But does it really work? Testing out the athletic wear trend at a sports bar

Testing out athletic wear trend
Testing out athletic wear trend
Photography by Jaclyn Locke; Hair and makeup by Robert Weir for Judyinc.com/Tresemmé Hair Care; Jacket, $4,310, skirt, $1,900, and visor, $240, all by Marni. Top, $45, and shoes, $100, both by Zara

See our Spring 2014 athletic trend guide »

The last time I had contact with a tube sock was sometime in 1989. I was in Grade 9—the last year I was compelled to take gym class. It would fall under the category of extravagant understatement to say that I was not athletically gifted, and it still seems to me that not having to play team sports is one of the major upsides of getting older. So, as soon as gym class was no longer obligatory, I dropped it and fled the other way, at suddenly Olympian velocity.

Today, beholding a tube sock—the madeleine of middle school—still prompts a Proustian montage of fear, lanyards and bad gymnasium lighting. Fair to say, then, that this season’s celebration of haute sportswear is not my (gym) bag. But my childhood experiences with sports, especially the team variety, did provide me with much training in the art of play-meets-public spectacle. It’s a talent I appear to be honing tonight as I take the designer athletic trend for a spin—decked out in fresh-from-the-runway Marni—on game night at Toronto’s Real Sports Bar & Grill.

Sportswear took to the shelves in America during the Great Depression—a time when people began to prize utility over fuss and ornament. Fashion historian Rebecca Arnold wrote that it’s been “mythologized as an expression of American national identity—as practical, rational and authentic.” This season’s “activewear,” however, provides a swift kick to the practical and the rational, adding fancy and glamour to sporty lines and energetic colour.

The skirt I’m sporting, like others in Marni’s spring collection, is adorned with feathery silk ruffles, the visor is as stark white as field-line chalk and the bomber blooms with a fluffy meadow of petals. With its slouchy, voluminous blouson silhouette and rib-knit cuffs and collar, the jacket—an exalted, embellished take on the letterman—has a certain Grease-like glamour. Indeed, when I meet my friend Jessica at the bar, she offers, “Looks like something your BF would have given you in the ’50s to show the world you were going steady.”

But Marni is only one of a team of fashion houses getting into the high-glamour sports game. Prada paired delicate, ladylike bags and bejewelled dresses with (yes) knee-high triple-stripe tube socks and a glam take on the Teva sandal—all in a brazen primary palette of red, gold and lawn green that conjures the colours of NBA jerseys. Emilio Pucci featured beaded hoodies, dresses fashioned from beaded basketball mesh, leather running shorts and gold-studded heavyweight belts. Gucci’s models strutted out of the blocks wearing silk track pants, iridescent Lurex dresses, netted triangle bras and mesh tees made of laser-cut suede. Tom Ford, meanwhile, presented “Power. Athleticism. Powerful Women,” dressing his models in thigh-high lace boots, leather minis, dresses and jackets, fiercely tight and in shades of football brown.

My fellow bar-goers—mostly men in boot-cut jeans and dress shoes—take time between plays to look at me as another, lesser form of amusement. Most behold me and my get-up with a kindly mixture of intrigue and mild confusion. Others look at me with a combination of bewilderment and disdain that makes it clear they’re not exactly up to date on the latest Milan runways.

After a couple of drinks, I make my escape, leaving a path of delicate petals in my wake. “What could be more magical than an outfit that leaves a trail of petals behind?” makeup artist Robert Weir asks dreamily as we make our way through the bar. “That’s glamour!” He’s right, but, magic and glamour notwithstanding, I can’t help feeling how I always feel when it comes to sports—exhilarated at the prospect of a finish line.

When I arrive home, even my cats look at me with a mixture of curiosity and amusement. Yes, I know fashion can be transformative, and should sometimes involve horizon-expansion, but this isn’t quite what I had in mind. I feel about this trend much the way I do about so many sports: They’re impressive and often beautiful to look at, unless you’re looking at me doing them. It’s probably best for me to hang up my tube socks and sprint in the other direction.