I spent a day in meggings to see if athleisure can work for men
I was cold and I didn’t have pockets, but at least I looked fabulous
by Bobby Palmer
Even if you don’t know what athleisure is, you’ve seen it. It’s everywhere you go: in your nearest park, in your favourite cafe. It’s probably sitting at a desk right next to you.
Athleisure is nominally gymwear that can be worn outside of the gym, but really it’s so much more than that. It’s a way of life, a new religion that allows women to be as comfortable as they want at work or on the go and look damn good in a pair of Black Milk or Fabletics galaxy-prints while doing it.
And as for men? Well, we’ve lumbered typically behind, refusing to give up our jeans and our suit trousers in search of the ultimate mix of style-meets-comfort. It’s time for all that to change.
If they’re so comfortable and so versatile, there’s no reason other than masculine stubbornness and an outdated reliance on bootcut jeans stopping men from embracing athleisure. And I’m not talking gym vests and tracksuit bottoms; that shit would never work in an office environment. No, I’m talking about the sort of leisurewear that can take you seamlessly from brunch to board meeting to bar.
Not leggings, though. When men are wearing them they’re called “meggings,” as if that somehow makes wrapping your legs in fabulous skintight lycra any more manly. I acquired mine from Kapow Meggings, a company which answer the “Aren’t leggings for girls?” question in their About Us section with: “Hell no, son!”
They gave me a choice of pattern, so I decided upon something subtle. “Bengal” it is.
My first realisation was that it’s quite hard for a man to dress for a pair of meggings. Women’s wardrobes are made for this, but standing in front of a wardrobe full of button-down shirts and too-short sweatshirts I realised I was facing a bit of a challenge.
After about three outfit changes, I settled upon the baggiest jumper I owned, a pair of gym shoes, a black puffer jacket and a black hairband I’d like to say I didn’t already own. With that, I was ready to head to the office.
My legs were cold. Although mid-March, I wouldn’t exactly describe it as shorts weather – and as I walked to work in the drizzle, I wished I had something to cover my bottom half other than a small sheet of stretchy cloth. Like, you know, a pair of trousers.
Still, I made it to the office with only a few disgusted looks – and managed to avoid any disparaging comments until I’d actually reached my desk. “You look like a middle-aged mum who’s just dropped her kids at school,” my colleague tells me. I ignore him.
Two thoughts keep coming into my head. The first is that I’ve never been this comfortable at work, and that I wish I could feel like this every day. The second? Shit, I forgot to put on trousers. Honestly, it feels like you’re wearing nothing at all. I had to keep checking underneath my desk to make sure I hadn’t had a mind lapse and turned up to the office half-naked.
Another thing I’m noticing early on is that, despite the comfort, I have no pockets. This was fine when I had my coat on, but now I was in nothing more than a T-shirt I was struggling with what to do with my phone, my keys and all the other pointless shit I carried around on my hips on a day-to-day basis.
Without a bra to store it in, my phone ends up tucked in my waistband for most of the time, apart from when I’m using the toilet. I stand next to someone from another office at the urinals; he coughs awkwardly and scurries out without washing his hands.
Athleisure, of course, is not about work. It’s about rest; it’s about play. You wouldn’t be dressing like an adult child otherwise. With that in mind, me and some of the girls decided to leave the office for a spot of lunch, perhaps with a pot of green tea or a couple of non-skinny lattes if we were feeling extra naughty.
Walking to our nearest Costa, a guy walking past tells me he’s “digging the tiger.” I’m so chuffed with the compliment, I don’t even tell him it’s leopard.
This is East London, so we also walk past Hollywood actor Rafe Spall, you know, from Life of Pi. I think of asking him for a selfie, but he catches me staring while wearing leggings and an Alice band and looks at me like I’m absolutely fucking mental.
After a coffee and a catchup, I grab a green juice and head to the park to lounge around like the athleisure lifestyle dictates. As I reach the grassy expanse, an aggressive-looking bloke is booting a football against a fence over and over again. He shoots me a dirty look, before asking “Aren’t those a bit girly, boss?”
“Yes!” I cheerfully exclaim, in the voice of a man who a) has no shame and b) has no pocket, therefore no wallet, therefore nothing he can mug me for.
Venturing on, I find a spot which looks perfect for a kick back. Normally I’d be wearing jeans I wouldn’t want to get muddy; regardless, I’d probably feel too awkward to just kick back and drink my smoothie in the great wide open. Not now. In my meggings, I feel no shame.
Dogs are, of course, one of the tenets of the athleisure lifestyle. Why take an outdoor exercise pic in your new Lululemons if you don’t have a super-cute canine to complete the shot?
I, unfortunately, am not a dog owner – but it looks like I needn’t worry. Turns out pups can sniff out the scent of a basic bitch in need, and a friendly little fellow decides to ditch his frisbee so he can come over and lick the apple-and-kale cold press from my face.
Back to the office for a couple more hours of work, before the next step in my athleisure journey: yoga, aka the least-effort-required workout one can possibly do when doing workout gear.
Except, of course, it’s not actually that easy. Especially when you’re not that into your wellness and you basically haven’t stretched since you ditched PE in Year 9.
Still, I persevered in the knowledge that this would be the only exercise I’d do this week and, quite possibly, this month. I even felt like my activewear made me more flexible, even if I did worry about the eyeful I was giving my teacher when I tried to attempt a “crow.”
She did actually take a shine to the meggings – going so far as to say she was going to buy a pair for her fiancé. “We’re going back to Burning Man this year,” she explained. After a day of confused glances and dirty looks, I was beginning to think meggings perhaps were a bit more Burning Man and a bit less Bethnal Green.
You get looked down on for wearing gym leggings as a man. To be fair, you probably get looked down on for wearing gym leggings as a woman too. People think you’re lazy; people think you’re attention seeking. People think you shouldn’t be wearing gym leggings unless you’re, you know, in a gym.
Even one day in, I know their judgements are bullshit. I hate myself for having such opinions in the past; I decide I’ll never again look down on activewear as a legitimate alternative to regular clothing. I understand why people have started spending their lives in brightly coloured gym clothes rather than shirts and ties – it’s because it feels really fucking good.
As I settle down for a pint at a nearby pub, I realise I’ve seen the light. I also realise that the unimpressed eyes of every middle-aged man in the place are on me. I sip my beer. I’m intensely aware of the feeling of the leopard-print lycra on my barely-clothed legs.
And you know what? It feels good.