Activewear vs athleisure: What's the difference?

Activewear vs athleisure: What is the difference?

Amon Fearon - February 03, 2023

As health and fitness reach mass-scale attention, more people are exploring the benefits of today's athleisure wear and activewear trends. Apparel like leggings, sweatshirts, hoodies, trainers and sports bras have become staple parts of everyday wardrobes for inside and outside training areas. Everyone looks as if they've just stepped out of the gym, even if they're just grabbing a coffee, meeting friends or going shopping. People are looking for comfortable clothing that embodies both fitness and casual leisure time. But while activewear and athleisure might be your wardrobe staples, they aren't the same and are two different types of sportswear.

This guide will help you understand what makes activewear and athleisure different in terms of what they are and when and how to wear them.


Is activewear and leisurewear the same?

While activewear and leisurewear can both function as workout clothing that allows you to move around easily, athleisure items can be worn all day long, giving off a fashion-forward streetwear look, while activewear is typically just worn for working out and sports. Activewear and athleisure overlap with loungewear which is designed for maximum comfort and relaxation.


What is activewear?

Activewear is casual and comfortable clothing that is specifically designed for exercise, sports and outdoor pursuits, allowing you to actively and freely move around during strenuous physical activity. You'll typically wear this clothing to a yoga class, the gym, or a daily run. Its primary aim is functionality, and it uses lightweight, quick-drying, airy and figure-hugging material that promotes comfort and movement. It's the most popular type of clothing worn at the gym or changed into and out of at the gym. Activewear comprises fabrics with softer profiles, such as Nylon, Spandex, Lycra and other synthetic materials. The main items of activewear clothing include:

Polo shirts are often found in sports like golf and tennis whereas more casual gear such as tracksuits and tees are commonplace for general exercise. Sports hoodies and other premium outer layers are distinguishable in their unique performance fabrics to remove trapped sweat and heat excess while maintaining function for warm ups, cool downs, and moderate training.


What is athleisure?

Athleisure is a type of versatile sportswear that combines function and fashion that you can wear daily in non-sport settings. It combines activewear and trendy streetwear and is designed for daytime and leisure activities, even if you don't work out. Athleisure takes traditional sporty clothing made from technical materials and integrates it into your everyday wardrobe. While there was a time you wouldn't have considered visiting a restaurant wearing gym clothes, athleisure clothing is now being seen in a variety of casual and formal settings.

It takes the concept of comfortable indoor sportswear to a new level by combining it with business-casual designs that have seen athleisure become increasingly popular with students and office workers. While it's comfortable and stylish and complements busy lifestyles, it harnesses high-quality, athletic fabrics to create breathable and airy shirts to seamless stretch trousers that look business casual. The main pieces of athleisure wear include:

Who wears athleisure?

Athleisure wear is most popular with people aged 16 to 30 and those who feel younger and wish to dress younger. Fitness has become so important worldwide that also slightly older age groups are embracing athleisure, either wanting to buy actual sportswear or buy into the athleisure look.

Where can I wear athleisure?

You can wear athleisure virtually anywhere. The obvious places are of course, the gym, yoga class, golf course, hiking trail and anywhere you wish to work out. The concept of athleisure is about using the same materials you’d find in traditional activewear and sportswear. But aside from the gym, athleisure can also be worn in most situations in your everyday life. For instance, going shopping, seeing friends, eating a restaurant, or even going to work, it all depends on the particular occasion and setting. For an occasion that requires something a little more formal, you could opt for a long-sleeve athletic polo instead of a hoodie or a t-shirt or swap your tracksuit bottoms for a stylish pair of chinos. Here are a few examples of when and where you may consider wearing athleisure:

  • Workouts and yoga sessions
  • Travelling by plane
  • Running errands
  • Going out to lunch
  • Shopping
  • Going to work (with a smart casual dress code)

How to style athleisure

The emphasis of athleisure wear is style, and choosing slim-fitting items will give a more polished look. Look for crisp, classic colours in bold and neutral shades such as red, blue, grey and black. But what's most important about choosing athleisure is its athletic features, which offer good breathability, stretch, UV-protected fabric and moisture-wicking technology. Here are some tips to keep in mind when styling athleisure wear:

DO focus on comfort

Athleisure wear enables effortless styling that you can easily take to the gym, shopping or even the office. But comfort should also be a priority regardless of what you do with your day.

DO say no to bright colours, patterns and prints

Athleisure wear is all about fashion with an emphasis on minimalism. Focus on light-toned and neutral colours, simple prints and patterns. While it's fine to go bold, patterns that are too busy or shades that are too bright can look gaudy if not styled correctly. Aim for a cult athleisure look that's as minimal and relaxed as possible.

DO mix and match slim-fitting pieces with oversized pieces

With athleisure, you have endless options to mix and match. You can create a solid athleisure look by combining a loose-fitting athleisure crop top with slim-fitting leggings or combine loose joggers with a tight-fitting t-shirt. Alternatively, pair a quality sports bra with a pair of sweatpants.

How to style activewear (for outside the gym)

While it's perfectly acceptable to wear activewear for shopping, running errands and grabbing a coffee, there are some must-know secrets to wearing activewear outside of the gym or yoga class.

DO use accessories to dress up your activewear

Depending on where you are going and the occasion, you can "dress up" activewear with accessories and jewellery. Even something as simple as a denim or leather jacket or accessorising with a statement necklace or pair of sunglasses can give gym wear a trendy athletic look.

DO level up with layering

Your black leggings and plain tank top may rock in a Pilates class, but you may want something a little more stylish if you take the outfit outside. Layering with a jacket or lightweight swear will add a cool dimension to your workout look. You don't even need to wear the extra layers; tie the sweater around your waist to create a stylish "just out of the gym" look.

DO wear a pair of decent trainers that match your workout apparel

A good pair of quality trainers that coordinates with most of your workout outfits will create a finished look. If you can’t decide on a colour, stick to a pair of good black trainers. After all, black matches everything.

What are the key differences between activewear and athleisure?

Activewear can be worn for both active and casual activities. It's suitable for exercise and then the transition to casual wear. Athleisure sits at the crossroads where traditional sportswear meets activewear, originally designed as daytime or leisurewear but ultimately adapted for more formal situations. 

Activewear is more stylish and versatile, comfortable and functional. However, athleisure tends to be more popular because it combines the aesthetics of both fashion and sport. While fashion boosts sports' respectability, sports bring practicality and function to the fashion sector.

When did the athleisure trend start?

It was in the 1970s that modern athleisure apparel began to take hold. As personal fitness and working out became increasingly popular, brands began designing clothing for exercise in various fabrics that offer improved breathability, odour-wicking and moisture-wicking technology. As the research and investment into athletic apparel continued to improve the quality of the clothing, more people began purchasing them. "Athleisure" was first coined in 1979 in an issue of Nation's Business, which described shoes and clothing designed for people wanting to look athletic. As time went on, athleisure moved away from sportswear, which was clothing designed for specific sports, to a one-size-fits-all approach that defines athleisure clothing that we see today. 

Athleisure vs Activewear: the lowdown

So there, you have it, everything you need to know about athleisure wear and activewear, both in terms of what they're designed for and how to wear them. If you’re looking for apparel that combines style, comfort and function, check out our extensive range of high-performance and stylish activewear and athleisurewear that’s designed to help you work hard and play hard.