Struggling at the Gym? Try a Tutu

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Forget basic leggings and sports bras. Athletic wear with cutouts, sheer paneling, and pleats is gaining in popularity

By Chavie Lieber – WSJ

Sam Lindauer, a competitive bodybuilder in Hanover, N.H., used to always reach for leggings before heading to the gym. These days, she’s wearing a tutu.

The 31-year-old fitness coach was scrolling TikTok in April when she came across a pink skort with a tulle overlay from the brand Popflex and decided to give it a whirl.

“It definitely looks out of place, at a bodybuilding gym of all places, but I’ve only gotten compliments,” Lindauer said. “It makes me feel like a Barbie.”

Lately, more fitness enthusiasts like Lindauer are trading in neutral-colored tops and leggings for girly athleisure. Across retail, floaty skirts, sports bras with ruffles, and athletic dresses with revealing cut-outs have become best-sellers, as shoppers buy into TikTok-approved trends like “tennis core,” “ballet core” and “Pilates princess.”

Sheer overlays, asymmetrical shoulders, and corsets are typical on the runway, but these details have trickled into sportswear.

“All of a sudden, I’m a fairy ballerina princess running through a forest, and not this out-of-shape mess on a treadmill,” said Rosi Muñoz, a 34-year-old high school biology teacher in Atlanta. She has Popflex skorts in green and black that she wears to the gym. “It’s the kind of skirt that a 6-year-old me would wear.”

At Alo, which grew popular selling sleek yoga separates, sales of sheer products are up 250% since last year, said Abby Gordon, the brand’s executive vice president of design and merchandising. A crowd favorite, an Alo sheer plisse tennis skirt repeatedly sells out. At Carbon38, the luxury activewear company known for colorful leggings, skirt sales are up 386% from 2023, said Ann Marie Giunta, its vice president of merchandising. Best-selling items at Carbon38 include long, pleated skirts and sweatpants embellished with pearls. Fashion retailer Revolve, which shoppers go to for trendy denim and going-out tops, saw sales of active dresses jump 390% in 2024, according to fashion director Divya Mathur. Popular styles at Revolve include open-back tennis rompers, one-shoulder sports bras, and shiny, hot-pink leggings.

“The trend is ultra-femme,” said Mathur. She said shoppers aspired to dress like ballerinas, even if “they probably are not doing ballet.”

Years after sportswear giants dominated the market with sleek black spandex, customers say they’re excited to see colorful frills and sheer details on store racks. Amber Cruz, a first-grade teacher in Oklahoma City, said she liked to wear ruffle-shouldered sports bras from Aerie to her Pilates classes.

“It makes you feel cute,” said Cruz, 25. “And it doesn’t have branding all over it, which is nice. It’s not big, ol’ Nike.”

Shoppers also developed fatigue over mundane gym clothes.

Claudia Torres Rondón, a luxury brand consultant, in a top from Port de Bras. ‘I feel hot and that’s the goal: how do I look better than everyone else?’ she said. PHOTO: CLAUDIA TORRES RONDÓN

“We all wore athleisure 24/7 during the pandemic, so now I want to wear something really stylish,” said Claudia Torres Rondón, a 33-year-old luxury brand consultant who lives in New York, Mexico City, and Austria.

Torres Rondón likes to wear tennis gear from Port de Bras, a U.S.-based brand that features clothes with cut-outs across the shoulders, chest, and stomach.

“I feel hot and that’s the goal: how do I look better than everyone else?” Torres Rondón said. “Having a cute outfit distracts people from how bad I can be in tennis.”

Clarissa Egaña, the co-founder of Port de Bras, recalled being dismissed by buyers at American trade shows just a few years ago. “The fashion directors would say, ‘I can’t buy your stuff because my customer would never do ruffles when she works out.’” Now, her brand is sold at Anthropologie, Bergdorf Goodman, Shopbop, and Revolve.

Egaña said some of her customers are what she calls a “Porsche Pilates Girlfriend”—heavily invested in aesthetics, less so in exercising. Others are shopping for clothing to wear while playing trendier racket sports like padel and pickleball.

“The tennis look is typically all white, or country club retro, but the pickleball and padel player want something with more color, more texture and more fun,” Egaña said.

Cassey Ho, the chief executive and head designer at Popflex, which makes Lindauer and Muñoz’s tulle skorts, has seen her business grow 110% in May, compared to last year. Her clothing brand has grown to eight figures, she said.

“Everyone is into hot girl walks and Pilates, and that allows you to wear low-impact stuff, and have more fun with the designs,” said Ho.

The clothing brand Popflex has grown to eight figures, said Cassey Ho, its founder and chief executive.POPFLEX

Popflex got an extra boost in April thanks to Taylor Swift, who wore one of Ho’s tiered lavender skorts in a YouTube video in April. (The skirt immediately sold out and there’s currently a 12,000-person pre-order list for it.) Ho has had to fend off hordes of copycats, including a shadow brand that pulled her marketing videos and used AI to remove her face.

Some popular styles are better suited for low-impact fitness. “I highly recommend tape for the cut-outs,” said Meghan McFerran, a 29-year-old fitness instructor who said she had risked wardrobe malfunctions when wearing a cut-out top while dancing. Tracy Anderson, founder of the celebrity-favorite studio Tracy Anderson Method and her namesake clothing label, said that clothes with sheer paneling are great for sweating.

Anderson suggested women wearing feminine styles was a timely choice, as questions over reproductive rights loom across the country. “We’re feminine, we’re beautiful, we’re going to put on our tutus and you cannot own our bodies,” she said.

But Victoria Gibbs, a yoga instructor in Manhattan, said her motives for wearing a pink ballerina-inspired skirt from Free People to Equinox was strategic, and not politically inclined.

“I’m on the hunt for a boyfriend,” Gibbs, 38, said. “And the skirt definitely catches people’s eye.”