Here’s The Real Problem With The Athleisure Trend

Illustration: Michelle Schrantz

When I first started running, my sports bras resembled a Kevlar vest—lots of straps, lots of Velcro, thick enough to stop a bullet. Those sports bras weren’t pretty, but they got the job done. Besides, no one saw them. Like most runners, I usually wear one of the 500 free race shirts I’ve accumulated over the years.

If you had told me back then that running clothes would become a fashion trend, I would have laughed hard enough to bust a few Velcro connections.

But here we are, watching models strut down the catwalk in sweat-wicking material. We don’t call them “running clothes” anymore. Now it’s “athleisure,” because the Giseles and Behatis of the world do not actually run marathons—they just look like they do.

And yes, I was annoyed when my favorite running apparel company began adding padding to the busts of their bras, but I didn’t complain. I just smiled, squeezed the sweat out of my boob stuffing and went back to my Yasso 800s.

The same thing happened with running shorts. Once upon a time, my butt was covered during hill repeats. Over the years, the inseams of women’s running shorts have gotten shorter and the leg openings tighter. Even leggings, the last bastion of coverage for women who run, have become see-through and chafe-tastic.

It’s become cool to dress like a runner, but we can’t actually run in these clothes anymore. Sports bras, in particular, have become the lame duck of the athleisure trend. Actual support has been eschewed for a dizzying array of delicate straps woven into the most intricate of designs. They’re high fashion and oh-so-adorable, until you actually try to run in them.

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While at a trade show recently, I was talking with a manufacturer of such high-fashion sports bras. Designed to be worn alone or with tank tops, the new bras had straps and bright fabrics that were stunning.

“Do me a favor,” I asked one of the models, who was sporting a spiderweb of fine threads over her shoulders. “Jog to the end of the walkway, would you?”

I still cringe when I think of the model’s pained grimace as she bounced—quite literally— those few yards. I’m supposed to be able to run a marathon in that thing? For the average woman who runs, sports bras are not for show. They’re the workhorse of the wardrobe, second only to running shoes in importance. I don’t need lace and cleavage; I need a good old-fashioned over-the-shoulder boulder holder, so that the only thing I have to ice after a marathon is my beer.

Manufacturers want so badly to capitalize on the athleisure trend that they’ve stopped making athletic wear. Fancy straps and sheer panels are a nice idea, but they lose their wow factor when covered by a free tech tee from the 2011 Berkeley Hills 5K and Vegan Potluck.

If Gisele and Behati ever got off the catwalk and trained for marathon, I’m sure they’d agree.

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