Does anyone wear real clothes anymore? I can’t remember the last time I saw women 50 and older not in black leggings. It has become our daily uniform. Gym-inspired clothes may not do more than make us feel cool and fit, but who needs more incentive to wear them than that? Here’s the thing, though: Sometimes what feels good can look wrong if your body and those leggings and tees are out of sync. So here’s how to get athleisure all right, and one or two tweaks is all it takes.

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11 Tips for Buying and Styling Athleisure Wear

Embrace the comfort of hybrid clothing with these easy guidelines

by Lois Joy Johnson, AARP, April 15, 2021 | Comments: 0

SERGEYRYZHOV/ISTOCK/GETTY IMAGES PLUS/GETTY IMAGES

Does anyone wear real clothes anymore? I can’t remember the last time I saw women 50 and older not in black leggings. It has become our daily uniform. Gym-inspired clothes may not do more than make us feel cool and fit, but who needs more incentive to wear them than that? Here’s the thing, though: Sometimes what feels good can look wrong if your body and those leggings and tees are out of sync. So here’s how to get athleisure all right, and one or two tweaks is all it takes.

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  • item 1 of Gallery image Girlfriend Collective Topanga Sports Bra in moss; Try the Zella Exhale Studio Lite Sports Bra in purple violet; Soma Sport Seamless Zip-Front Bra in blackPHOTO BY: NORDSTROM (2); SOMA(Left to right) Girlfriend Collective Topanga Sports Bra in moss; Try the Zella Exhale Studio Lite Sports Bra in purple violet; Soma Sport Seamless Zip-Front Bra in black1. Wear a longline sports bra, not a regular bra.One of the biggest mistakes is wearing a normal bra — like a lacy underwire, T-shirt molded style or soft bralette — under sporty tops. It doesn’t work. Thin, stretchy moisture-wicking fabrics, tops with wide necklines or scope armholes and racerback tanks need a stylish sports bra. Choose one with wide, racerback or X-back straps and an extended band that’s a good inch or 2 inches below the breasts. It’s the magic ingredient that banishes jiggles and rolls. Try the Zella Exhale Studio Lite Sports Bra in pink rouge or purple violet ($49, nordstrom.com) with back closure or the Soma Sport Seamless Zip-Front Bra in nightfall navy ($55, soma.com) with front closure for easy on/off, or choose a pull-on style like the Girlfriend Collective Topanga Sports Bra in moss ($38, nordstrom.com). Black works with everything, but try color for a change — and if it shows … great!
  • item 2 of Gallery image Old Navy UltraLite Racerback Performance Tank for Women in black jack; Athleta Breezy Tank in navy; Soma Sport High-Low Tank in optic whitePHOTO BY: OLD NAVY; ATHLETA; SOMA(Left to right) Old Navy UltraLite Racerback Performance Tank for Women in Black Jack; Athleta Breezy Tank in navy; Soma Sport High-Low Tank in optic white2. Choose body-friendly tanks with the right shape.Sleeveless tanks are an essential part of workouts and the athleisure look. However, they can be tough for women who don’t like baring their upper arms or the skimpy undershirt look on a curvy body. One solution is to choose a racerback tank like the Old Navy Breathe ON Mesh-Racerback Tank Top for Women ($20, oldnavy.gap.com) or Old Navy UltraLite Racerback Performance Tank for Women ($13, oldnavy.gap.com). The deeply whittled armhole reveals more of the shoulder to create the illusion of toned, trim upper arms. The other option is a high-neck tank with long high-low hem like the Athleta Breezy Tank ($44, athleta.gap.com) or the Soma Sport High-Low Tank in saffron, optic white ($49, soma.com) for extra coverage. Try these kinds of tanks, and I bet you buy!
