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The Future of Athleisure Is Regular Clothes

Say hello to the athleisure button-down shirt.

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A woman wearing white wide leg pants and a black tank top, sitting on a pink floor/wall backdrop
A look from Carbon38’s upcoming”ready-to-wear” collection.
Photo: Carbon38

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I’m not sure anyone expected the phrase “athleisure” to stick around for as long as it did. The first time I personally used the term in earnest (and not in air quotes) was in the winter of 2013, when a good portion of Racked’s staff began wearing yoga pants to work like it was no big deal. It wasn’t sloppy, it was athleisure! We were simply following the trend!

Now, years later, we’re still talking about this very particular category of clothing: what you wear to and from the gym, but also to get coffee on Saturday and run errands on Sunday. The leggings, sneakers, and tank tops that technically count as workout clothes but pass for weekend-appropriate casual wear. Nine times out of ten, if I’m wearing athleisure, I’m probably not going to the gym.

But eventually, athleisure became a synonym for “lazy.” Dozens of “how to wear gym leggings to work” trend stories were published, and soon, no one was wearing real pants anywhere. Athleisure was everywhere — even celebrities who normally dressed up to fly were wearing leggings at LAX.

But the pendulum seems to have swung back in the other direction. This month, fitness brands ADAY and Carbon38 are launching new hyped-up collections. And if the products included in them are any indication, the future of athleisure looks a whole lot like... regular clothes.

A model wearing a white button down shirt and navy pants with zipper pockets
ADAY Something Borrowed Shirt ($125) and Turn It Up Pant ($115)

ADAY’s new line is called The Technical Tailored Collection, and the star piece is the white button-down shirt. It’s clean, it’s crisp, and it’s not something you would wear to the gym. You can, indeed, wear it to work — and that was the intention.

In a press release, ADAY explains that the new collection “was a natural progression for the brand in that it’s moving away from athletic wear. With this, ADAY is taking technical clothes out of the gym and infusing comfort, breathability and longevity into classic wardrobe staples.”

A model wearing a white button down shirt and black pants
ADAY Something Borrowed Shirt ($125) and Turn It Up Pant ($115)

“Since the beginning we've had a whole range of pieces that could be worn day and evening,” cofounder Nina Faulhaber explains to Racked. “We never wanted to tell customers activity X could be done in this, or Y in this. And we never wanted to call it altheisure, but as we started, customers gave us that name. We considered it athleisure, as in we were making as yoga pants, but we also wanted to create normal staples,” she says.

If ADAY’s new collection are the pieces you can incorporate into your pre-existing wardrobe, Carbon38’s new line — which debuts on February 28th — is what you’d build a fashion-y outfit around. The retailer, which carries its own private label as well as other fitness brands on its website, is going so far as to call this collection true ready-to-wear, which is basically an industry word for “regular clothes, but nicer.”

A model wearing black pants and a black tank top
A model wearing white pants and a black shirt
A model wearing flared black pants and a bell sleeved shirt Photos: Carbon38
A model wearing a white dress

When it launches, the collection will include dramatic bell-sleeve tops and flared pants, a wrap top, and white A-line dress. It is very clearly not meant for the gym.

"The smash success of our recent Carbon38 x Jonathan Simkhai collection is strong market confirmation of the direction we’re taking in merging luxury activewear and high fashion ready-to-wear,” explains Carbon38 CEO Katie Warner Johnson. “Our spring collection artfully transforms runway silhouettes into luxurious pieces you can wear daily."

So here we are, in a post-athleisure world. The clothing category that started as an offshoot to fitness attire now wants less and less to do with the gym. It took four years, but we’ve come full circle. Will more brands follow suit? Will Outdoor Voices start making dresses, and will Beyoncé’s Ivy Park introduce denim? Only time will tell. Until then, let’s all just keep our pants on.