I have always maintained that older women do not need to be channelled off towards special labels; what we need is there on the rails, requiring merely a little imagination, adventurous spirit and maybe a couple of creative tweaks to make it work. Sometimes this can be a bit of a challenge – and this year is proving to be more challenging than most. First it was so-called “frump chic” (also unkindly called “old lady chic”). Now there’s the interestingly titled “athleisure”.
Athleisure has taken fashion by surprise, stealthily creeping up until it’s everywhere. If you’re not sure what it is – and like me want to pronounce it the American way as “ath-leezure” – it’s in the rise of jogging bottoms over the once-ubiquitous skinny jeans, as the look you’re most likely to see on the high street. When Karl Lagerfeld sends trainers down the catwalk as part of his couture collection, you can be sure this indicates a fashion moment and I appreciate some witty design tweaks to what is, let’s face it, a fairly unsexy, uninspiring, unfeminine thing. An H&M collaboration with Alexander Wang will see his unmistakable sports-influenced sleekness going mainstream and if that isn’t enough to tickle your interest, it’s been announced this week that Beyoncé (no less) is setting up in sports luxe with Philip Green. To set the seal on it, Net-a-porter recently launched Net-a-sporter, which suggests to me that this is something that’s here to stay.
On the face of it, this trend towards sportswear as daywear should be a doddle – who hasn’t got their favourite tracksuit bottoms, after all? But a doddle is precisely what it is not. I wear this kind of stuff for housework, gardening and stretching out on the sofa on a Saturday afternoon. It takes a significant adjustment in my thinking to consider it as remotely suitable for being seen out and about in. And that is part of the problem: what’s on offer here is something comfortable and versatile – clothes we can actually do things in. Reminding myself how I used to embrace new ideas 30-odd years ago encourages me to think that this inflexibility is something I need to knock on the head.
So, would you wear athleisure (let’s embrace the new terminology) for anything other than schlepping around the house or going to the gym? I mean, if we are talking about shellsuits and shiny, highly combustible manmade fibres, someone of my shape, size and age might well look – how can I put this? – ridiculous.
Hang on though, because there are some gems. For one thing, I can offer no sensible reason not to wear trainers so I’ve no intention of resisting that particular athleisure dictum. Where the clothes are concerned, athleisure is more about comfy baggy yoga pants and trousers with – sharp intake of breath – stretchy waistbands (I can’t bring myself to say “elasticated”). It’s what you might call “après workout” clothing, which lends itself very well to the writer’s life. I like this for two reasons: 1) it’s cosy, stretchy, cuddly and lovely; and 2) it brings back misty-eyed memories of wearing baggy stuff for dance class. Shopping for these things online is easy because fit is less important (online shopping is another hazard of the home-based writer). My last pair of tracky Bs came from Sweaty Betty, which thoughtfully includes a pocket somewhere on most things – personally, I can’t abide clothes without pockets. I’m still not sure I’d wear them to skip about town, although I could be persuaded by Eileen Fisher’s more luxe versions. I like this season’s collection very much, returning as it does to the classic cool she does so well. Her jogging bottoms are less an item of clothing and more a soppy hug – the kind of thing that should only be worn in the vicinity of a log fire and a scented candle. Eileen Fisher’s loose velvet trousers, on the other hand? I would wear them anywhere.
Ultimately, I’m coming down on the side of 50/50 (known as “the fence”). It’s a “yes” to the leisure part of athleisure, while Alexander Wang’s scuba-inspired bodycon will remain a step too far.
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