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I’ve Found New York’s Summer Athleisure Uniform

The new matching set.

Originally Published: 
Aemilia Madden
Aemilia Madden bike shorts
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I stepped off my plane from Oakland, California dressed in jeans and a long-sleeve tee only to find myself enveloped in that sticky cloud of NYC humidity. It’s the kind of embrace that you would rather pull away from than indulge, but after six months on the west coast, I was just glad to be back to my “real life” in the city. But, coming back I realized quickly that my wardrobe needed updating. Walking around my new neighborhood, there was a new de facto uniform: bike shorts sets. Stretchy spandex bottoms with a bra to match, often in bright colors or with cool design elements like cutouts or ornamental straps.

Yes, it’s an outfit I already own but tend to wear exclusively while I’m working out. Suddenly, I saw friends wearing them to the bar, spotted women wearing them while out running errands, and even as part of their Pride Parade uniform. This workout set is now designated for potentially sweaty everyday life situations, not just workouts.

The first time I put on the set I own (a light blue heathered combo from Outdoor Voices), I admit that I felt a little overly exposed. I’m usually not too phased by showing some skin — whether it be via gauzy gown, cutout top, or tight spandex — but transitioning this barely-there uniform to an activity like dinner or a lunch date felt like overstepping the bounds of my comfort zone. I worried about tugging the bottoms of my shorts down, tugging my waistband up, fidgeting with the bra straps as between-the-boobs sweat began to form... Just because something is made to sweat in doesn’t mean you should wear it in every sweaty situation, right? Right?

Aemilia Madden

Well, despite my initial trepidation, here I am, sitting at home on my sofa in 97-degree heat, embracing the shorts set as my summer 2021 uniform. I have to acknowledge that it manages to bridge the gap between the two sartorial camps I’ve seen emerge among my peers over the last few months: a proclivity for keeping the comfy-casual quarantine uniform alive, and yes, the excitement around hot girl summer. While my current set seems a little too skimpy for dressier occasions, I’ve started to research options with a bit more coverage — namely, longer inseams and a higher waist — that I might just feel comfortable enough to wear to an afternoon visit to a bar. If all else fails, there’s also the option of throwing a button-down or T-Shirt on top for added coverage, but I acknowledge that during peak summer, the less layers touching my skin, the better.

Below, I’m outlining the best ways to embrace the trend whether you’re based in NYC or not. It’s hot out there, so dress accordingly.

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Sporty Set

If the sole purpose of your set is for workouts, opt for tried and true options from sportswear brands you love. Prioritize material, focusing on sweat-wicking fabrics that will help keep your skin healthy and minimize sweatiness in the heat.

Bold & Colorful

Don’t be afraid to embrace fun colors with this trend, especially if your intention is to wear your set out for an activity like drinks with friends. You can also mix and match colors for a playful take that will make old options feel new again.

Trend Forward

This cool combo is a lowkey way to embrace some of summer’s biggest ready-to-wear trends like cutouts and corsetry. While this take on the trend may not be the most practical for a spin class or weightlifting session, it’s great for around town.

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