When Did Workout Clothes Get So Pretentious?


Over the last few weeks I have spent far too much money on the following items: A basketball singlet for a team I’ve never heard of, a pair of floral shorts by Jeremy Scott for Adidas, a pair of new Nike sneakers, and a baseball cap.

You know what I never plan to do in any of these items? Exercise.

Partly because the sneakers make my feet blister worse than my creepers do, but mainly because why would I want to get clothes that I actually like covered in sweat stains?

Apparently I’m alone in these sentiments. On Wednesday Net-a-Porter will launch its new high-end sportswear spinoff Net-a-Sporter. The younger, more active sibling of the luxury giant will stock 37 brands across 11 sporting disciplines, from tennis, golf and running, to yoga, dance, swim and surf. “The initial idea for Net-a-Sporter only came about six months ago,” Net-a-porter president Alison Loehnis told The Telegraph last week. “We already carry some great activewear brands, such as Adidas by Stella McCartney, Lucas Hugh and Nike, and we wanted to build on our offering and broaden our buy to create a dedicated category for sport.”

Sample offerings include a $445 lycra cape by Live The Process, a $497 argyle tennis dress by L’Etoile Sport, and a lightweight sleeveless tunic from LAAIN’s “après sport” line that goes for a mindboggling $650. Ironically, neither the highly visible (pun so intended) fall from grace of Lulumenon nor the birth of naked yoga can slow the meteoric rise of expensive spandex clothing.

The demand for high-end workout gear is not a surprising one. With the rise of hashtag diets and fitspo it’s evident that the only thing more important than being healthy is telling everyone about it. In that way a spin class is the opposite of having butt sex or flicking a booger. And why would you want to share your post-workout selfie (which we all know is really your pre-workout selfie, you sweat-free sleuth) with the world if you’re wearing Asics Gel Lytes and a saggy team-building exercise t-shirt?

It seems like this a logical reaction to where Lululemon failed. Previously the health club was more like an exclusive cult. Now anyone can join via hashtag. Even Tumblr kids are swapping Dorito dust for Juice Press, with the #HealthGoth hashtag only partly a joke and bloggers like Heroin Granola totally serious in redefining the phrase “gym junkie.” I want to praise the “trend” (we might as well call it that.) It’s certainly refreshing to see a fashion editor Instagram her Nike Flyknits and on-the-run beverage rather than her towering platform heels and Café Gitane toast spread. On the surface it’s a lifestyle we can all aspire too.

But the frustrating truth about high-end health is that it’s really not less classist nor less elitist than any other trends. AMDISCS describes Health Goth as “transcending normcore,” driven by an aesthetic that’s hyper-masculine rather than de-gendered and feeds on clinical sterility while eluding the myopic gaze. At the same time, however, it also seems to have a lot in common with normcore. Not just because it won’t get off your internet and is often described using convoluted ,hipper-than-thou language, but because it appears to an overtly snobby demographic.

It’s the same problem I often have with minimalism. While I like the idea of developing a uniform around the idea of buying less and buying better, the aesthetic as touted by fancy magazines requires that you first shun the ideals of those who don’t belong or have no hope of belonging. It might be the people who still buy fringed tank tops from Forever 21, or it might be the woman you pass on the way to barre class who’s lumbering around in garish spandex from Modell’s sale section. Does she even know how many steps it takes to burn off the calories in a coconut water?

And in a way the fancy spandex aesthetic is braggier than an expensive Céline coat. Not only can you afford to wear only designer, but you can afford to get it scuffed up, worn down, and covered in deodorant stains.

I definitely get the appeal of owning nice workout clothes. When you’re wearing things you like and things that look good, it’s motivating. And I can’t hate on any of brands’ hustles for taking advantage of the current market. But even if I win the lottery before Net-a-Sporter launches Wednesday, I won’t be throwing out my basic black leggings and Diet Coke-branded t-shirt. Working out is best when you’re not standing out. (In that way maybe it really is the height of normcore.) I might just pick up some obscenely overpriced basketball shorts to wear out on Friday night.

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