  • item 3 of Gallery image Lou & Grey Lite Ponte Pocket Leggings in Desert Grass; J.Jill Luxe Supima A-Line Tunic in Eclipse; Sam Edelman Granada Slide Sandal in Dark Bourbon LeatherPHOTO BY: LOFT; J.JILL; NORDSTROM(Left to right) Lou & Grey Lite Ponte Pocket Leggings in Desert Grass; J.Jill Luxe Supima A-Line Tunic in Eclipse; Sam Edelman Granada Slide Sandal in Dark Bourbon Leather3. Pair leggings with the right pieces.The problem with black leggings is we treat them as “pants,” not as an athleisure item. Here’s the difference. Black leggings are great at the gym and for errands and workouts with long tunic tops or sweatshirts and sneakers. They look amazing in cold weather as a base for layers, sweaters and boots. The problem arrives when we force leggings to be pants and pair them with fitted tops, lots of jewelry and dressier flats or heels. Then they look like pantyhose. For a sporty, chic combo, pair leggings like the Lou & Grey Lite Ponte Pocket Leggings in Desert Grass ($60, loft.com) with a long tunic tee like the J.Jill Luxe Supima A-Line Tunic in Eclipse ($59, jjill.com), and add flat mule sandals like the Sam Edelman Granada Slide Sandal in Dark Bourbon Leather ($60, nordstrom.com). And for once, skip black and try a mix of fresher neutrals like navy and white or earth tones and olive.
  • item 4 of Gallery image Ann Taylor The Pull On Jogger Pant in black; Universal Standard Hathaway Jersey Jogger Pants in black sand; Caslon Drawstring Linen Joggers Plus in Green BeetlePHOTO BY: ANN TAYLOR; UNIVERSAL STANDARD; NORDSTROM(Left to right) Ann Taylor The Pull On Jogger Pant in black; Universal Standard Hathaway Jersey Jogger Pants in black sand; Caslon Drawstring Linen Joggers Plus in Green Beetle4. Swap out sweatpants for joggers.The combo of fleece, slouch and drawstring waist has made sweatpants so comforting that we ignored the scale for months. However, now try ankle-cropped joggers. Cut to skim over curves and taper to a clean fit at the ankles, joggers (unlike sweatpants) have no extraneous fabric to billow or bulge. Those in jersey knits such as Universal Standard Hathaway Jersey Jogger Pants in black sand, ($78, universalstandard.com) are more casual, while woven ones — like the Ann Taylor The Pull On Jogger Pant in black ($89, anntaylor.com) or Caslon Drawstring Linen Joggers Plus in Navy Peacoat or Green Beetle ($59, nordstrom.com) — have more structure for a polished look. Try wearing joggers tonally or match the sleekest look … and lose the scale.
  • item 5 of Gallery image Van's Ward Sneaker — Women's in taupe; Keds Double Decker Slip-on Sneaker in grey; Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Ox in hyper pinkPHOTO BY: DSW (2); ZAPPOS(Clockwise from top left) Van’s Ward Sneaker — Women’s in taupe; Keds Double Decker Slip-on Sneaker in grey; Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Ox in hyper pink5. Choose low-top or slip-on fashion sneakers.If there’s one athleisure item we’re all on board with, it’s sneakers. Appealing options range from high-tops to super sporty running shoes. However, for daily wear classic low-top lace-ups and slip-on styles make the most sense. They’re lighter and appear less clunky — even with platform soles. If you’re getting into softer neutrals or pastels now, try a beige or gray sneaker — like Van’s Ward Sneaker — Women’s in taupe ($65, dsw.com) or Keds Double Decker Slip-on Sneaker in grey ($55, dsw.com) — instead of white or black. For a pop of color choose trendy pink — from ballerina pale to bubblegum — like the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Ox in hyper pink ($39, zappos.com). Look for airy fabrics like canvas, mesh knits or perforated uppers to keep tootsies cool.
