Sweat Equity

6/1/2015
Considering that men’s wear evolves so slowly, microtrends are especially interesting to watch unfold. No sooner had we learned about the death of workwear and birth of “normcore” (the ironic celebration of Regular Joe clothes) than the world of men’s style becomes abuzz with “sportscore,” or the male equivalent of athleisure in the women’s market.

Evolution in masculine garb may be slow, but one thing is certain: it continues to evolve (or devolve, depending on your point of view) from the dressy to the casual. Sportscore is the trendy name for what we all observe whenever getting on an airplane: namely the preponderance of sweatpants. Khakis have military origins and the legacy of jeans is manual labor, but the new go-to casual pant comes from the world of fitness, and it’s known as the jogger pant.

“Joggers are part of a broader trend in men’s wear, where literal sportswear is being mixed with traditional tailoring and high-fashion,” says Derek Guy, contributor to the popular website Put This On and an omnivorous observer of men’s wear market trends. “It began a few years ago when guys who used to only wear Goodyear-welted shoes started to pick up sneakers again. You have to remember — a lot of these guys are young and have always tried to twist suits so that they looked more like fashion statements rather than work uniforms. Once these guys started to pick up sneakers again, they adopted other sneaker-culture items, such as the jogger, essentially sweatpants but with a large, banded cuff, which shows off the shoes.”

Until recently, only niche streetwear brands such as Kith and Publish made joggers, Guy says. “They started getting mixed with high-fashion, with guys pairing them with fancy, designer-name overcoats. Nowadays, you can find joggers at J. Crew, which is surprising since J. Crew isn’t so much a trend setter as a trend confirmer.”

The link between joggers and sneakers is socks, and new startup Heath Paine hopes to also form a lifestyle link in the busy lives of guys today. The company’s tagline is “socks that resist the stink,” and they come in fun colors and patterns meant to go from gym to office to nightclub. “We have long benefited from fabric innovation in the sportswear industry,” says cofounder Manton Paine, “however, none of this technology has permeated our day-to-day attire.”

The sock’s magic ingredient is silver, which has natural antimicrobial attributes, Paine says. “Latent moisture transports the silver ions which, when they come in contact with bacteria and fungus, break through the cell walls, and inhibit their growth. Simply put, by knitting silver into all of our socks we reap all of the innate benefits without compromising our bold designs, and it never washes off.”

When it comes to outfitting a guy from head to toe, “we’re flipping performance activewear on its head,” says Tyler Haney, founder and CEO of Outdoor Voices, an activewear company based in New York. “To us, activity isn’t about fierce competition but recreation. Our role models are artists, creators, founders and doers. We source the highest quality materials to create timeless, contemporary pieces that seamlessly take our customer across all of their active pursuits.”

Boston may not be one of the world’s fashion capitals, but that’s precisely the location of Ministry Of Supply, another brand blurring the lines between activewear and fashion. CEO and cofounder Gihan Amarasiriwardena sees two main drivers of this intersection. Millennials have grown up with synthetic fabrics, he says, understands their benefits, and want the same comfort all day long. “Secondly, millennials no longer define their days by punctuated time-frames between work and life, but rather seek work-life integration — and clothes that can cross the bounds between the two.”

Ministry Of Supply combines function and fashion, taking contemporary design to heat-regulating shirts and odor-absorbing dress socks. “You may not be able to wear sweats to the office or a nice restaurant,” says Amarasiriwardena, “but you can still feel comfortable and confident in clothes that perform in any context. While traditional attire looks sharp at 7 a.m., by 5 p.m. you’re wrinkled, disheveled, and can’t wait to get out of those clothes. If this trend leads to better performance individually and collectively in the office, then we shouldn’t let the straps of tradition hold us back.”

On the media front, the trend-reporters are all over the sportscore story. Esquire’s website ran a service piece with “10 tailored jogging pants for under $100,” as well as a more speculative piece entitled “The Future Of Pants Is More Comfortable,” with the subhead “Why sweatpants could replace jeans.” In April, GQ.com ran a 29-page slideshow entitled “Sportscore Timeline: The rise of 2015’s biggest fashion trend.” Highlights include pop stars wearing track jackets and sweatbands, and 2014’s Alexander Wang x H&M fleece collection. At Complex, a piece from this spring called “Cozy Is The New Cool” reads:
Athleisure is the mainstream version of the “cozy boy“ trend that has dudes from SoHo to Des Moines ditching their skinny jeans for Nike Tech Fleece sweatpants and similar skinny knit pants from brands like John Elliott + Co., AimÉ Leon Dore, and KITH. It’s an aesthetic that’s part-streetwear, part-gym rat, and 100 percent sneaker-oriented. After all, nothing draws more attention to a rare pair of kicks than the cuffed hem of slim sweats.

And even highbrow observer NPR got in the game with a radio segment, also from the month of April, entitled “For the Modern Man, The Sweatpant Moves Out of the Gym,” explaining to its enlightened listeners the neologism “athleisure” and what constitutes fancy sweatpants.

To quote the old adage, “when life gives you lululemons...” The Canada-based queen of yoga chic has recently added a men’s collection and operates one stand-alone men’s store. In its quarterly report at the end of 2014, the company reported 16 percent comps in its men’s business. Quotes the report:
• With men’s, we saw continued success with our pants category, anchored by the popularity of our core ABC pant, and a great guest response to technical tops (such as Rulu fabrics and seamless construction).
• Our men’s product continues to be focused on function and versatility, while expanding the product offering and creating new technical fabric solutions.

The e-commerce site Jack Threads is certainly bullish on joggers, offering dozens of options including fabrics such as denim, patterns such as herringbone, and details such as cargo-pants pockets. But as with all men’s wear micro-trends, sportscore could be more hype than reality. “I have no idea who’s buying joggers,” says Put This On’s Derek Guy. “Kind of makes me think they are the hottest trend you’ve never actually seen on the street.”

Longtime Apparel contributor Christian Chensvold is a New York-based men’s wear writer. He is the founder of Ivy-Style.com and MasculineInteriors.com, and the author of the recently released "The Stylish Life: Golf.”
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