The fashion pack’s secret to shaping up in the new year? It’s Lycra that you look forward to putting on
You can’t remember the last time you went to the gym and the only stretching you’ve done recently has been to reach for the remote control. You spotted the well-intentioned on their inaugural new year jogs and considered having a go, but something seems to have changed; even the out-of-breath amateurs look like seasoned marathon-runners these days.
The phrase “all the gear, no idea” was once a put-down for the over-eager; now it’s a badge of honour. The January fitness guiltfest may be the biggest cliché in the book, but the dress code that has sprung up around it is new.
It used to be enough to throw on a pair of baggy-kneed leggings and the T-shirt that came free with your Isa for a quick trundle round the park, but the vogue for wearing exercise gear beyond the gym (the fashion crowd call it “athleisure”), plus the craze for Instagrammable evidence of your healthier-than-thou lifestyle (otherwise known as “wellness”), means that this winter you’ll need to up your game with regard to your regimen and wardrobe.
You need good leggings — people make a point of looking at them
Nathalie Schyllert is the general manager at the exclusive Notting Hill gym Bodyism, where the A-list and the 1 per cent train. From her perch at the desk, she monitors what the most stylish are working out in. “Our clients like bright colours and prints on the bottom half with a plainer top,” she says. “They don’t do matchy-matchy.” But most importantly: “You’ve got to have good leggings because people make a point of looking at them. Before, you might have worn the same basic black pair for a few years, but now people buy a new pair every season. You don’t see trackpants or flares any more either.”
With prices starting at about £50, the new generation of leggings might not be cheap, but the R&D that has gone into them justifies the price. They’re made from fully opaque, multiway stretch material that regulates your temperature and holds you in where you need it and come with carefully placed seams and panels that slim your legs and lift your bottom even before you’ve broken a sweat. Imagine the sporty lovechild of a pair of Spanx and your favourite skinny jeans and you’re there. Why else do you think they’re so popular for shopping and the school run too?
Celebrities love Lucas Hugh’s for their super-techy but flattering look. Prices start from £150 (lucashugh.com) and the Bodyism crowd are arrayed in the gym’s own label, which features palm prints, paisley and laser-cut patterns. (More to the point it’s all in the sale, so you might pick up a bargain, bodyism.com.)
Sweaty Betty’s plain black Level Workout leggings are a consistent bestseller and a versatile way in for the uninitiated, suitable for all types of exercise as well as brunch (£55, sweatybetty.com). The ultra-hip Shoreditch fitness studio Frame has collaborated with Whistles on a gym range; its grey panelled leggings are a simple way to dip a toe in the look (£55, whistles.com), as are Marks & Spencer’s Performance ombre pair (£25, marksandspencer.com).
“I love Lululemon’s leggings,” says Grazia’s fashion director, Rebecca Lowthorpe. “They’re pricey, but I’ve been power-walking every day into work and slinging them in the wash and they still look like new.” The Canadian megabrand’s leggings start at £88, but they go the distance and are woven with silver thread designed to neutralise odours, so you can keep them on to run your errands.
If you’re after something more colourful, there’s a host of new boutique brands to try. The instructors at Vogue’s favourite Spinning studio, Psycle, wear We Are Handsome’s psychedelic graphics, Vie Active’s leopard print and Laurie Nouchka’s Bauhaus-inspired designs. It’s debatable whether Varley’s marble and snake-print pieces and the like are wasted on the gym. If you still need to exorcise any lingering netball and hockey-kit demons, Selfridges launches the new brand PE Nation this week, complete with retro go-faster stripes (£90, Selfridges.com).
Caroline Lucey, the founder of the activewear e-tail site Active in Style, recommends Jaggad’s Baroque Contour leggings (£125) and Adidas’s Wow gym tights (£50, both activeinstyle.com). “Brands are really pushing the fashion element,” she says. “Leggings are the new skinny jeans, tops have longer lines for extra bum coverage, tanks have higher necks so there’s no cleavage when you’re bending over your weights.”
Where once Lycra was just for the Green Goddess, the modern gym kit should feel as much like real, wearable clothes as your working wardrobe does — and you should look forward to putting it on too. That’s half the battle won.
“I always buy something new in January to keep me motivated when the mornings are cold and dark,” says the stylist Arabella Greenhill. She recommends bright mittens and headbands if you’re running or training outside, for cosiness and a bit of extra get-up-and-go. Nike’s pink thermal element gloves are a quick way to brighten up your outfit (£18, jdsports.co.uk).
While it’s worth splashing out on your leggings (what price a better bum?), the rules are slightly more relaxed up top, so you needn’t spend a fortune and there’s plenty on the high street to choose from. I like GapFit’s racerback vests (£14.95) and tie-back tanks (£19.95), and its sport bras work well for small to medium busts (from £19.95). If you’re bigger up top, you’ll need something sturdier — try Shock Absorber and Freya, available nationwide. H&M’s vest tops start from a very January-friendly £8.99 (hm.com). Nike’s long-sleeved training tops are £40, but preferred by those in the know; the power-running House of Cards character Claire Underwood wears the brand from head to toe (store.nike.com).
If your main objective this winter is simply to blend in and not look like too much of newbie, choose plain, dark colours and simple shapes. It stands to reason that if you don’t wear much colour outside the gym, you won’t feel comfortable doing so there either.“I’m a black, grey and navy fashion girl at heart,” says Greenhill. “I can’t do jazzy prints, cut-outs and sheer.”
Amy Hopkinson of Women’s Health agrees. “You won’t see a seasoned pro in pastel leggings,” she says. “They’ll be in dark, opaque shades and ab-baring tops.” If the notion of a crop-top brings you out in a sweat even before you’ve started exercising, leave them to the gym bunnies and copy their footwear instead.“Trainers separate new members from the regulars,” Hopkinson adds. “You’ll spot the latter doing box jumps in rose gold Nike Frees.”
They’ll look just as good in the café afterwards too.