Home Stretch

How the pandemic finally made me love athleisure.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

“Athleisure was for those who wanted to show off their compresson leggings and how many burpees they could do.”

At a time when fashion consumption is generally shrinking, there are a few bright spots – and none brighter than the athleisure and activewear categories. Last month, perennial gym-bunny favourite Lululemon reported that, despite temporary store closures, it had seen a two per cent increase in sales to US$903 million (S$1.2 billion) in the quarter ending August 2, compared to the same period a year before. The company noted that “strong women’s sales were driven by... shorts”, particularly bike shorts.

Earlier in April, Net-a-Porter AsiaPacific released a set of statistics about what shoppers were buying during Covid-19. Activewear was tops. I wasn’t surprised – because I was among those contributing to these figures.

It was not always this way. In these pages, I’ve written a fair bit about the rise of athleisure – clothing made for working out and living in. But I’d never quite been into going about my daily business in stretchy technical fabrics. What can I say? Few fashion writers can be impervious to the stern words of Kaiser Karl Lagerfeld, who Home Stretch How the pandemic finally made me love athleisure. once pronounced, “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life, so you bought some sweatpants.”

Secondly, I associated athleisure with people who went to the gym to show off their fancy compression leggings, along with the number of burpees they could do without throwing up. Pre-Covid, my exercise regimen comprised a monthly run, executed with minimal fuss in running shorts and the one Nike T-shirt I reserved for this infrequent exertion.

Then the pandemic hit. Like many others, I began working from home (WFH). At the start, my weekday uniform was easy, but not without some effort: high-waisted shorts with tucked-in tops, and lipstick – yes, even on the days without any Zoom calls lined up. Thanks to my penchant for sitting cross-legged when working away from the eyes of others, as well as my occasional attempts to get in some midday activity by doing lunges (mostly to the kitchen), my shorts began to stretch out. Not a good look.

It finally occurred to me that there was indeed a category of clothing made for my new lifestyle. That’s right, athleisure. Because I don’t do things – or at least, fashion – by halves, I have amassed an unreasonable number of cropped tops and matching biker shorts over the past few months. I call these activewear sets my WFH suits. The best part of my new wardrobe is that function has followed form. Because I am already dressed in a sportive manner, I easily transition from work to workout (mostly HIIT, if you must know, and yes, I even attempt burpees), from study to the living room. And when these weird times are over – who knows? I might even head to the gym. I already have the outfits.