  • item 6 of Gallery image Zella Amazing Cozy Wrap Jacket; Athleta Ethereal Cocoon Wrap in tempest violet; Adidas by Stella McCartney TruePurpose JacketPHOTO BY: NORDSTROM; ATHLETA; BLOOMINGDALE’S(Left to right) Zella Amazing Cozy Wrap Jacket; Athleta Ethereal Cocoon Wrap in tempest violet; Adidas by Stella McCartney TruePurpose Jacket6. Opt for a performance jacket or yoga wrap as topper.When you want to pull together any top and bottom fast, what do you reach for? A blazer or leather moto jacket. But when you want to give athleisure pieces a finishing touch, make that third piece a voluminous cardigan or zip-front workout jacket. A black zip-front track jacket such as the Adidas by Stella McCartney TruePurpose Jacket ($130, bloomingdales.com) sharpens soft joggers and wide-leg pants, while a draped cardigan — like the Zella Amazing Cozy Wrap Jacket ($89, nordstrom.com) or the Athleta Ethereal Cocoon Wrap in shadow olive or tempest violet ($89, athleta.gap.com) — provides extra coverage for leggings. All look equally stylish with any dress, skirt or jean you wear as well.
  • item 7 of Gallery image Chico's Zenergy Neema Travel Pants in modern taupe; Everlane's The Track Wide-Leg Pant in honey; Athleta Brooklyn Ankle Pant in mountain olivePHOTO BY: CHICO’S; EVERLANE; ATHLETA(Left to right) Chico’s Zenergy Neema Travel Pants in modern taupe; Everlane’s The Track Wide-Leg Pant in honey; Athleta Brooklyn Ankle Pant in mountain olive7. Trade sports pants for tailored ones.Women who think athleisure is just for athletic types or couch potatoes are missing the boat. Sleek, modern elastic-waist pull-on pants cropped above the ankles are for everyone who wants a sophisticated fuss-free alternative to real pants. Let’s be honest, joggers and leggings and any pant with a knit cuff still may be too casual for some workplaces and situations. Don’t let the words track pant or travel pants put you off. Easy to move in, wrinkle-free straight-leg styles — like the Athleta Brooklyn Ankle Pant in navy, mountain olive or black ($89, athleta.gap.com) or Chico’s Zenergy Neema Travel Pants in modern taupe ($80, chicos.com) — and wide-leg versions such as Everlane’s The Track Wide-Leg Pant in honey, light heather grey or black ($58, everlane.com) will change your life.
  • item 8 of Gallery image Loft Lou & Grey Pocket Softserve Tee in deep lichen green; GapFit Breathe T-Shirt in heather grey; J.Jill Fit Relaxed A-Line Tee in dusk bluePHOTO BY: LOFT; GAP; J.JILL(Left to right) Loft Lou & Grey Pocket Softserve Tee in deep lichen green; GapFit Breathe T-Shirt in heather grey; J.Jill Fit Relaxed A-Line Tee in dusk blue8. Buy relaxed tees, not fitted ones.Relaxed is a big word. It covers tops that float over the torso to ones that are really roomy. The whole point is ease and flow. You want tees that don’t fit like a second skin or reveal muffin tops and have enough length to cover your belly and — in the case of high-low hemlines — most of your derriere. Choose a sleeve length that you prefer — a cap sleeve like the J.Jill Fit Relaxed A-Line Tee in dusk blue, navy or sky ($49, jjill.com); a soft short sleeve like the Loft Lou & Grey Pocket Softserve Tee in deep lichen green or black ($40, loft.com); or a long sleeve like the GapFit Breathe T-Shirt in heather grey, true black or olive green ($26, gap.com). Note that not all athleisure tees are moisture-wicking; cotton- or linen-based fabrics offer breezy comfort, too.
