REDLINE: Spectrum of Activewear Fashion

Design is where fashion and science meet. (This saying should read ‘art and science’ but I don’t feel guilty pushing my agenda of function and fashion!)  I have fondly watched over the years as activewear has shaped up to be worthy of the title of design. Where activewear designers have placed more emphasis on the look and aesthetic of these garments, it has reaped the benefits of good design.

Through a series of blogs for Redline, I am excited to share the most noteworthy advancements of design in fabrics, fashion, technology, and R&D in the world of activewear. For the inaugural Redline Fashion Blog, I wanted to outline (and acknowledge) the spectrum of activewear fashion.

There are primarily two ends of the spectrum and a heated debate between functional purists and fashionable extremists. The purists believe that activewear (clothing in general) has a purely functional purpose where it is worn to protect the body and provide comfort to the wearer. 

 Example of function over fashion: Men’s triathlon – Does the job, but not very nice to look at. Image courtesy of: http://triathlonulaval.com.

Example of function over fashion: Men’s triathlon – Does the job, but not very nice to look at. Image courtesy of: http://triathlonulaval.com.


Example of function over fashion: Men’s triathlon – Does the job, but not very nice to look at. Image courtesy of: http://triathlonulaval.com.

At the other end of the spectrum is the fashion radical who believes in fashion over function. For the radicals, there is a heavy emphasis on the look of the garment, but they are not necessarily worried about what it is supposed to do. Fashion radicals (by which I mean perplexing runway looks, bad hair/make-up, and emaciated walking hangers) play with activewear as source of inspiration for seasonal collections, but may not intend to run a half marathon in them.

 Example of fashion over function: Betsy Johnson runway show Spring 2013. Image courtesy of: style.com.

Example of fashion over function: Betsy Johnson runway show Spring 2013. Image courtesy of: style.com.

Both ends of the spectrum are equally valuable in the spectrum of activewear where they both provide innovations in clothing that drive the activewear industry. But technical activewear, by no means has to be perplexing, obnoxious, and uninspired and I posit that there is a happy medium somewhere in the middle where fashion and function can come together in a perfect harmony – an idealist camp.


Within the harmony of the optimistic idealist, the traditional notions of running gear are challenged. The purists might say ‘why’, while the radicals might say ‘why not,’ but the idealists say ‘because.’ Idealists draw inspiration from sources across the spectrum. The fun part about being a designer within the utopic area of idealism is the challenge to incorporate fashionable and functional solutions from both ends of the continuum.  In this area of idealism, each detail has a purpose and is not extraneous – or just for looks. It is this part of the spectrum where we can create products that are different, interesting, and thoughtful. This is where new fabrics, textures and techniques meet new silhouettes, colors, and stylistic elements.


Brands that hover near the middle of fashion and function include Stella McCartney for Adidas and Lululemon among others. With what can be construed as playful elements all have a functional intent. They challenge the typical silhouette of ‘traditional athlete apparel,’ while holding function as a central value to the design.

 Example of function and fashion: Stella McCartney for Adidas – smart and beautiful. Image courtesy of: http://www.adidas.com/com/stella/

Example of function and fashion: Stella McCartney for Adidas – smart and beautiful. Image courtesy of: http://www.adidas.com/com/stella/

As you travel further to the left on the spectrum, you will find familiar brands known for producing running apparel, but as you travel to the right there may be some unfamiliar names in the running world. Brands nearer to the right are heavy hitters in the fashion sphere. Unfortunately for men when you hit the middle of the spectrum, your offerings decrease significantly.


One interesting, and notable player is Nike – of course. Collections produced by this activewear megalith range from uninspired and basic, to technically complex, to visually mind boggling. On the spectrum, I placed them on the functional end because when you think Nike you may not immediately think of their more advanced developments, but they are on par with all aspects of the spectrum. New Balance is another brand well on their way to making impacts across the spectrum. Within their advanced development team, New Balance is looking to put forth more technically advanced and aesthetically minded apparel. It should be noted that this list of brands is by no means inclusive, just some major players that exemplify the point. Overall we should view the activewear fashion spectrum as a two way street. Activewear often influences fashion, as much as fashion influences activewear.


The science of function and the art of fashion is a synthesis of good design. It is when fashion and function come together; the possibilities for activewear are infinite. Even within specific brands, they can cross multiple categories of the spectrum of activewear fashion. The activewear spectrum provides a good starting point and launching pad for future blogs that will dive into more specific details and trends within activewear. 
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Blog originally featured on Redlinerunningcompany.com. Check out their COLORADO half marathon race line up!