who live their values not only through yoga but through their food and clothing choices: vegans. The Karma Vegan isn’t just a name: It’s a shoe crafted from “premium vegan and eco-friendly materials.” Who knows? Maybe the vegan yoga slip-ons of the future will have seeds in the fabric so they can be planted as a flower or tree once you’re done wearing them!

Studio to Street

“Statistics tell us that 60% of women who wear activewear do not actually intend to exercise,” says Lorna Jane Clarkson, founder and CEO of the activewear label Lorna Jane, based in Brisbane, Australia. “Sport lux, ath-leisure, fit fashion or whatever you want to call it, activewear is now so much more than what you wear to work out. The trend toward activewear in everyday life will continue to grow in 2016 as more women recognize the importance of living an active life. We see a lot of active-inspired styles on the runway, so it’s definitely a trend that’s here to stay.”

Instructor Courtney Bentley in Bangkok, calls this trend “[from] class to coffee,” and she requests that brands design pants for women under 5


so she can look and feel stylish on the go, while performing well in her workouts without worry.

Van Dine of Ahnu is also keenly aware that fitness wear needs to address lifestyle. She mentions the holistic aspect of creating products that “encourage healthy behavior through activity and diet. We lead with a ‘women-first’ attitude and know that [as women] we like choices. We like brands that meet our needs for function and fashion. At Ahnu, we are constantly looking to bring our consumers the newest things. We pioneered the first purple hiking boot, the first après yoga-specific shoe, and we’ll soon be launching an entirely new collection.”

Blurring the Lines of Style and Practicality

Having been around through quite a few iterations of fitness fashion (and nonfashion), Karu reminisces: “In the beginning, my workout and real life never intersected. Ever. At work I wore power suits and towering heels. At home I wore jeans, T-shirts and clogs. Workout clothes and shoes were for working out. Period. When I became editorial director of

Running Times

magazine, showing up at work in running gear was encouraged. At subsequent jobs, the line between everyday and workout clothes started to blur. My shoe choices started to reflect my desire for comfort in addition to style.

“Now I choose brands that understand what athletes need to work out


transition to real life. I look for features like flat, concealed pockets for money or a credit card and key. Though I’m of Hobbit-like stature, I want shirts with added length to cover my bum. Depending on the weather, I might stick a vest or jacket over my running shimmel.” One caveat: Karu, like most fitness pros, does


wear her exercise shoes out of the studio.

Cross-Training for Multiple Sports

Megan Houlihan of St. Louis, who loves both running and CrossFit, prefers to buy one shoe for both activities. “I was looking for something without that ‘bounce’ [that] most running shoes have, as that extra sole tends to throw my balance off when I’m lifting weights, yet I still need something that lets me easily jump and run. I also love bright colors, the ability to personalize [my]
own pair of shoes, and breathable fabric that keeps my feet comfortable year round.”

It seems sort of a given that Houlihan should be able to find shoes that fit all of these requirements, yet it’s actually a recent phenomenon to find such versatility. Indeed, she is already looking toward the future. “I’d love to see something you can wear for rope climbs that doesn’t tear. Most shoe fabrics can’t hold up to repeated use in the area where the rope rubs the shoe. I’d also love to just be able to slip my shoes on and have a good, solid fit without messing with laces.” With all the strides manufacturers are now making (see the sidebar “Technology Driving Innovation”), it’s a good bet that Houlihan will get her wish.

A Multipurpose Premium

To Kristi Anderson, a Pilates and corrective exercise specialist in San Diego, multipurpose clothing is what matters. “When I invest in activewear, it needs to work for all the active things I do, from Turbo Kick® to kettlebells to trail running. I want it to be fun, functional, long-lasting, feminine, and easy to throw on with a scarf when I grab a bite to eat after my workout.

“Activewear is an investment for me, as it needs to keep me comfortable and worry-free when I’m teaching. I want my clients to see my form and don’t want to worry about showing too much skin due to an ill-fitting or poorly made piece. If I’m going to spend $80–$130 on a pair of leggings, they need to last several years.”

What Makes You Buy?

Shopping priorities tend to differ by generation. GiGi Dubois, MA, Los Angeles, owner of http://GiGiEatsCelebrities.com, is a member of Generation Y. She is very enthusiastic about her number-one priority—color. “The first thing I’m drawn to is the colors. I’m like a moth to a flame when I find shoes in neon colors. I go crazy for them. I have never had a pair of black sneakers, which is the color of the Reebok ZPumps I have now. [But] when I jump up and down, I feel as if I’m on tiny trampolines. My feet are sensitive and can easily get strained, so if the shoes feel like clouds hugging my feet, I am all for them.”

Dubois may get to stay on the clouds, as Reebok plans to keep the ZPump around in the coming years. “Consumers are looking for a custom fit, and that is something unique that Reebok can offer,” says Chris Waldeck, U.S. brand director at Reebok.

