We are browbeat into believing that there is a very specific lifestyle slash aesthetic that promises happiness​. Art by Chris Clemente
Style Necessary Style

Style essay: Athleisure is a farce, your pambahay is better

You know what designers used to call Athleisure? Sportswear. 
Jam Pascual | Aug 05 2019

The wellness industry as a whole is guilty of all sorts of clownery. A sponsored post brought to you by purveyors of chia seeds will tell you that a sound mind in a sound body are perfectly acquirable, as long as you buy the right products. An influencer with Emily Ratajkowsky abs will insist that there are no excuses when it comes to chasing your best self, no matter what your socioeconomic class is. We are browbeat into believing that there is a very specific lifestyle slash aesthetic that promises happiness​—one that involves superfoods, meditation apps, the dismissal of systemic political problems, and athleisure.

Athleisure. Let’s talk about that for a minute. Those two words that have no business being smushed together like that.

Athleisure clothing lines tend to be marketed to the young working class, and that’s not a coincidence. Art by Chris Clemente

Athleisure clothing lines tend to be marketed to the young working class, and that’s not a coincidence. Popular notions of the hustle (or “the grind,” or whatever cute nickname capitalist exploitation is going by these days) demand us to be constantly active. Self-improvement becomes a ruthless affair. Pop into a coffee shop for a gigantic cold brew, crush that meeting with the big clients, head to the gym to sweat rivers (even though TLC on the speakers is explicitly​ telling you not to go chasing waterfalls), then eat a salad, because WELLNESS.

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It’s true that in this economy of side gigs, coworking spaces, and hella casual offices, it’s a little liberating to know that you can go to work in your CrossFit threads instead of a blazer. The myth of the go-getting hustler lifestyle is intoxicating, and possible for some. But athleisure demands that in the merciless pursuit of being our own bosses, we have to look effortless. Athleisure is not an attire, but a costume, one that disguises the symptoms of self-inflicted overwork, and does nothing to protect you from the whiplash pace of the rat race. Like, really, Debra? I gotta live paycheck to paycheck while rocking pastels and cutting edge fits, ​at the same time​?

As far as I’m concerned, the concept of athleisure was invented so influencers could get paid to post pictures of themselves wearing marathon gear while they’re either lounging on arm chairs, or on their way to premium gyms no one else can afford to go to. Not to mention the fact that the concept of athleisure and all its consumerist BS tends to be conflated​—​both by press releases and the hapless publishing interns whipped to paraphrase these press releases​—​with streetwear. 

Streetwear? A style movement that should have always paid respect to underground fashion and lower class struggle, instead of being misappropriated by private school hypebeasts? 

This is not a knock on people who wanna purchase or already own pieces of athleisure. And this is certainly not a diss against people who just wanna work out, feel confident, and deal with gym anxieties by putting on nice clothes. Both athletes and regular folks making the same new year’s resolution for the fifth time need high quality athletic wear to do what they gotta do. 

It’s true that in this economy of side gigs, coworking spaces, and hella casual offices, it’s a little liberating to know that you can go to work in your CrossFit threads instead of a blazer. Art by Chris Clemente

So to those folks I say, treat yourself. Invest in rubber shoes that feel cozy! Buy shorts and leggings that won’t make you chafe! Wear a sports jacket that’ll make you feel like a ​Creed​ body is actually feasible without Hollywood-studio sponsored training! There’s something about dressing fly that puts you in headspace for conquering. And if anybody deserves to feel like royalty, it’s anxious office workers, sitting depressed and sedentary in criminally constricting cubicles.

“Athleisure is not an attire, but a costume, one that disguises the symptoms of self-inflicted overwork”

This is a call-out directed at a business that should ​already​ be combining style and comfort, form and function, all the time, instead of packaging it as a whole new thing and naming it a corny-ass portmanteau. When a new line of sportswear is described as modern and minimalist with clean lines, what does that even mean? Shouldn’t ​all ​high quality rubber shoes have durable outsoles and cozy heel cushioning? I’m all for a decent crewneck with good sweat absorption, but what’s all this hootenanny about advanced moisture-wicking technology? ​

You know what the best breathable fabric you can wear to the gym is? That ratty ​pambahayshirt you won from a company raffle that currently functions as a reluctant pajama. Those old basketball shorts that have seen better days should be getting you by, too. It’s not the most premium look, but going to the gym to be looked at is a Sisyphean affair, and unflattering threads help keep you honest about your fitness goals. There’s something both humbling and satisfying about looking in a big mirror after a superset, then seeing a Rorschach test of sweat on your chest. Sometimes wellness looks like that, dude. Who the hell says it has to look easygoing and pretty?