Active sportswear has sprinted out of the gym, galloped away from the stables and schussed off the slopes. It's turning up on the runways in New York and Europe.
Designers who survive beyond their first collections often credit street styles and real people as their inspiration, often finding fashion ideas in places most people wouldn't even think to look.
In recent seasons, Americans' fascination with fitness and comfort convinced U.S. designers to incorporate the basics of active sportswear clothes that look sleek but feel great into their ready-to-wear collections. Now, European designers are following suit.
Those designer interpretations don't come cheap. Often, they're priced as high as five times what the real thing costs. And, because they're intended as street-wear rather than active-wear, they often don't hold up as well, either.
A trip through some riding shops, ski stores and exercise emporiums proved illuminating. In some cases, not only is the real thing less expensive, it actually looks better.
Ski-inspired parkas and stirrup pants are favored by many European designers, including Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel and Gianfranco Ferre. Yet, the sleekest, trimmest stirrup pants we've seen all year on the runways or off are a pair of black, slope-ready ski pants by Bogner. If you ski, they do double duty. If not, they're made well enough to be the only pair of skinny pants you'll need this season. At $194, they aren't exactly cheap, but they still cost at least $100 less than many designer styles.
Stores sell a lot of skiwear to people interested in wearing it somewhere other than the slopes. And skiwear manufacturers pay attention to current fashion styles so skiwear is even more adaptable to the streets. Bogner, for instance, will be offering velvet stirrup pants and waterproof leather skiwear this fall.
If the equestrian looks favored by Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren appeal to you, savings can really add up. The real riding breeches we found cost between $54 and $78, and come in go-with-anything colors of black, gray, navy, rust, brown, beige and cream.
Anyone who works out will testify that few garments are as comfortable as exercise gear, and spandex-strengthened unitards help control jiggle as well. The all-in-one concept is being endorsed by everyone from Rifat Ozbek to Carolyne Roehm, but give credit to Americans Donna Karan and Michael Kors, who have promoted the idea of bodysuits as basics for several seasons.
A unitard made for the gym might cost $60, $90 in a luxury fabric such as velvet or velour. Either way, it's a bargain compared with designer prices, which generally start at about $135.
Sometimes you can put together entire outfits at the saddlery or the ski shop, where other basics include turtlenecks, parkas, oversized sweaters, high boots and redingote-styled riding coats.
But it's more fun to mix-and-match active sportswear with ready-to-wear styles designed for city streets. And take private pleasure from how right they look together.