Function leads to form and good form leads to dramatic workout fashions

January 28, 1993|By Tracy Achor Hayes | Tracy Achor Hayes,Dallas Morning News

Statistics say the average person gains seven pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year's. Couple that with the annual-resolution tradition, and it's easy to see why gym attendance hits a high every January.

True, many of those new enthusiasts will be back to TV and fast food by Feb. 1. (Statistics again.) But some will stay with fitness programs -- learning to love Lycra and their bodies all at the same time.

"You can't work out if you're uncomfort-able," states Susa Powter, Dallas exercise guru and fitness-wear designer. "That's Rule No. 1. You can't do it in dress clothes. And you can't do it in baggy sweats that hide your body and weigh you down and make you overheat."

And that, say the pros, means body-hugging unitards and leggings, leotards and crop tops and even the dreaded thong.

As frivolous (or daunting) as those colorful snippets of cotton and Lycra might appear on the hanger, they're actually models of function and efficiency. Streamlined shapes eliminate bulk, allowing you to monitor your posture and body alignment for maximum results and minimal risk of injury. Lycra-boosted fabrics offer support, but still provide a wide range of movement.

Today's basic gym wardrobe has evolved dramatically from what aerobics pioneer Gilda Marx calls "the drab days."

Her Flexatard line, launched in 1977, was the first targeted specifically to the burgeoning aerobics market. The shiny, skin-tight leotards and leggings she innovated were elastic and aesthetic. They were colorful. They minimized bulges.

Today, Los Angeles-based Gilda Marx Industries boasts annual sales of more than $40 million, and encompasses six separate athletic apparel lines. She's also got competition. With labels such as Marika, Softouch, Baryshnikov, Bodiform, Affluence, Heatwave and Sumbodeez, the racks of fitness stores now are as crowded -- and colorful -- as a Saturday morning aerobics class.

Among the many choices: sleek, one-piece unitards and mid-thigh "biketards"; tights in a range of lengths -- ankle, calf, capri, bike and the newest (and leggiest) star, demi-bike; and an amazing array of leotards and crop tops, from traditional tanks to deltoid-flaunting Y-backs.

Over the past decade, matte-finish cotton-and-Lycra blends have replaced shiny nylons as the fitness industry's mainstay. But other advanced performance fabrics also are shaping up as key players. Gilda Marx is one of many bodywear firms that offers a line lined Coolmax, a synthetic designed to keep you cooler and drier by wicking moisture away from the skin.

Another Du Pont fabric, Supplex, also is flexing its muscle. A favorite of serious athletes, Supplex is a nylon microfiber that combines a soft feel with the fast-drying properties of a synthetic. Prices are 25 to 30 percent higher than for conventional blends.

Technology clearly is a factor in fitness apparel. But it isn't the only shaping force. Though the specifics change from club to club, gym wear definitely has its own brand of chic.

One trend almost everybody notes: As people get in shape, so do their clothes.

"Everybody wants to be covered up when they first come in," says Brenda Rostamo, who leads aerobic and step classes in Dallas.

"After they've been working out a while, they graduate to a cap-sleeve top and capris. And when they get really fit, they may take the big step to a bike pant and thong."

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