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Dress codes

How to make sportswear look smarter

How to make sportswear look smarter

It is fair to say that the lines of menswear acceptability have become a bit blurred over the last few decades. Where once everything, and every outfit, had its place, today you can wear almost anything anywhere. Which is great, because it means more options and fewer rules. And also terrible, because how on earth do you decide what’s appropriate?

Nowhere is this dichotomy thornier than with the rise of ‘athleisure’. A portmanteau of ‘athletics’ and ‘leisure’, it basically means sportswear you can wear anytime, not just at the gym. The reason that athleisure has become such a lasting trend is that there’s a style for every guy, and every guy can wear it. Once fashion started noticing this trend was around to stay, brands created all kinds of athleisure, from smart sweatpants to cashmere hoodies, which meant more men could factor it into their everyday life. The more there was, the popular it became. Rinse and repeat.

It can be argued that style in 2019 is less about fitting into a certain mould and more about feeling comfortable, both literally and figuratively, which is where athleisure really shines. “Sportswear is great because it’s really easy to get right and pretty hard to get wrong and, amazingly, works for all budgets,” says stylist Alice Watt. Once you’ve worked out the pieces you like you can work out how to get the most out of them, “it’s all about refinement, looking for comfort in a very minimal way. It’s why the fabric is key and so is the colour palette. All these things keep it more elevated. It’s not the sweatpants you wear to mow the lawn, it’s more considered.”

This is not to say you just throw on your Champion hoodie and off you go. Like anything that seems simple, it’s actually a little more complicated than that. This is not just about wearing your joggers whenever and wherever, but more about the ease of wearing joggers whenever and wherever. “Too many logos, for example, are a total no-no,” says Alice. “In fact, if you’re wanting something smart enough to wear to work or out for lunch, I would avoid logos completely.” 

If you know what to avoid, it’s easier to know what you should look for. “The things to consider are fabric, colour, what you wear together and of course your shoes,” says Alice. “It sounds like a lot but it’s not you can get maximum impact for minimal input. Said another way, it requires little effort to make your outfit look good.”

The touch test

One of the key things about clothes is that the nicer the fabric, the sharper your outfit will look and feel, and this is especially true with athleisure. A bomber is more than just a bomber when it’s made from silk. “Gone are the days of sportswear only being 100% nylon. If you’re not actually wearing your clothes for a workout you can go luxe with fabrics, like cashmere hoodies or linen sweatpants,” says Alice.

Keep the colour wheel simple

“I’m not saying no colour, but don’t go crazy. It’s easier with sportswear to be attracted to clashing bright colours, which is great for an actual work out, less good for looking a little smarter,” says Alice. The simple way to think about it is to consider tonal looks, or a maximum of two complementary colours together. It’s subtler and will keep your look the right side of the treadmill.

The high-low balance

One of the easiest ways to bring athleisure into your wardrobe is to mix and match. “Try a pair of premium sweatpants with a simple white tee, or even a minimal logo tee but with a bomber jacket,” says Alice. Consider your outfit as a whole. “You can wear a hoodie and joggers together but only if they’re in elevated fabrics and look refined – you’re bringing the high in from the quality of the items to balance the casual-side of the sportswear.”

Best foot forward

You can’t talk about athleisure without mentioning trainers. From chunky dad style to ultra-minimal sneakers, they are literally the foundation of athleisure. “Use the same thinking with trainers as you would with the rest of your look,” says Alice. “If you’re going stripped-back for your clothes, you can be a bit bolder with your trainers. If you’ve got logos happening up top, keep the trainers minimal.”


Words: Nadia Balame-Price
Photography: Lola & Pani
Styling: Alice Watt
Styling assistant: Toby Standing