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Leggings Are The New Jeans: The Athleisure Obsession

Dressing like you’re on your way to yoga has become high-fashion, and leggings have become the uniform of young girls in high school and colleges everywhere. Millennials and teens are creatures of comfort, and their preferences are making the athleisure trend huge business.

Want to dress and act like a teen? Put on your leggings. Young consumers are choosing leggings over denim, and “athleisure” is in full swing. Piper Jaffary’s most recent teen spending report reveals that activewear a is now more popular than denim among these young consumers, their top clothing brand is Nike, and Lululemon is becoming increasingly popular among teen females. Google’s first ever Fashion Trends Report analyzes the most popular fashions for Spring 2015 based on billions of recent style-related searches. Thanks to the athleisure phenomenon, jogger pants were at the top of the list. Millennials and teens are slipping into comfortable gym-class inspired fashions even when they don’t plan on breaking a sweat. As put it, “It’s never been cooler to be seen looking like you’ve been working out.” Whether you call it athletic wear, fitness streetwear, activewear, or athleisure, it’s huge.

In retrospect, it isn’t all that surprising that the “I just worked out” look has become so incredibly popular with young consumers. They have been telling us that they are creatures of fashion comfort for years now. In 2013, we surveyed Millennials 14-29-years-old about their fashion preferences, and 55% of males and 67% of females surveyed said they prefer comfort over style. Both genders selected “simple” as the word that best described their style. In 2014, when we asked about fashion priorities, 82% of 13-32-year-olds  agreed “comfort is my number one priority in what I wear,” compared to 42% who agreed “style is my number one priority in what I wear,” and 54% who agreed “I dress to impress.” Comfort has been ruling their wardrobes, and combined with their “casual everyday” attitudes, fitness wear has become a go-to style.

At the same time, it has become more and more cool to be into fitness. Celebrities are photographed going in and out of the gym in their perfect fitness gear. With so much momentum around the body positive movement, the motto “fit is the new pretty” is becoming more common. On social media, supermodels like Karlie Kloss are posting Saturday morning post workout photos rather than typical Saturday night party pictures. Fitness celebrities have become popular social media phenomenon, as “belfies” (butt selfies) and ab shots in the gym have propelled young women like Jen Selter and Kayla Itsines, to fame. Hannah Bronfman is a young fashion and health celebrity who over the past year has used social media, specifically Instagram, to earn a loyal following of girls. Her posts revolve around positivity, encouraging clean eating recipes, being kind to the body, fitness, music and fashion. Young stars like Bronfman and Kloss are becoming teens’ go-tos for advice and inspiration on—hopefully balanced—health and fitness. They’re also helping to propel the fitness fashion trend even further.

Now it’s estimated this segment of fashion may grow by almost 50% in the U.S. to a retail market of more than $100 billion by 2020. This wildly popular trend has higher end clothing lines racing to produce workout gear that may or may not be worn to work out. In yesterday’s teen mag roundup, we told you that Nylon’s recent “Good Sports” fashion spread shows that high-end athletic looks are having a major moment. Last year it was announced that Beyoncé is launching an “athletic + fitness streetwear brand” that will be in Topshop stores in fall 2015. GAP is “betting on” athleisure, which is redefining the way that young women, and men, dress. The company’s Athleta brand is gaining on athleisure queen Lululemon, and beginning to reach for a younger group of consumers. Preppy retailer Ann Taylor has quietly launched a “lifewear” brand called Lou & Grey that features items like sweatshirt dresses and lace sweatpants.

The trend shows no sign of slowing down, and as Millennials and teens, who prize comfortable fashion and casual dress codes, age into their spending power dominance, we predict only more brands will enter the athleisure market and find ways to make gym-style a part of their brand personas.