The new casual

Athletic wear is not just for yoga anymore.

It’s been 16 years since Lululemon opened its first store in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood and transformed how Canadians, and the rest of the world, dressed on their yoga mats.

And off. Yoga wear was once a nonexistent fashion category, but now it’s crowded with brands, many of the best being Canadian. This year, Merriam-Webster even added “athleisure” to its dictionaries — it means “casual clothing designed to be worn both for exercising and for general use.”                                             

And office use too. “Tights are the biggest sellers for workplace wear,” says Carlie Wong, lead designer at Vancouver-based Karma Athletics, which has been producing Canadian-made yoga fashions since 2002. Tights (or leggings) pair well with a fitted blazer or stylish sweater, and make marathon workdays and business travel a lot more comfortable. “People are layering tanks under a blazer,” says Yilin Li, sales manager for One Tooth, which is based in Richmond, BC, and has 15 locations across the country. Flowing yoga tank tops can look as classy as silk ones.

Meanwhile, yoga brands now make colourful bras and ones with pretty, web-like straps that Wong says women allow to peek from beneath wide-necked tops. Yoga-inspired jackets, such as the best-selling zip jacket from One Tooth, are all-weather resistant and look polished over a suit. What about men at work? One Tooth sells men’s clothing, but according to Li, “so far, it’s just gym wear.”

This fall, expect brands to stick to classic black and grays, offer more luxurious quick-dry fabrics, play with fashion-forward details such as mesh and pleating and branch out into sports such as golf and tennis — Vancouver’s LIJA excels at skorts (a skirt-and-shorts combination) and flattering polo shirts. Karma features a legging with three to four black fabric details. “They’ll almost read as different shades,” says Wong. The fun, printed tights that have been all the rage in gyms will still be around, but yoga brands know customers like to keep it simple at work and will have the basics in stock. “We’re going to stick with our classic styles,” says Li. “That’s what our customers want.”