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Why Gym Fashion Went Mainstream

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What would your reaction be if you saw a picture from the 1930s of a young woman wearing modern gym clothes? Undoubtedly, you’d be shocked.

But why?

Partly, it is because these moments remind us how much fashion has changed. When we transplant today’s way of doing things onto the past, it reveals the cumulative effects of the previous years. Compared to 100 years ago, we are worlds apart!

Gym fashion got going at some point in the late 1990s and early 2000s. New brands began experimenting with the idea of making workout clothes more fashionable. Eventually, it became a mainstream trend, taking over shopping malls and online fashion catalogs. While smart clothes remain, most people spend most of their time wearing some version of comfortable sports clothes.

This post looks at some of the underlying factors driving this trend towards casual activewear. We look at what’s pushing it forward and why it won’t be ending any time soon.

Moving Toward Comfort

Driving this movement was the desire for comfort. People wanted clothes that made them feel their best all the time, not just while on the treadmill. They didn’t want to compromise fashion for comfort.

“It is this movement that is driving much of the change we see in activewear fashion today, “ women’s luxury leggings brand JC London says. “Customers want moisture-wicking synthetics to be an everyday part of their lives, not just something that can benefit them when they go to the gym.”

However, the movement toward comfort is also now extending beyond leisure time. People are also dressing in a more relaxed way in the office, too.

“The more casual work cultures are driving a change where gym clothing is now being viewed as a stylish alternative to conventional attire options,” JC London continues. “Some organizations are actively promoting it to encourage their employees to be more active and move more during the day.”

Granted, workers still need to look “put together.” But turning up to the office in Second Skin leggings is now an option, while thirty years ago it would have been unthinkable.

Celebrity Influence

Celebrities are also having a significant impact on the movement towards more casual, sporty attire. Famous artists, actors, and TV personalities are dressing down to dress up.

Interestingly, many of their efforts are working. “Social media showed celebrities in their normal clothes for the first time outside of trashy magazines,” JC London says. “This gave the ordinary person an insight into how they live. Without realizing it, the celebs started a revolution.”

The “off-duty” style boomed in popularity during the 2000s. Famous people would post images of themselves in their jogging pants going to the mall or on coffee runs. Eventually, they normalized the look and turned it into something people expected.

Many top celebrities even endorsed sporty clothing lines. High-profile actors and movie stars would personally vouch for their favorite brands.

For example, Kate Hudson and Ryan Reynolds both started pushing gym fashion. Celebs worked with top brands to get them to change how they made their clothes to give them an edge, transforming baggy tees and loose joggers into the clothes we know and love today.

The Athleisure Impact

Added to this became the athleisure trend. Brands saw that consumers wanted clothes that fit snugly on their bodies while also letting them be active at the same time. Versatility became the aim of the game.

“The athleisure revolution got underway after the financial crisis. Numerous brands emerged out of the ashes of the economy, promising to reinvigorate wardrobes and provide consumers with what they want,” JC London says. “The movement was successful. Clever firms got their athletic wear on new image-based social media sites, revealing their new looks and getting consumers to hop onboard.”

The trick was to show people using sports clothing in ordinary circumstances. Instead of posting images of model customers hitting the weights in the gym, these brands depicted them running errands, traveling, going for brunch, and even spending time at the office. Showing people in these settings transformed the athleisure revolution, turning it into something everyone could be a part of.

The streetwear implications were also profound. Suddenly, people began to see they could wear oversized hoodies, graphic tees, and activewear together, creating a more comfortable aesthetic. More people in senior positions began to jump on the bandwagon, understanding the positive effects their clothing choices were having on those under them, and the movement took off.

“We shouldn’t underestimate how wild the athleisure movement was when it first kicked off a few years ago,” JC London continues. “People weren’t ready for the aesthetic, but they loved it, and everyone wanted to jump on board. Almost overnight, it spawned a billion-dollar industry.”

The Impact Of Social Media

Of course, no discussion about when gym fashion went mainstream would be complete without considering social media’s impact. The rise of fitness influencers and social media personalities showcasing activewear made the fashion movement even more popular. Popular accounts made these styles their own, inspiring others to embrace the look.

“There’s no doubt the industry owes a debt of gratitude to the influencers and personalities who modeled activewear clothing for their audiences and made it look the absolute best,” JC London says. “You couldn’t help falling in love with it when such popular and respected individuals were selling it every day to their followers.”

However, the body positivity movement also played a role. Clothing manufacturers began experimenting with new materials and cuts designed to be more flattering, giving everyone the feeling of having a gym-ready body.

This later morphed into an inclusivity movement. The gym ceased being a place for the select few and turned into a place where everyone could pursue fitness and wellbeing.


Ultimately, the gym fashion movement is about more than wearing sports clothes in non-sports settings. It’s a statement about wanting to be comfortable and flexible in one’s clothes.

Now it is a multi-billion-dollar industry. Gymwear is going mainstream, and now everyone wants to be a part of the movement.

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