The Art of Dressing Down

Sneakers, sweatpants, hoodies, oh my! Yes, Christian Dior would probably turn in his grave if he came across some of the trends being sported by fashion icons today. 

From post war cultural shifts to the covid pandemic, we have seen an evolution of big brands embracing “athleisure”. This year alone, we have encountered men’s suit jackets cut in sweat fabric on the Vetements SS23 runway, Ancuta Sarca’s high heeled sneakers, and the high fashion rebirth of the 2010s most hated accessory – the legging. 

Chemist Joseph Shivers invented the first Lycra leggings in the late 1950s, a decade marking the beginnings of ‘casual dress’ as young people began to challenge traditional formalities, opting for comfort in the form of denim, shorts, and trousers for women. The following decades witnessed the emergence of athletic fashion trends with the founding of brands such as Adidas and Nike, the advent of aerobics, and Lady Diana rocking the famous bike shorts and baggy jumper combination. 

A look from Vetements FW22 / @vetements_official Instagram

The increase in media exposure from the 1980s to the early 2000s saw sports stars become fashion influencers, notably David Beckham’s partnership with Adidas, Serena Williams’ Puma endorsement, and Allen Iverson’s collaboration with Reebok. No alliance was more legendary however, than Michael Jordan’s 1985 collaboration with Nike, which revolutionised the luxury market with the dawn of the Air Jordan. The introduction of limited editions and celebrity advocacy began to establish the idea of collectability, laying the pavement for the convergence of luxury and the mammoth sporting market.

Streetwear appeared on the scene in the 1990s, originating in urban subcultures such as the graffiti culture of Los Angeles and the hip hop and skate scenes of downtown New York, often considered as outlaws by high society. Supreme championed this sense of upper class rebellion through humble beginnings as a cult skateboard store in SoHo and developing into a global luxury brand exuding an effortless sense of cool. Increasingly out of touch fashion brands encountered a momentary disruption but swiftly pivoted by jumping on the bandwagon. Some stakeholders viewed the trend as the gentrification of urban culture with once affordable attire often being commodified at high prices and therefore rendering them inaccessible. Some luxury brands have approached streetwear with sensitivity and genuine appreciation for the origins, championing designers and artists through brand collaborations and partnerships, whilst others have not (think Guess X Banksy). 

Adidas, a forerunner in the sports-luxe movement, pushed the boundaries of innovative design when partnering with Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto to create Y-3 in 2003. Through an experimentation with high performance fabrics, this venture introduced a minimalist, monochromatic ‘chic’ to leisurewear that consumers had not witnessed before. Copious collaborations followed suit (or should I say sweats) with recent partnerships including Gucci and Adidas, Gucci and North Face, Fear of God and Ermenegildo Zegna, Supreme and Louis Vuitton, Puma and Jil Sander, Chanel and Cyril Kongo… just to name a few. 

A new era for leisurewear was ushered in in 2020; a year of Zoom meetings, long walks, and too much alone time. Stretch, softness, and comfort were introduced to fashion staples all over, seamlessly transitioning attire between corporate, workout, and evening wear. 

As the global landscape eases into a post-pandemic era, the impact of athleisure is stronger than ever before, becoming exceedingly appropriate from one occasion to the other. As designers continue to incorporate ‘lifestyle’ elements into their collections, brands endorse a whole new way of living, inviting a broader audience to participate in the ever-evolving dialogue, expanding the athletic aesthetic market two-fold. 

By Indigo Keane, Luxury Specialist

Banner Image: A young Michael Jordan models the Air Jordan I in Beaverton, Oregon, USA / Nike

November 2023