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I love Athleta and I have for years, before the word “athleisure” existed and back when the store skewed to utilitarian workout wear, pre-Gap buyout. The Chaturanga pant and all its various iterations have always reliably fit my body, no matter what condition it was in. But I never bought any of the regular clothes Athleta sold because there were so many other stores with much better-looking clothes to buy. (I mean, why do you need a sundress made out of swimsuit material? In case you fall off a dock?) But recently I took a good hard look at my wardrobe and discovered a few disturbing things: Not only do I have a lot of non-workout Athleta clothes, but I have Athleta sweaters, pants, fleece leggings, and flannel shirts, in twos and threes.
When I find something I love from Athleta, I usually love it very hard. Then I get nervous that this perfect item might be discontinued, so I go back and buy some more of it. I don’t know why I assume Athleta is going to discontinue things. This hasn’t yet happened to me. I don’t do this with any other brand. I think it might have something to do with the fact that I consider these things basics, rather than fashion, and therefore assume I will want to wear them for years to come.
Here’s an example: I bought these shorts in black, loved them so much because the waistband is the most comfortable thing ever and the pockets are the perfect size, then went back and bought them in army green. I have the gray ones in my cart. And while they’re utilitarian and I’ve worn them hiking, I’ve also worn them out to lunch in Charleston, South Carolina, with chunky sandals and a cute top. Then there’s the flow-y, semi-sheer T-shirt I bought in three colors that appears to no longer be available online so thank god I did!
When I think about it, the item that probably started this buying-in-multiples habit is the Wick-It Wader Cover-Up. I bought one a few years ago in white before going to Hawaii. It’s not hot to wear on the beach at all, and I like the modesty of it, not to mention the total sun protection. It got a little grungy and stained, so I bought two more, another one in white and one in hot pink. Every time I wear it I get compliments, and women always want to know where I got it. It’s just very flattering (here’s a picture of me in it). I’ve since bought another one in white, so yes, I now own four. I should note that it’s still currently available, so my discontinuation fear has not yet come to fruition.
My Athleta problem did not happen all of a sudden — it’s been a decade in the making. When I first started buying items from the brand in the early aughts, it was just black workout pants and a bra or two. Athleta fit well, but some of its styles were a little, well, not ugly, per se, but not not ugly. And I never bought the flow-y post-workout tops that I brushed off as mom-wear (yes, I am a mom).
When Lululemon became the obsessed-over brand, I tried to like it. But Lululemon fits me terribly. Then I figured out that founder Chip Wilson, who’s no longer with the company, was basically an asshole. (This was when he made comments about women’s bodies not “working with the pants” in 2013 after that see-through pant debacle.) I swore off Lulu forever.
At the dawn of athleisure a few years later, intriguing indie activewear brands with eye-wateringly high price tags sprung up. I ignored Athleta in favor of these shiny newcomers. I bought those K-Deer striped leggings that were all over yoga Instagram. (Athleta later got into trouble for copying them.) I bought the Alo moto leggings beloved by all models, then gave them away for not living up to their promise.
Then I popped into an Athleta store one day and noticed that things looked different. Elevated, even. I rediscovered Athleta and fully, completely committed to it. Slowly, my workout drawer became filled with the brand again. Then I started diversifying outside of gym gear.
I bought swimsuits and swim shorts and rashguards and the aforementioned beach cover-up. Regular clothes started to insidiously sneak in, and suddenly I was wearing technical fabric shorts to a sit-down restaurant. A lot of people would probably still classify the regular clothes at Athleta as mom-wear, with all the attendant undertones that term entails, but I’ve leaned hard into this identity, at least on the weekends and after work. To butcher a cliché: If the comfy linen drawstring pants fit, right? (And yes, I own those too.)
Athleta is not perfect. I’ve had some iffy customer service experiences. Twice I’ve received items I ordered online with a big clunky security tag still on them, necessitating a trip to my local store to get it removed. The store can be a little chaotic, too. Mine just switched to a decentralized checkout process without a bank of cash registers — salespeople have a handheld card reader. One day the readers weren’t working and I ended up waiting quite a while to check out, but they took $10 off my purchase for my trouble.
Notably, Athleta is the only brand whose paper catalogs I look at anymore. It’s a Friday evening ritual now to fish one out of my mail pile and flip through it. They’re full of regular-looking (well, by fitness-brand standards) women of different sizes, ages, and races who look like they’re having a decent enough time surfing or walking their vintage bikes down the street while wearing flow-y pants. It’s an image I buy into again and again. Yes, and again.
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