Almost at the other end of the (color) spectrum is Pamela Lutrell of San Antonio, a Boomer who didn’t start working out regularly until she was 59. “I prefer black over color. I do


want a lot of color or wild prints that call attention to me. And I’d love more shoes offered in simple neutral colors.” Lutrell has a list of attributes that make her decide to purchase—wider toe area for feet that have hammer toes or bunions, a reasonable price point, T-shirts that do not hug the “rolls in the middle, but are not oversized men’s shirts,” customer service and assistance from a specialist, and clothing that looks good if she needs to run errands after her workout.

“I really believe the Baby Boomer market is wide open for the right brand to come in with a specific line for our needs. Many of us have foot issues and donut-in-the-middle issues. Helping us to feel confident in the gym is one way to win my business.”

A while ago, one brand found out what consumers will


buy when it disparaged larger women who had trouble with the fabric in some of its leggings. Other companies were smarter, recognizing the demand for athletic wear in larger sizes. At Rykä, Krivelow is fully aware of this market. “Our larger apparel sizes perform very well online. Women of all shapes and sizes are physically active, and we recognize the demand for this underserved group.” Many people may not realize that larger sizes are a new trend, but the burgeoning variety of choices must be a new and welcome development for frustrated larger shoppers.

Grand also has specific demands that forward-looking brands will want to note. “Because workout clothes are my uniform, I often wear them all day, going directly from training clients to teaching a group fitness class to completing a personal workout, sometimes without a moment to shower and change outfits between.

“Comfort and fit are my primary concerns. Waistbands need to stay up on their own. Fabrics need to breathe but be heavy enough to hold everything in. Straps should be adjustable so they’re neither tight nor constantly slipping. And they need to hold up to regular laundering without shrinking, pilling or having the waistband lose its elasticity. I care less about the name on the clothing and more about quality and value for the dollars spent.”

No matter what trends you like or hope will occur, it’s clear consumers will continue to be the winners. The options are so varied and wide that personalized, specific apparel and shoes will become the norm, sooner rather than later. That means something for everyone.

Technology Driving Innovation

Of all the changes in fitness wear, technology is probably the most exciting and fast-moving. It’s mind-boggling to imagine what’s around the corner:

  • clothes that give immediate feedback about your muscular contractions andheart rate
  • wrist-worn gear that knows more about your caloricexpenditure and sleep habits than you do
  • shoes that really do make you jump higher and faster
  • personalized music playlists at your fingertips

One brand has been imagining and producing the future since the first aerobics shoe was introduced. As the U.S. brand director at Reebok, Chris Waldeck is atthe forefront of designing for the future, while retaining the benefits from the past. Regarding shoes, he says “the real difference is in the materials and processes we use. Foams and [other] resources have improved dramatically over the last 20-30 years. For 2016, we see fit and functionality as the biggest trends, both for footwear and apparel. Jeans have gone away, and our female consumers are wearing yoga pants and other workout wear in their free time, so apparel must be breathable and provide for freedom of movement.”

For those who love the classic styles, especially in shoes, not to worry. Waldeck knows the market is strong for “contemporary classics,” as he calls them, and promises to continue to meld modern-day materials and construction methods with shoes that “harken back to the past models and previous styles” that were trending back in the day.

Organic/Sustainable Fabrics and Giving Back

A subtle shift, yet certainly relevant(to the tune of millions of dollars), is the move toward values-based shopping. Consumers want to know where their money is going and will support one brand over another based on community involvement and environmental impact.

Kristi Anderson, a Pilates and corrective exercise specialist in San Diego, is a proponent of this holistic view. “I care about the quality of food I put in my body and how [that food] affects the environment in which it’s grown. Choosing organic food that’s sustain- ably produced feels like a smarter long-term choice for me and the planet. The same is true of clothing. Athletic clothing production createsa huge environmental footprint.” She looks for clothing that is free of pesticides and has a light footprint.

Smart brands are doing more than listening to these values-driven shoppers; they are responding. In some cases, individuals are forming companies as a means to contribute, following in the footsteps of people like Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS® Shoes.

Doing “the right thing” is woven into the fabric of every Ahnu product, says cofounder and brand vice president Jacqueline Van Dine. “When we launched, we wanted to act as a responsible business citizen that set the bar for other businesses. We’ve donated over $300K to nonprofit organizations [such as the Africa Yoga Project] since our inception in 2006 because it’s the right thing to do. Consumers connect with us based on their product and lifestyle needs, yet when they find out about our giveback philosophy, it’s an added bonus.”

And Lorna Jane Clarkson, founder of the activewear label Lorna Jane, is working on a global movement that empowers women to change their lives via the Active Living Philosophy of “Move, Nourish, Believe,” which includes Active Nation Day.

With this in mind, it’s a given that fitness retail shops will add even more free in-store fitness classes for consumers. Maybe they’ll even add an online streaming component, with coupons or other incentives offered to consumers who log in to the events.

Alexandra Williams, MA

Alexandra Williams has taught fitness for 17 years and has a master’s degree in agency counseling, with an emphasis on marriage and family. Her professional training has forced her to scrutinize her own value system, especially as she attempts to raise ethical children. The author wishes to thank Jack Raglin and Jim Gavin for their helpful insights and suggestions.

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