Activewear: What Is It and Why Do People Love It?

Activewear, athleisure, workout clothes, sporty chic –– whatever you want to call it, you know you see it every day. From high-compression leggings and sleek yoga pants to baggy jumpsuits, activewear has dominated mainstream fashion for some time now. It’s not just a passing trend –– there’s a good reason why people are flocking to these comfortable and stylish clothes now more than ever.

But if you’re noticing the growing boom in activewear, you likely have some questions. Such as: what exactly is activewear, and why has it become so incredibly popular? Luckily, we’ve got some answers. By the end of this article, you can call yourself a certified activewear expert (or maybe an athleisure connoisseur? It’s really up to you).

Strap in because we’re about to give you the rundown on the sneakers and the scrunchies.

What Is Considered Activewear?

Activewear is more than just athletic gear. It’s clothes that may be originally meant for people with an active lifestyle, but they can also double as loungewear or everyday clothing. 

Examples include sweatpants, sneakers, backpacks, track pants, and even underwear made for an athletic lifestyle. Activewear can be seen as the integration of streetwear, travel gear, and sportswear.

The list of what is considered activewear really goes on and on. Let’s get into some of the nitty gritty. 

What Is the History of Activewear?

The State of Athletic Fashion a Century Ago

In the 30s and 40s, people weren’t exactly hitting the gym like they do today. But fitness was becoming more of an interest among the everyday public. People mainly wore loose shorts and cotton singlets to exercise, and men started to wear unitards.

Around this time, designers like Vera Maxwell, Bonnie Cashin, and Claire McCardell sought to introduce utilitarian elements into high fashion. They created functional, loose clothing made of wool and denim fabrics. These clothes featured travel-ready designs, such as a jacket that doubled as wearable luggage.

Fitness Slowly Gains Popularity

By the end of the 1950s, exercise machines and gymnasiums became more relevant. Bodybuilding became popular to imitate the stars of the big screen. People were more comfortable showing off their hard-earned bodies. Leotards and satin pajamas were meant to show off flattering silhouettes during this time.

Gymnastics, stretching, and calisthenics took hold in the 1960s. With the thriving economy and new technologies, people had more free time –– which many used to get into fitness routines. 

Athletic Wear Hits the Market

Fashion marketed toward joggers and fitness enthusiasts didn’t take off until the 1970s, when brands like Nike, Reebok, and Adidas became best sellers. 

Halter tops and neon workout shorts boomed in the world of women’s activewear. Outdoor activities like sailing, hiking, and mountaineering drove the demand for sporty clothes and gear, particularly among young people in urban areas and college campuses.

While it has its beginnings in looser styles, nowadays, we are more likely to see form-fitting types of activewear. This shift began in the 1980s when more tailored styles were fashionable amongst cyclists, joggers, and speed-walkers alike. Tight Spandex, high-rise leggings, skorts, and long-sleeve leotards became popular as people followed the moves on aerobics TV specials.

Things loosened up again a bit in the 90s. Chunky sneakers, loose pants, tracksuits, and elastics made the rounds. Leggings were also an ever-popular choice, especially in step classes, which were all the rage.

A Move Into Daily Wear

Activewear in the 90s also signaled a move of these items into everyday wear. Mobility was the most important factor, as was adaptability –– many clothes were designed to be transformed in the case of weather changes or to accommodate travel. You can see evidence of this in the popularity of backpacks over briefcases, as well as the rise of windbreakers and hoodies.

This kind of practical athletic style continued to grow throughout the 1990s into the next decade. The popularity of hip-hop also blended athletic wear and streetwear in the early 2000s, with baggy pants, high-waist biker shorts, cutout crop-tops, and sneakers being trendy.

What Do Activewear Brands Make?

Today, you can spot the influence of the activewear fashion revolution all around. Clothes that blend street style with utilitarian elements, high-performance designs, weather protection, and flexibility abound in our everyday life as clothes across different elements of life (from the home, gym, office, school, and more) begin to blur more into each other.

Zip-front seams, windbreakers, velcro, pouch pockets, and drawstrings are all parts of the evolution of activewear. Stretchy Spandex, breathable mesh, and adjustable straps are more common activewear features.

Where Do People Wear Activewear?

The short answer is –– everywhere! One of the key elements of activewear nowadays is adaptability and flexibility. Think of how many people you spot wearing leggings with side pockets and sneakers every day, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Certain high-performance activewear may be retained mainly for the gym, but there’s no shortage of places where you can sport this look.

Even office culture has become more flexible these days with the types of clothing they allow. After many people became accustomed to working from home, companies around the nation have relaxed their dress codes to get people to come back to the workplace.

