A friend of mine — a fellow mama who loves fashion and is trying to balance style with the day-to-day craziness of raising a toddler — was commiserating to me recently about athleisure. She’s a classic romantic bohemian in terms of fashion: she loves suede, Frye boots, intricate floral prints, flowy dresses, ruffles, crochet, silks, floppy hats, all rendered in soft, pretty colors.
But she’s jealous of those who can wear their workout clothes all the time and still look like their same stylish selves. Of course, she could just run around in her leggings and t-shirts all day, too — but that’s so far from her everyday style that she doesn’t quite feel like ‘herself’ in a fashion sense.
So she asked me a question: how can she — who dresses like she’s straight out of a Neil Young love song, in the best way — make athleisure work for her, especially since workout clothes are so full of bright, bold prints, modern fabrics and functional, streamlined shapes? Because she’s a rare breed among bohos, too — she’s a fairly serious cardio exerciser, who runs half-marathons and does lots of cross-training.
I promised I would brainstorm some ideas for her, so this is what I came up with. (“And can you find stuff that isn’t incredibly expensive?” she added hopefully.) Truth is, there are a lot of different aesthetics that don’t align naturally with modern sporty style — but if that’s you, and you kind of want to join in on the ease and convenience that athleisure promises — there might be some hints here for you, too. At any rate, a lot of these recommendations are just super-pretty — and might bring out the flower-crowned earthy girl in anyone.
Admittedly, this suggestion is easier to integrate now that summer is passing into autumn. This is also the easiest and most effortless option: your athleisure elements are your neutral, base template, over which you layer bohemian accents and shapes. At the most basic level, you start with leggings, sports bra and tanks in basic neutral colors and classic shapes — and truthfully, these are the elements that perhaps need to be most ‘functional’ and basic if you are at all regular or serious about any sport or movement. If they itch, don’t fit right, restrict your range of motion or what have you, your workout will suck and the whole point of athletic clothes is rendered obsolete. (For my friend, I advised elements in white and dove grey, since she prefers a softer palette. Luckily, these are pretty abundant at a lot of price points — although I find you do get what you pay for when it comes to workout clothes.)
Once you have your basic base layer, then perhaps you layer over a little flyaway or cocoon-type of sweater or sweatshirt over it — or even another flowier tank in warmer weather — as you go about your day. Here, you can branch out into prints, softer colors and the like.
The result is something a bit more soft than the typical sharp, modern, utilitarian athleisure uniform. I can see a sporty romantic bohemian layering those kind of Rick Owens-y sweatshirts, while a quirkier, artier sort might love a pop of color or pattern. But also think shape: sweatshirts don’t always have to be basic crewnecks! They can have interesting shapes, couture-like hems or necklines or even cut-outs that add interest, drape and allure.
Not just neon: athleisure is now a lot broader than you think
One thing that most soft, romantic bohemian style types hate about workout clothes are bright, obnoxious, not-found-in-nature colors, which, admittedly, makes a lot of workout clothes repulsive to them.
But more and more options cater to a prettier, softer, more traditionally feminine or even quirkier customer, with leggings, tanks and other sporty elements rendered in really gorgeous patterns and details. I love Mara Hoffman’s patterns, and Lucas Hugh also does amazing (though spendier) ones as well. Slightly more affordable options are done regularly by Stella McCartney for Adidas — and depending on the month and season, Fabletics regularly does a quirkier print.
This is a great approach for someone who doesn’t want to deal with layers, or needs clothes that are streamlined and highly technical — but still loves a bit of romantic fancy at the gym or studio or on a run.
Shoes are the trickiest part here
The hard part about this is how my friend hates sneakers. She wears them for workouts, of course — she puts on serious miles as a runner — but wearing them in her day-to-day makes her feel very unlike herself. The hardcore thing to do is to switch out your sneakers for something else — a black Frye boot mixes well with a lot of workout clothes, for instance.
But if that is just too much — and you don’t want to lug another pair of shoes alongside a diaper bag, a work bag and la la la, as part of the classic overburdened “mom with too many bags” situation — then I’d advise going with one of the trendy ‘flyknit’ sneakers now, which feel a little more ‘organic’ than the typical nylon and leather. Patterned sneakers have also become quite the thing, as well — these are a great option for those wanting a bit more boho whimsy at the gym.
(Of course, this depends on your workout and sport — a runner, for instance, is going to rely a lot heavily on wearing a proper shoe than, say, someone who does HIIT workouts and lifts weights.)
Interestingly enough, most relaxed, hippie bohemian types I know actually aren’t hardcore exercisers — they’re just as relaxed and hippie about their exercise as they are about their clothes, and honestly don’t really workout in the everyday sense of the word. But just for the few romantic bohemians who also happen to be in training for marathons, well, I hope this gives you some ideas!