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Athleisure Flexes its Appeal

With qualities like comfort, versatility and an array of options, the athleisure apparel category's popularity will only grow in 2022.

By Jennifer Morrell, Contributing Writer

March 23, 2022

Athleisure’s popularity went into overdrive as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The current question is about this category’s longevity moving forward.

Michael Johnson, director of marketing for HanesBrands Printwear, believes the pandemic has only accelerated the athleisure trend. “First, it was the comfort of working from home, and now consumers want to keep that comfort while also looking good,” he says. “As we transition to more flexible work environments and the dramatic embrace of Zoom and its counterparts, it’s clear athleisure is the new ‘everyday casual.’”

Tracy-Ann Kilelee, merchandising and marketing coordinator for Delta Apparel, likens athleisure styles to the American staple of blue jeans. “I think athleisure is here to stay,” she says. “I believe the exponential growth of athleisure during the pandemic will continue after COVID ends, and also will be solidified even more in different styles of fashion.

She says consumers already see more of a hybrid of athleisure and workwear, not only in the mixing of casual and more structured pieces, but also in the design of office wear to be more comfortable or “athleisure-like.” A return to the office may result in relaxed dress codes for many workers, as employees have grown accustomed to round-the-clock athleisure apparel.

“We’ve lived through this pandemic for two years now, and our everyday lives have changed,” Kilelee says. “We’ve had to make so many adjustments personally and professionally. The one constant I believe is that people want to be comfortable, and they are willing to invest more into athleisure styles, if it means added comfort.”

Athleisure apparel will likely make its way into workwear design to marry comfort with function, and the incorporation of athleisure pieces or aesthetics into the workwear style and wardrobe will become more the norm over time.

Foreseeable Changes
An adjustment and adherence to the “new normal” has been prominent during 2022. Since supply-chain issues may have caused suppliers and decorators to use what’s available vs. what’s preferred, the opportunity to re-create the next “big decorating idea” lies in the wake, says Greg Brown, chief operating officer, Citadel Brands, manufacturers of the Just Hoods by AWDis and Just Cool by AWDis brands.

He adds that silhouette options are a trend that will continue, while Johnson asserts that graphic tees and sweats — already entrenched as wardrobe staples — will continue to see proportional growth.

“Anecdotally, where once [athleisure] may have been 30% of a person’s wardrobe, now it may take up 40% [or more],” Johnson says. “Unisex silhouettes are still on trend, as are garment-dye, tie-dye and other garment washes. It’s not only about the comfy silhouette and the perfect versatile, midweight fabric; it’s also about the well-worn look and feel.”

Kilelee foresees end users mixing up their wardrobes to include more athleisure pieces, mixing those styles with more structured pieces. “For example, wearing nice joggers, an elevated tee or blouse with a blazer to an office event or function,” she says. “Wearing sneakers and jeans with a blazer or button-down shirt. The key is comfort but still looking put together.”

Athleisure trends that will rise to the top may be those that offer the most comfort, but the key word when talking about athleisure today is “options,” according to Johnson.

“Rather than having five exact pieces to wear repeatedly, consumers want multiple silhouettes, fits, colors and weights to choose from when dressing each day,” Johnson says. “Versatility is important, as consumers want relaxed apparel they can wear to multiple events throughout the day. We’ve seen the ‘athleisuring’ of performance apparel — apparel you can wear to walk, run, bike or yoga. Sun protection is important, whether you are in the game or watching the game, as is wicking.”

The Fleecing of America
Some athleisure pieces, such as fleecewear, seem to have tremendous staying power. “I believe the fleecewear segment will continue to grow, even in the warmer months, because of comfort of working from home and the relaxed feel [that] fleecewear provides,” Brown says.

Johnson agrees that fleece is now a year-round staple, as dramatic weather or temperature changes affect most consumers. “Layering is essential almost as much in the summer as in the winter,” he says. “Fabric weight, however, does come into play here. Consumers want options of lightweight, midweight and heavyweight apparel. While we saw a lot of lightweight tees and sweats over the last decade, midweight and heavyweight [garments] now have even footing.”

Kilelee adds that sweats, matching sweat sets and other fleecewear styles are here to stay for a while longer, especially if travel increases in the coming months.

Just as other apparel categories see different emphasis on details and fabrics yearly to update their styles, the same can be expected with athleisure.

“Cotton is clearly king when it comes athleisure, but it’s more complex than that,” Johnson says. “Ring-spun cotton, for example, is softer and more durable than open-end, and United States-grown cotton is more sustainable than the majority of cotton grown in other countries. In terms of fabrication, newness comes in tri-blend fabrications, washes, and weights. Elevated neutrals can give a super-soft tee a refined edge.”

Johnson adds that garment-dyed fleece and tees, which have been staples of the resort business, also are becoming part of the athleisure trend as consumers try to bridge their work and social lives.

Influencers’ Influence
Consumers also want variety, and they want to be able to change up their looks from season to season.

“Consumers want to see added details, new prints, and improved fabrics from their favorite brands every season, and I believe this will be no different for athleisure,” Kilelee says.

Regarding demographic groups who are driving athleisure’s popularity, Brown says all age groups, from Baby Boomers to Gen-Z, contribute to the category’s elevated.

Johnson agrees with the strong influence of the Gen-Z consumer. “Gen-Zers are driving key trends within athleisure — for example, unisex sizing and silhouettes, color palettes that feature elevated earth tones, and sustainably made apparel.”

With social media playing a key role in driving what’s popular, Gen-Z users are definitely in the driver’s seat.

“We all know the popularity of social-media platforms like TikTok has skyrocketed since the pandemic hit, and Gen-Z is mostly driving that popularity,” Kilelee says. “So many of these trends start out on TikTok or Instagram. People are looking to TikTok for what’s cool and Gen-Z users are largely responsible for a lot of those trends.

“Athleisure is not just a style category; I think it is safe to say it has become a lifestyle,” Kilelee adds. “With the increased demand for athleisure since the start of the pandemic, I believe [its] popularity will continue to rise in the next five years. Athleisure has become one of the fastest-growing categories in the apparel industry and will continue to grow even as we return to a new normal.”

Jennifer Morrell is an award-winning writer who has written for a number of national consumer and trade publications. For more information or to comment on this article, email Jennifer at