The kind of business casual clothes reflects the activewear trend. Everything from sports jackets to stretchy dress pants can feature elements borrowed from activewear.

What Makes Activewear So Beloved?

People throughout history have been interested in making and wearing functional, comfortable, and stylish clothing. All those innovations have led to where we are now.

But why does activewear seem to be thriving now in particular? For one, more and more people have access to and interest in going to the gym and engaging in other forms of fitness. But even those who don’t work out daily enjoy activewear for its effortless comfort and adaptability. We 

We can also thank the gradual breakdown of formality in fashion in the past century for taking this look mainstream.

What Are Examples of Activewear Clothing?

We can go on and on about the history of activewear, but the bottom line is that you’ll know it when you see it. Here are some prime examples of different types of activewear that you’re likely to run into every day –– at home, at the gym, and even at work!

Activewear Undergarments

Yes, activewear can absolutely exist in the form of undergarments. After all, if you’re going for function and comfort, don’t you want that to be reflected in every layer of clothing?

One prime example of this is the sports bra. The sports bra can be an alternative to a traditional brassiere, one that somewhat compresses the chest so that minimal movement occurs with exercise. Because they are usually stretchy and don’t feature padding or underwire, many people prefer sports bras over regular bras, even in everyday life.

Some underpants can also be considered activewear. Form-fitting, flexible styles like boxer briefs and hipsters, are meant to contour and move naturally with your body. Boy shorts can also double as underwear as well as regular workout shorts.

Activewear Bottoms

Leggings can perhaps be called the face of the activewear movement. Flexible, flattering, and suitable for almost any occasion, these stretchy pants are a favorite amongst most people.

The tight yet flexible fit, as well as body-contouring abilities, are what make these so beloved. For warmer climates, bike shorts are basically leggings cut off at the thighs. Many also feature handy pockets.

The other staple bottom of activewear is the jogger pant. These have come into mainstream fashion in a big way in recent years. Some joggers cinch at the ankles, while others imitate a more straight leg style. Some joggers can even be dressed up for a business casual look.

There are a variety of different shorts that can be associated with activewear. For example, woven running shorts with built-in brief liners are quite popular. 

Activewear Tops

The list of activewear tops can really go on for miles. The tank top is one prime example –– more specifically, the muscle tank is a staple of an activewear wardrobe. This tank offers a bit more coverage than a spaghetti strap number while still allowing ample room for your skin to breathe and your shoulders to move. Bonus: you can also show off your arms!

T-shirts of all kinds can also be sorted into activewear. In particular, activewear shirts are often made of breathable cotton, stretchy Spandex, or flexible nylon. Moisture-wicking technology and airy designs are at the forefront of innovations in activewear tees. Even long-sleeved tees made of the same kinds of material can be worn when exercising in cooler temperatures.

Activewear Outerwear

When we talk about activewear outerwear, we’re referring to jackets, shoes, and anything else that you’d throw on to get around outside. Windbreakers, hoodies, sweatshirts, and anoraks are all examples of activewear jackets. Performance-oriented raincoats and zip-up jackets also fall into this category.

When it comes to shoes, the sneaker will always reign supreme. It is perhaps the best example of what activewear is all about: an item of clothing that was originally intended for high-performance sports such as running and tennis (i.e., tennis shoes), which has evolved into a comfortable everyday item that works for athletic and leisure activities.

While other footwear such as water shoes, cleats, and ballet slippers have much more specific functions, there are situations in which they could carry over into more casual dress.

Is Activewear the Same Thing as Athleisure?

The answer to this question probably depends on who you ask. Some may define activewear as comfortable exercise clothes that are mainly meant for athletic purposes, while athleisure clothes are meant to be worn both in and outside of the gym.

Today, we’re treating activewear as a more broad term that encompasses both these meanings. After all, there hardly exists any activewear that hasn’t become part of everyday clothing.


Activewear is more popular than ever before. If the trends are to be believed, it will only continue to rise in popularity. It’s no secret why. A long evolution of interest both in fitness and in comfortable clothing has led to this point in fashion history.

As the lines between self-expression, comfort, and formality continue to bend and blur, it’s possible that we will continue to see more new innovations in activewear designs.

If you’re a fan of activewear and are looking for some new styles, check out all the great active options we offer here at TomboyX. Whether you’re jogging around town or just kicking back with friends, activewear is a fun, comfortable, and flexible style for any occasion!


Activewear | LoveToKnow

Activewear explosion: A short history of gym fashion | Coach

Is 'Relaxed' the New 'Business Casual'? | Maryland Smith University

How Did Athleisure Take Over American Fashion? | The Atlantic