How’s athleisure work?

Street style from Lululemon.
Street style from Lululemon. lululemon

Even if you’ve never heard the word “athleisure,” chances are good you’ve spotted the trend on the streets of Charlotte.

It’s stylish activewear, designed to be as comfortable for running errands as it is for actual running – but chic, too.

Chic enough, some say, to wear to work.

Expect to see a lot more of it. A lot more. There’s plenty spurring the look: Shifting ideas about appropriate work dress and fitness times, Katniss Everdeen’s sleek styles in “The Hunger Games” (and other star-quality appearances), the development of new performance-driven fabrics are a few key drivers.

And pieces are popping up all over, in local boutiques and department stores, national online shopping sites (the well-known Net-a-Porter now has a spinoff called Net-a-Sporter), plus specialty shops – such as Lululemon and Athleta – that focus entirely on the fancy-workout-wear craze.

It’s also been dubbed a range of things, in addition to athleisure: Sport chic, après-sport, loungewear, performance-wear, sports luxe and, of course, “sportswear.”

“A lot of designers are coming out with loungewear and athleisure lines because they know that their customer works out and wants to look great,” said Erica Hanks, a wardrobe and editorial stylist in Charlotte who’s dressed athletes from the NFL, NASCAR and the Olympic Games.

Mainstream ready-to-wear designers like Cynthia Rowley and Betsey Johnson have activewear lines; Nike’s capsule collection from international high-end Sacai goes on sale March 19; Tory Burch’s comes out this spring.

Even A-list celebrities are getting in on the trend: Beyoncé will do an “athletic streetwear” collection with TopShop. Kate Hudson already has Fabletics. Pop star and fashion icon Rihanna signed on in December as creative director for Puma wearing a fitting ensemble: vintage white satin bustier with white joggers, Yves Saint Laurent hooded sweater, white Puma crepe sole sneakers – and several strands of pearls.

“Alexander Wang’s athleisure line for H&M sold out in a day,” said Mike Watson, fashion marketing and design instructor at The Art Institute of Charlotte and executive coach/consultant.

Popular with college students, soccer moms and career professionals alike for its easy-to-wear quality and versatility, the trend “kind of runs the gamut,” Watson said. He expects it to make the leap from one-time fad to the new normal.

Like the premium denim that came before it, with the right accessories, some of these comfortable pieces can even sneak into some business-casual office settings – without earning a lecture from the boss. “It’s not just about tops and sports bras,” said Hanks. “Instead of getting excited about jeans on Casual Friday, you can dress up your loungewear to look super chic.”

Don’t think this is just another excuse for Southern women to cap off an outfit with their grandmother’s pearls, either (no matter what Rihanna did). Hanks has spotted the trend everywhere from New York to the West Coast.

“It’s more than just a Southern thing,” Hanks said. “It’s kind of taking off everywhere. Especially on Sundays around Central Park, people are dressed great for working out. They want to look fit, they want to show off their accomplishments and how great their bodies look, and they’re doing it in a fashionable way.”

“Charlotte is becoming more a reflection of fashion,” Watson agreed. “I think Charlotte is right there, right behind the leaders.”

Want to try it?

For beginners, stylist Erica Hanks suggests:

1 Start with a few basic pants and tank tops in solids or prints with just one or two colors, so they’re easy to mix and match. In Charlotte, look for Alo Yoga and Zella at Nordstrom, Lucas Hugh at Capitol, Lululemon (SouthPark and Birkdale Village) and Athleta (SouthPark), and more affordable options at stores such as Target and Kohl’s.

2 Accessorize. “You can do some really fun things with accessories,” Hanks says. “Athletic scarves. Throw on a cardi wrap or a nice athleisure fitted jacket. We have some clients who want to get some great workout pieces that they can take from the barre studio to the mall to pick up their kids. That’s what we look for. To make this look like you didn’t just roll out from the yoga mat. It’s a really great, functioning outfit for when you don’t want to be completely dressed in dry-clean-only clothes. You still look put together, you still look stylish.”

3 A word of warning: Yes, it’s possible to take this trend too far. Athleisure isn’t right for a church service or brunch at the country club. And you might need to tone down your typical hair and makeup if you normally go all out. “It’s a casual chic style,” Hanks says. “It’s probably an oxymoron if you have Tammy Faye Bakker face with your Lululemon on ... I’m not saying you have to walk out of your house with your undereye circles showing. Just choose your makeup to match your outfit. Do something super chic with your hair.”

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