Fitness is Fashionable

Wearing workout wear as casual wear in the ‘80s and today.

by Lauren Sena

From the 1980s to today, it seems that no matter what the fashion trends are, women find a way to incorporate workout wear into their everyday outfits. With the aerobics craze of the ‘80s, leg warmers, off-the-shoulder shirts, and tracksuits were stylish whether or not they were worn for exercise. Today, with gym-goers choosing workout attire based on comfort and technical features, the yoga pant has become common for exercise, as well as daily activities. While the trends have significantly changed, the line between gym wear and street wear continues to be blurred.

Leg Warmers

photo by Elephant Journal

In 1981, the world’s first aerobic exercise video debuted. Aerobicise  displayed beautiful women exercising in colourful leg warmers and high-cut body suits. Its television (and Canadian) counterpart: 20 Minute Workout did the same thing. While both productions may have been better known for their sexuality rather than the actual workouts (an excess amount of shots from behind leads me to believe this), they nevertheless influenced workout wear.

Diva Dancewear explains that leg warmers were originally worn by dancers to prevent muscle cramps and injuries. Aerobicise and 20 Minute Workout, however, turned them into a fashion statement.

Jane Fonda’s workout videos and Olivia Newton-John’s song “Physical” also propelled this trend forward.

Aside from wearing leg warmers for exercise, women wore them in public with tights, jeans, and miniskirts.

Off-the-Shoulder Shirts

Pop culture was infused by the exercise craze, and its influence on fashion was unavoidable. The movie “Flashdance” started the off-the-shoulder trend with shirts, as worn by the main character who was an aspiring dancer. This trend quickly became a part of workout wear, and then casual wear. These shirts were layered over tank tops and smaller shirts, and worn with leggings, tight jeans, or miniskirts, according to nostalgic website Like Totally 80s. This trend has re-emerged in today’s fashion and is popular again as a casual trend.


Tracksuits, especially those made from nylon, transitioned from being athletic warm-up gear to leisurewear in the 1980s for both women and men. Their plain designs were updated during this decade to be more decorative and fashion-forward. This trend of designers creating tracksuits as casual wear rather than as workout wear remains today. These tracksuits are comfortable, like those worn for athletics, but do not have the qualities that make them suitable for workouts. Juicy Couture’s velour and jewel-embellished tracksuits come to mind; their brand being described as “best known for ascending the tracksuit to its status as a casual luxury icon.”

Yoga Pants

Yoga pants were once specific to the workout, but are now worn for exercising in general. Today, it has become common for women to wear them for multiple occasions. While some people think this is a big fashion “don’t”, the comfort and ease of wearing yoga pants while out-and-about can’t be denied. Pairing them with boots or a cute jacket can take them from being workout wear to casual attire. Brands such as TNA  intentionally design their pieces to be easily adaptable from running on the treadmill to running errands. Their TNAction line uses antibacterial and fast-drying fabric accented with street wear elements, which makes it easy to integrate these pieces into your everyday wardrobe. Similarly, sweaters and pants made by lululemon are frequently sported by Canadian women outside of the gym. Warm hoodies meant to be worn pre- and post-workout, and stretchy, breathable yoga pants have made the company’s technical athletic apparel a favourite among college and university students.

As long as women enjoy being comfortable during their day-to-day activities, the trend of wearing workout wear as casual wear will remain. To purchase fitness clothing (whether or not you plan to wear these pieces for working out), visit:

Energia Athletics
164 Danforth Avenue


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