That’s not just a turn of phrase, either - I do mean the rest of the world. Given the “soft power” of American music, movies, and culture, the casualization of our dress has set off a chain-reaction across an increasingly globalized planet. Fashion historian Deidre Clemens, speaking to The Washington Post in a recent interview, phrased it best: “The American love of sportswear and comfortable clothes has redefined the limits.” Those limits being redefined deal exclusively with the ever-diminishing difference between what’s comfortable and what’s socially accepted as fashionable. The two seem diametrically opposed, but perhaps the two categories were simply waiting for the right bridge between them.
In a 2007 study by the International Journal of Consumer Studies, participants significantly emphasized comfort when given the choice between dressing for fashion or comfort (vs. other “fashion conscious” behaviors such as following the latest apparel trends). However, they all still prioritized fashion conscious behaviors at a higher than average level! The relationship between fashion and comfort is less conflict, more trade-off. Give any waitress the choice of working dinner shift in heels or Converse, and you’ll see how the desire for comfort in style often correlates directly with a love of athletic footwear.
As a college student uniquely exposed to the recent athleisure trend (though I choke on that word), every auditorium lecture is visual proof of those redefined limits in action. That’s not to say I see row after row of Seinfeld-esque New Balances; we may value comfortable shoes and enable their wear like never before, but that 2007 study forced participants to have their cake or eat it.