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Much as we hate to speak ill of the dead, we have to disagree with Karl Lagerfeld on one point: sweatpants are not a sign of defeat. His now infamous quote – “You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants” – seems almost quaint when people wear trainers and hoodies to work.

In 2016, data by market research company Mintel showed that Britain’s men preferred sportswear to suits – which surprised precisely no-one. After all, when was the last time you saw guys waiting in line to buy the latest drop on Savile Row? Based on current growth rates, the UK sportswear market is set to surpass $8 billion this year.

But popularity does not always translate to wearability, and pulling off the gym-kit-outside-the-gym is all about looking like it's deliberate, not just that you couldn't be bothered. As the line between athletic clothes and high fashion becomes increasingly blurred, this is how to dress without looking like you’re en route to boot camp.

Do embrace a drawstring waist

Not only are they a great way to adjust fit, but the drawstring waist looks more polished than anything elasticated. Buttons or zips can start looking a bit fussy, and not in keeping with the sportswear vibe. Just remember: whether you opt for a tonal drawstring or one in a contrasting colour, be sure to master the art of an elegant bow. Leaving it untied just looks lazy.

Don’t wear hi-tech fabrics

Compression tights are a hard look to pull off even while you’re working out, so don’t attempt them in the wild. In fact, anything that could be described as ‘moisture-wicking’ is best avoided. That’s because performance gear has a very specific purpose and taking it out of that context renders it a bit…meaningless. Instead, think old school. Cotton tees, French terry hoodies, and jersey track pants. If Rocky might have worn it in a training montage, you should, too.

Do keep your trainers fresh

With the rise of sneaker culture, there are now trainers you wear to work, and trainers you wear to the gym. Don't cross the streams. For one, sweating in your shoes then wearing them in the real world is pretty gross. For two, performance shoes tend to be bolder, brighter and more techy than ones built just for aesthetics. Bear in mind that if you’re going for the sportswear look, you can afford to deviate from the minimalist vibe, but something a bit retro is always easier to style than anything garish. Then, just keep them clean.

Don’t forget the rules of fit

Sure, sportswear is all about being comfortable when you’re moving around, but that’s no excuse for throwing fit out of the window. Unless oversized and slouchy is what you’re going for, stick to your regular proportions, rather than sizing up or down. That means no baggy tees or form-fitting shorts.

Do throw in some non-workout gear

Try a varsity jacket, or a bomber, or even a blazer (in the right circumstance). Let’s call it: sportswear-adjacent. This is all about elevating the rest of your outfit with something that signals to onlookers, “I’m not about to drop and give you twenty.” It doesn’t even have to be clothing. A decent bag or some chunky rings will do the trick.


Words: Theresa Harold
Photography: Chris Howlett
Styling: Brooke Philips