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Outdoors/Adventure

Alli Harvey: Athleisure is the rare cultural trend where Alaskans are ahead of the curve

  • Author: Alli Harvey
  • Updated: April 19
  • Published April 19

Hundreds of people — plenty in athleisure attire — practice yoga at the Delaney Park Strip near downtown Anchorage during the Alaska Club’s Yoga in the Park session in 2016.  (Bill Roth / ADN archive 2016)

A couple of years ago I would have cobbled together a definition for "athleisure" based on several disparate articles on the internet and my own observations.

But now, after several years of this national fashion trend, I can simply refer to Merriam Webster where athleisure is defined as "casual clothing designed to be worn both for exercising and for general use."

For many Alaskans, this may simply be the latest pop-culture word to describe what we've practiced for years: practical comfort.

I first learned of athleisure several months ago. Yes, I am aware I live under a rock. I know because that's exactly what my sister and cousin said when I innocently queried, "What's athleisure?"

After pulling up photos of celebrities Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, and Kanye West on their phones to illustrate, I experienced something surprising. Yes, it was recognition. I, too, often wear loungewear out and about, clothing barely this side of sweatpants. One of my favorite outfits to wear to work features stretchy pants under a skirt.

This goes back to one of my favorite things about Alaska. When I moved from New York City to Anchorage, one of the first things that stuck out about my new city was that the dress code seemed lax and no one seemed to care what I was wearing.

I quickly embraced whatever clothing allowed me to most comfortably hop on my bike after work. Over time, this meant that the collection of black running tights in my dresser drawers multiplied.

In my defense, like many Alaskans I am a generally active person. Wearing outdoor clothing as part of a casual outfit is almost always my unspoken commitment to getting outside during the day. This is in contrast to the YouTube video ACTIVEWEAR that went viral making fun of women who wear workout clothes with no intention of working out.

But I just never had a name for the trend.

John Clark is a purchaser for Skinny Raven Sports in Anchorage, which sells everything from running shoes and performance wear designed strictly for outdoor use, to Danskos and high-quality merino wool attire. He said "athleisure" is simply a new name for an old concept.

"We've been on the intersection of casual and athletic for many years," Clark said. "From style on a casual, more fashion side, to the practicality and performance of athletic, we've always been connected to both sides of that with our business."

Clark noted that athleisure won't stretch too far to one side of the spectrum. If you're running Crow Pass or Mount Marathon, for instance, "athleisure" won't cut it. But if a nice windbreaker jacket looks great and you can wear it around town, all the better.

But even if athleisure was a fashion trend embraced by Alaskans before there was an official portmanteau, the national trend still seems to be showing up.

In 2013, lululemon, the brand nearly synonymous with athleisure thanks to its ubiquitous yoga pants, first appeared on the scene in Alaska. It was a cautious entry. First came a showroom on Northern Lights Boulevard to test the market. When sales boomed, this led to the opening of a full-fledged store in Anchorage's Fifth Avenue Mall.

Annie Tasker, assistant manager in the Anchorage lululemon store, said Alaskans love technical products. "More cotton-y, loungewear does really well at other lululemons but not up here," Tasker said. Items designed for high-sweat, high-intensity activity sell quickly.

Tasker said the CrossFit and yoga communities are booming in Anchorage and enthusiasts show up in the store. But, unlike locations in the Lower 48, she said, "Even the yogis who are in the studio every day, even the crossfitters get outside. This is something that stands out in the Anchorage community. I noticed in Salt Lake City for instance that there were a lot of tennis players and they just did tennis, and the crossfitters just did CrossFit."

In Anchorage, people are interested in multiple sports — many of which, if not most, take place outdoors. In winter, many customers purchase base layers for backcountry skiing, Tasker said.

For the entrepreneur, the athleisure trend may provide a boost. Linda Leary is founder and owner of FisheWear, based in Anchorage. "We kind of fell into athleisureware trying to fix a problem for women," she said.

She started the company two years ago trying to service the fishing industry for fly fishing. "That's my passion," said Leary. "But what we found is that it was cross-sports product we were designing. There's not a lot out there for women for outdoor activities that's not olive, brown, green or black. We were finding that women that fish, run, hike or paddleboard — they seemed to like our products too."

Leary described FisheWear's fish designs as abstract, colorful and fun. "One of the initial concepts was we wanted to be able to go from the river, where it's the clothing you wear in your waders, to dinner," she said. "So that's kind of the athleisure thing."

In Alaska, many of the best restaurants don't bat an eye at Carhartts. Down skirts are part of the modern female Anchorage-dweller's standard uniform. Riding a bike to get a glass of wine in the evening is arguably one of the best parts of longer daylight hours in summer. Many offices seem to accept a Patagonia label as fancy enough.

In fact, it seems that no place defines the "athleisure" spirit better than Alaska. Perhaps this is one cultural trend where we Alaskans are actually ahead of the curve.

Or at least that's what I tell myself. Boy, are these leggings comfortable.

Alli Harvey is a freelance writer from Palmer who works in Anchorage. 

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