The concept of sportswear is a funny thing, especially as everybody seems to have a different concept of what it is supposed to be used for.
Most people have at least one hoodie (hooded sweatshirt) floating in their weekend wardrobe. Some women may admit to having owned a sweat suit that was never meant to see a drop of sweat (hello, Juicy Couture).
Though the vintage 1976 motivational montage with Rocky Balboa scaling the Philadelphia Museum of Art's steps remains a classic, if the film were made today, he would probably be attired in something far more colorful and superhero-looking than that drab gray sweat suit.
Those who take their workouts seriously, nevertheless, will be inclined to buy the best garments for their sport of choice. These are often referred to as performance garments, and go far beyond shoes, socks and fleece items.
Athletic clothing for specific athletic activities is now as specialized and personal as the individual. And if one keeps in shape with more than one activity, he or she may be best served having different outfits for different outings.
As yoga and Pilates involve fluid movements and warm rooms, clothes should breathe and be flowy, rather than cling to the body, the primary appeal of GAIAM clothing(www.gaiam. com).
The company credits the popularity of its men's and women's yoga pieces to organic fabrics (such as hemp, bamboo and soy-based fibers), as well as 100 percent pure organic cotton that caress the skin and feel weightless.
However, GAIAM isn't the only line appealing to people looking to get back to nature with their fitness clothes. Though celebrity favorite Green Apple Active(www.greenappleactive. com) made a red-carpet appearance at the 2010 Oscar "Suite of 100 Stars," this brand is not constituted of sweat suits for celebrities who do not sweat.
In fact, Green Apple has enjoyed a steady following since its launch in 2004 by veteran athletic designer Cristofer Smith.
Smith recalls: "Back in 2004, petroleum-based synthetics dominated the athletic apparel industry because of their so-called technical properties. It wasn't until I had already developed and sold many successful brands that I discovered the multiple health and environmental dangers of these synthetic fibers.
"It was then that I embarked on a quest to find an alternative fabrication" — bamboo with cotton — "that would give the customer all of the technical benefits without" the health risks.
Though designer jean powerhouse True Religion once featured sexy, tush-hugging sweat-pants in its boutiques, it made a greater contribution to serious athletic wear when it provided fitness clothing designer Alanna Zabel some valuable advice — just as good investment jeans should flatter and conform naturally to a woman's figure, so should athletic wear.
Zabel created AZIAM (www. aziam.com), dominated by pieces with good drape that are not as boxy as those from comparable organics-based lines.
Zabel also notes that AZIAM garments are fashioned from a unique Supplex fabric (a DuPont-certified nylon fabric) that's milled in Brazil, which results in their feeling lighter on the body during the workout while maintaining great support and shape.
"The Athena offers as much support running on the beach, as it does flexibility in a yoga or Pilates class without breaking an arm to get it on," says Zabel.
The Portland, Ore.-based boutique chain lucy athletic clothing (www.lucy.com) stocks several brands, and its own line of yoga and Pilates gear in natural and blended fabrics.
However, as lucy was conceived to be a kind of one-stop-shop for women who don't limit themselves to one activity, it also sells high-tech clothing for weight-training, outdoor running, hiking, power-walking and other activities in a variety of weights and fabrics for different climates and environments.
Last year, lucy made a splash with its Perfect Core Collection, made with the company's xBAR (extreme body alignment and reforming) technology, meaning that in addition to getting support in all the right places, the wearer is aware of targeted areas during the workout, and will maintain good posture, helping ensure an effective, safe workout.
Under Armour (www.underarmour.com) has evolved into a popular line thanks to its lightweight moisture-wicking fabrics that keep perspiration off the skin, rather than absorb it. The brand has also made coordinating outfits for different climates and sports simple with its specialized seasonal lines, including HeatGear, ColdGear and AllSeasonGear.
Elsewhere in the realm of science-driven performance sportswear, CW-X (www.cw-x.com), produced by Kyoto, Japan-based Wacoal Corp., remained one of Asia's best-kept secrets for years. That changed when Wacoal opened up the Wacoal Sports Science Corporation in New York City, followed with a U.S. launch.
In one study conducted in Kyoto, electrical pulse activity of the muscles was measured among athletes wearing different kinds of shorts. Legs supported by CW-X showed a negligible decrease in fatigue factor.
Though UA and CW-X are built for year-round fitness regimens, socks by Darn Tough Vermont could prove to be a must for the winter, especially given Philadelphia's "occasionally" snowy conditions, and the need to keep feet dry and warm.