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Puma silver sneakers, layering top, turquoise studs, sweater hoodie dress c/o Coolibar, leggings c/o FiShe Wear and Winkwood wooden sunglasses

Athleisure is so comfy, but wearing these pieces can easily look frumpy. This guide to styling athleisure provides tips to look your best ever at the office, in your spare time and on the weekend.



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What Is Athleisure Wear?

Athleisure is a made-up word combining the word leisure and an abbreviation of the word athletic. There, athleisure wear refers to clothing that looks like sportswear, but is supposed to be worn also during leisure times. These clothes are a slightly dressy version of the pieces typically worn for workout at the gym or when running. They encompass yoga pants, sport tights, sneakers, ballet flats, leggings, leg-warmers, hoodies with and without zipper closure, and shorts, etc. Today you find athleisure looks worn on the playground, at the workplace as Casual Friday outfit ideas, at school, and in the sciences in college.



fashion blogger in fake suit with Adidas jogging pants and blazer
Athleisure outfit: Eli Tahari glen check blazer, Brooks Brothers turtleneck sweater, Adidas jogging pants, Harley Davidson booties, Alaskan rose-quartz ring, three strands necklace, baroque pearl necklace, and Akoya salt water pearl necklace c/o The Pearl Source Inc.


Where, When and Who Started Athleisure?

Like often in history, the exact time and origin is hard to pin-point. Furthermore, the evolution of dressing habits rarely changes from one year to the other. Instead the way of dressing is in a quasi steady-state while flowing at the same time. Just like water flowing into and out of a lake at the same rate doesn’t change the water level of the lake, but the water in the lake changes over time.

The timing also depend on which items you categorize as activewear. When you include culottes and riding boots, athleisure has started in the 19th century.



Sports Wear at the End of the Last Century

Let’s look at our own fashion time lines. In the seventies, the late baby-boomers and early gen-X looked like wearing a school uniform. Nearly every student wore white sneakers, an Army parka, T-shirt and mid- to light wash jeans.

In the 1980s, white tennis socks became popular in menswear, mostly worn with tan boat shoes or moccasins and a pair of straight jeans and a white button-down shirt. At the same time, the pre-war generation started wearing sneakers and sweatpants and sweaters on the weekend; preferably in partner look and pastel colors! The twenty somethings wore leggings and tunics. I even had a legging suit, i.e. leggings with a matching blazer in the same fabric! Sweatshirts became a mainstream top staple that today is work appropriate in casual work environments as well as in business casual style and startup work place in cold region in winter. Often a button-down shirt is worn underneath with the collar sticking out of the crew neck.

In the 1990s, everyone had at least one baseball cap. Hiking gear was a popular work outfit among young IT people. In the zero years, wearing one sports item with otherwise mainstream garments became It. It’s a casual classic today. Donning dance-wear inspired skirts like tutus popped up in the mid of the tens. At that time, yoga wear for over 50 also became a Do.


style book author as a guide to styling athleisure with a tutu for going out
Unbranded tutu, pantyhose and top, Neo Tango dance sandals, BGMAXBC belt.



Athleisure As We Know It

Athleisure outfits full on are an ongoing trend since about half a decade. Therefore, one may expect the peak of the wave will break in the not too far future. Especially, after over-wearing the trend while living in shelter.


How to Wear Athleisure Fashion

Yes, you can wear gym clothes for over 50 outside of the fitness studio. When going for the current athleisure trend, any sport-gear bottom and top combination is a Go at any age. Of course, the items must match with respect to the vibe, pattern and colors. Wearing sneakers with skirts, dresses and jeans is meanwhile mainstream. My favorite are those with heels! See the collage for my newest score on eBay.



How to Wear Athleisure to Work

In this case, only the cut should scream athleisure while the material should be fancy or everyday work attire. On Casual Friday, a sport jacket may substitute a blazer, or track pants may be worn instead of office trousers with a blazer and shirt or any other typical work top. Try a blousy sweatshirt with a pencil skirt.

In a creative work field, you can get away with wearing nice solid neutral color leggings and a slouchy sweater, tunic or mini dress. Leather joggers instead of dress pants are okay as well. Substitute in a wide-leg pants work look the wide-leg pants with track-pants (see the example with blazer and sweater).

Sweatpants are risky on petites and everyone who isn’t as slim as Victoria Beckham, Meghan Markle or Kate Middleton. If you have a body like these ladies, pair your joggers with sky-high heels and a boxy cropped top.

A slim-cut hoodie looks nice under a blazer with the hood sticking out. Pair this combination with jeans or dress pants. Loafers, oxfords or pumps are great footwear options.

Sneakers with a tweed skirt and twinset may be a good work outfit in a casual workplace, especially when you have to stand or walk a lot. The 1980s pantsuit with sneakers is a Do (again).



Weekend, Farmers Market, Picnic, etc.

Keds look great with a floral above-the-knee dress; think Taylor Swift. Sneakers plus a dress may be too laid back for work. However, the pairing is great for running errands and for the dog- or playground. It’s also a way how to dress stylishly for a picnic in America.



collage showing athleisure gear outfits and heels
Puma sneakers, Fendi Pumpa sling-back heels, top c/o Coolibar, Winkwood sunglasses, moisture wicking leggings c/o FiShe Wear



Guide to Styling Athleisure in a Nutshell

Athleisure head-to-toe is still a Do and will remain a Do at the gym. Athleisure shoes may be a dressy alternative to walking shoes, provided they are equally produced with respect to comfort, foot-bed, bounce back, etc. At work and/or as a fashion statement, one piece at a time is best to look sophisticated. Which of the many athletic pieces to feature depends on personal style and lifestyle. However, when you wear the athletic leisure look outside the gym, go for high quality pieces or pieces that just have the sport wear cut.


And, yes, gym wear for older women is a Do.


Photos of me: G. Kramm

© 2013-2023 Nicole Mölders | All rights reserved

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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. I love those leggings! They look fab with the striped top!

    Emma xxx

  2. aquamarinastyle

    I know we’re all happy to wear our athleisure now, but as you say, we may tire of it after all of this stay-at-home! I imagine it will stay popular, though, as long as the sneakers trend stays alive! Thanks for the fun history of athleisure.

    xx Darlene

  3. Just adore those b/w leggings! Yes, it will be interesting if we are all tired of this athleisure trend once we get out of this whole never-ending sheltering in!


  4. Love the style. Thanks for the history info and how-to tips.


  5. eva @ CostumeTakeOut

    not crazy about athletic-leisure right now since i’ve been wearing it day & night, with very little difference for 6 weeks now–LOL!….pajama leisure needs to stop for me too…
    xo eva

  6. shelbeeontheedge1

    I love your athleisure style, Nicole! Dresses with sneakers is one of my favorite ways to wear this style.