The Daily Tar Heel
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The Daily Tar Heel

We’ve all experienced that awkward lull between classes. There’s just enough time where you could trek back to your dorm or house, but you’d have to leave again after 30 minutes and book it back to class.

The alternative is that you could find a spot on campus to wait out the time until you’re due back in the classroom, tinkering around on your laptop or reading a book you found buried in your backpack.

On the first day of classes, I found myself in one of those lulls. I decided to bide my time on the steps of Wilson Library – people-watching was my activity of choice.

I had been turning over the question of “to return home or not to return home” in my mind, but after the flood of people had retreated inside their respective buildings post-class change, a new question replaced the old one.

“To athleisure or not to athleisure?”

As elementary school kids on the first day of class, we’d dress up like it was its own occasion and beam at cameras for commemorative photographs.

As college students on the first day of class, we don shorts and T-shirts and tennis shoes. There might be one commemorative photograph, but now it's about dressing for comfort rather than first impressions. 

On those Wilson Library steps, athleisure passed by in a blur.

Athletic shorts made to look like athletic skirts. Polka dot exercise dresses. Basketball shorts. Sweat wicking tees. Nike, Adidas, Lululemon and everything in between. It looked like there had been a mass exodus from a group workout class, and everyone was herding across the Quad to hit the showers.

Interspersed between the athleisure sheep were lone wolves in – gasp! – jeans or dresses or full outfits that actually required thought. How many times have you passed someone who looked like this and thought, "Ugh! I want to dress up for class more!” 

And then, we don’t.

Most of us choose practicality over the perfect outfit. Functionality over fashion. Is it lazy, or is it just realistic? We traverse all over campus, often clocking multiple miles in one day, so platform heels really might be more of a hindrance than a help. But does athleisure still allow for self-expression, or do we just become one out of many when we choose an exercise tank and 2.5 inch inseam shorts?

The questions can continue even further. There are some items that are athleisure through and through — yoga pants and leggings, just to name two — but the lines can get blurred when you decide what to pair them with. What do you call yoga pants worn with a baby tee and an oversized jacket?

Jeans would have been the assumed accompanying pants for an outfit like that, but no more. Athlesiure has become so commonplace that we’ve incorporated some of its staples into our basic looks, even when we don’t realize it. 

There’s nothing wrong with athleisure; this was simply an inner dialogue that I had with myself about why we wear what we wear. For some of us, clothes are just clothes. For others, clothes are self-expression, a boost to self-confidence or a way to feel productive.

There’s no right answer — at least in my closet there isn't. One day I’ll wake up and want to piece together a complete, statement-making outfit; one day I’ll wake up and choose comfort. I’ll check the weather, I’ll assess what I’m feeling and I’ll ask myself “to athleisure or not to athleisure?”


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