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Style SOS: How can I make sportswear look smarter?

Style SOS: How can I make sportswear look smarter?

I exercise a lot, so I wear a lot of sportswear, but I always feel really scruffy outside of the gym. How can I make it look a little smarter? – Liam, via email


The rules used to be clearly defined. A suit for work, gym clothes for the gym and chinos and a button-down shirt for the weekend. Every man knew the rules and what was required of him. Sadly, this left little room for flair or personality. But in the past twenty years the rules have loosened up, and while it's not quite anything goes, a lot more goes than before.

So yes, you can make sportswear smarter but there are limitations. As popular as athleisure is, there are still some places turning up in your sports gear would be frowned upon. Some (most) offices for example or anywhere that requires a dress code, and probably not even the coolest of couples would be happy with you rocking up to their wedding in a tracksuit. But take those away, and you are actually left with a lot of options.  

First things first, make sure your sportswear is clean and looks tidy – no ratty old football kit, please. Also, keep it simple. This means no logos or wild patterns, you want things that on first glance don’t look like you’ve just stepped off the treadmill. Think about it the same way you would smart separates and pair different elements together, like sweatpants with smarter tops. Or going for sweatpants that aren’t your traditional cotton jersey and are instead a little more elevated. Like these Kenzo cotton-twill track pants, which in the right light (with the right accessories) could pass for formal trousers.

The trend for streetwear means that logo tees are more acceptable outside the gym than they once were and even traditional sportswear brands, like Nike, are getting in on the act. To keep it on the smart side of smart-casual, keep everything else crisp and clean. Wearing a logo tee under a bomber jacket is still relaxed, but you don’t look like you’ve wandered off course on the marathon. 

A final thing to consider (or perhaps the first thing depending on if you’re a sneakerhead or not) is what’s on your feet. You can get away with trainers in most environments now, and not just minimal white ones, but chunky dad trainers are having a moment too. The more minimal you go, the smarter you will look – even perhaps pulling off the controversial suit and trainers look – but if you want to actually wear your trainers beyond the gym, then go for a style that won’t look out of place with jeans as well as track pants. 

While you probably shouldn't ever wear your actual gym-kit to work, you can definitely work on looking little smarter when you're not working up a sweat.

Words: Nadia Balame-Price
Illustration: Ryan Gillett