What’s been the biggest fashion trend of the last year? The way we see it, there’s one very obvious answer: activewear.
Ever since the first whispers of a potential ‘few weeks’ spent working from home, most of us have been living in our gym gear. In the first week of April 2020, sales of activewear were up 40% and 97% in the US and UK respectively, and a whole year later, things show no sign of slowing down.
Activewear is the new casualwear; the everyday clothing of the moment. It’s functional, comfortable, low-cost and can even be stylish, provided you know where to look.
There are plenty of brands out there peddling this stretchy, sporty attire, but only a handful are worthy of your money. To help you pick, we’ve rounded up a few of our favourite activewear brands along with some key purchase considerations to keep in mind while buying.
What Is Activewear?
Activewear does what it says on the tin. It’s clothing designed for being active. It’s the running shoes you pop on to tackle your daily 5k. It’s the quick-drying, technical tee you wear when you hit the free weights. And, more recently it’s the sweatpants you wear to sit on Zoom meetings all day.
Granted, that last example isn’t active per se, but that’s because activewear’s casual comfiness also makes it perfectly suited to the exact opposite. It’s why it has become the de facto lockdown attire: it’s easy to wear for anything and everything, whether that be smashing PBs on Strava, getting the weekly shop in, or just inhaling takeaway pizza in front of Netflix.
Before you invest in some new activewear there are a few things to bear in mind. From how it should fit to the technical details that make the difference, here’s what you need to know.
The primary purpose of activewear is to allow for full and free range of motion. Logic would dictate that it should therefore be loose-fitting, but thanks to stretchy fabrics, the opposite is true. The best activewear is cut for a close fit. This prevents excess material from getting in the way while also facilitating freedom of movement.
Fabric is key when it comes to activewear. It’s what sets performance garments apart from their casual counterparts. In the past, cotton-based materials were popular – think jersey tracksuits and cotton tees – but manmade fabrics like nylon and polyester are now standard. This is because they are quicker to dry, stretchier and offer greater breathability. All qualities that lend themselves well to sweaty gym sessions and runs.
Activewear brands are constantly pushing the envelope, coming up with weird and wonderful new ways to increase comfort and performance. If you’re serious about your activewear, it’s worth keeping an eye out for emerging tech you might benefit from.
Nike, for example, recently released its new Hypercool series, which uses intelligent zoned venting. This helps to regulate temperatures and cool you down when you need it most. Meanwhile, Adidas’ ClimaChill technology uses tiny aluminium particles which pull heat away from the body.
The Best Activewear Brands
When it comes to activewear, Nike is a name that should need no introduction. Since the 1960s, the Oregon-based brand has been shaping the world of athletic apparel and has been behind some of the most revolutionary designs and technology the industry has ever seen.
Sneaker design and running gear in particular are two of the label’s strong points.
Adidas has been crafting some of the most iconic sportswear in the world for well over half a century now. From track & field to football to fashion, the Three Stripes’ has dominated them all. But for us, Adidas’ strength lies in its ability to keep the classics alive.
Yes, there are exciting new technological innovations emerging all the time – just check out the aforementioned Climachill fabric for proof – but it’s the continued success of iconic designs from the 1970s and 1980s that keeps the brand on our radar.
Young Liverpool-based brand Castore creates upscale kit that delivers high performance and stylish looks in equal measures. It’s made such a splash that some top athletes have expressed their interest including, most notably, tennis star Andy Murray who is now one of the brand’s shareholders.
Expect everything from performance wear to more lifestyle-orientated pieces, all boasting the same meticulous attention to detail and high quality.
Lululemon’s stylish take on yoga apparel has played a huge part in the transition of activewear into our everyday wardrobes. This is particularly true in womenswear and the rise of athleisure, but the label’s men’s offerings shouldn’t be overlooked either.
Incorporating essentials like hoodies, leggings, joggers and running jackets, the men’s range from Lululemon is packed with gear that looks just as at home in the gym as it does around the city.
Parisian label Satisfy makes premium, fashion-forward running gear that doesn’t compromise on practicality. That’s why we love it. There have always been fashion brands making running-inspired garments and sportswear brands making more fashion-friendly lifestyle apparel. Satisfy sits right in the middle of that particular Venn diagram.
It looks the part, sure, but it will happily outperform purpose-built running gear from many of the big hitters.
Under Armour is known for making some of the best underwear, compression garments and base layers in the game. But these days it would be quicker to list the athletic equipment and apparel it doesn’t make than the ones it does. This is a brand that puts performance and functionality at the fore, something which has made it the label of choice for professional and amateur athletes alike.
Forget the day-glo lycra and over-engineered design, Tracksmith creates timeless sportswear that takes its cues from the athletic garb of yesteryear. Think classic tricot tracksuits, collegiate detailing and branding and a tastefully restrained colour palette.
It’s an antidote to activewear’s obsession with looking forward, reminding us that sometimes it’s useful to look back too.