  • item 9 of Gallery image Everlane's The Lightweight French Terry Crew in heather grey; Universal Standard Fiona Open Side Sweatshirt in light blue; Old Navy's Loose-Fit French-Terry Crew-Neck Tunic for Women in Black JackPHOTO BY: EVERLANE; UNIVERSAL STANDARD; OLD NAVY(Left to right) Everlane’s The Lightweight French Terry Crew in heather grey; Universal Standard Fiona Open Side Sweatshirt in light blue; Old Navy’s Loose-Fit French-Terry Crew-Neck Tunic for Women in Black Jack9. Choose a straight-fit sweatshirt.We’re used to those college-days sweatshirts that billow and blouson at the waist or big, shapeless fleecy numbers. Forget them! The best sweatshirts for us are crewneck, straight and minimalist in design and in a light French terry to flatter bodies of every shape and size without looking like camouflage. Choose a sharp angular style with side vents like the Universal Standard Fiona Open Side Sweatshirt in light blue ($74, universalstandard.com) or Everlane’s The Lightweight French Terry Crew in heather grey ($45, everlane.com). For extra coverage, opt for a longer version such as Old Navy’s Loose-Fit French-Terry Crew-Neck Tunic for Women in Black Jack or heather gray ($28, oldnavy.gap.com).
  • item 10 of Gallery image BP. Classic Cozy Lounge Pants in black; Heavenly by Victoria Supersoft Lightweight Modal Fleece Easy Pullover Hoodie in withered rose; H&M Cashmere-Blend Joggers in taupe melangePHOTO BY: NORDSTROM; VICTORIA’S SECRET; H&M(Left to right) BP. Classic Cozy Lounge Pants in black; Heavenly by Victoria Supersoft Lightweight Modal Fleece Easy Pullover Hoodie in withered rose; H&M Cashmere-Blend Joggers in taupe melange10. Look into loungewear.If you’re torn between wearing outdoor clothes indoors and vice versa, know that athleisure has a kid-sister category called loungewear. It has lots of the same elements — the joggers, hoodies, pull-on pants and leggings — but the fabrics are softer and lighter. Loungewear is a gold mine for athleisure items that you won’t find in the fitness sections of sites and stores. For example, cashmere-blend joggers such as H&M’s Cashmere-Blend Joggers in taupe melange or marsala red ($60, hm.com) are elegant enough for a birthday bash; a featherweight hoodie like the Heavenly by Victoria Supersoft Lightweight Modal Fleece Easy Pullover Hoodie in withered rose, pure black or sage brush ($45, victoriassecret.com) is supple enough to layer under a blazer; and the wide-leg BP. Classic Cozy Lounge Pants in black ($39, nordstrom.com) could easily head out to dinner.
  • item 11 of Gallery image H&M V-Neck Sweatshirt in black; Athleta Studio Barre Sweatshirt in black; Eloquii Tie Back Sweatshirt in blackPHOTO BY: H&M; ATHLETA; ELOQUII(Left to right) H&M V-Neck Sweatshirt in black; Athleta Studio Barre Sweatshirt in black; Eloquii Tie Back Sweatshirt in black11. Try a sexy, black athleisure top.No, this is not a typo. It figures that sooner or later some sensuality would slip in to the sporty-clothes genre. If you’ve worn high-neck halters or off-the-shoulder and/or one-shoulder tops, you know a peek of skin can be a good thing. Go for a deep V-neck sweatshirt like the H&M V-Neck Sweatshirt in black ($18, hm.com), an off-shoulder ballet top like the Athleta Studio Barre Sweatshirt in black ($69, athleta.gap.com), a back-baring style like the Eloquii Tie Back Sweatshirt in black ($70, eloquii.com), or the Daily Practice by Anthropologie Judy Cut-Out Tunic Tee in charcoal ($68, anthropologie.com).

Lois Joy Johnson is a beauty and style editor who focuses on women 50 and older. She was the beauty and style editor at Ladies’ Home Journal and a founding editor of More magazine. She has written three books: The Makeup Wakeup, The Wardrobe Wakeup and The Woman’s Wakeup.

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