Athletic gear is the new streetwear
Thoughts on the subcultures that exist within tennis, golf, running, and cycling, and how what we wear is cooler than playing the sport itself.
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Athletic gear has always sucked
And by suck, I mean that it’s always rested on the laurels of what it’s supposed to be, which is: functional.
But function does not equal swag.
Until recently. I’ve noticed something very chill happening on the internet and it’s giving me some hope.
First, some context… A few months back, Copenhagen-based Palmes Tennis Society dropped their latest apparel collection by teaming up with How Long Gone—a lovely podcast run by two middle-aged white guys, Chris Black and Jason Stewart—who modeled the collection. Aside from the obvious top-notch modeling, the collection felt like an antidote to the lack of tasteful athletic gear we’ve seen in recent years.
It got me thinking about clothes and sports.
And how both have been around for a long time. And how we’re hitting this inflection point where the way our clothes look while we’re sporting is just as (if not more) important as how we sport.
In short: athletic clothing carries a certain swagger to it. Individual sports are taking on elements of streetwear, each with its own subcultures and an IYKYK attitude. The clothing is a blend of form and function.
Here are the brands and people driving this shift…
Tennis, for everyone
First up, tennis. Tennis is where I see the greenest space for coolboy brands to emerge, and perhaps a huge opportunity for legacy brands to re-cement their place as the game trends younger.
Palmes Tennis Society is leading the way here. They launched during the pandemic by founder Nikolaj Hansson—an ex-Kinfolk employee—who’s got a terrific eye for design and crafting an aesthetic around the brand.
That said, Nikolaj wants the brand to feel accessible to everyone, not just the Elites.
“The ethos of Palmes is about encouraging people to engage with tennis and tennis culture without feeling like they need to fit into the stereotype of what that culture has represented traditionally… I'd love for anyone to feel like tennis can be for them in whichever way feels normal to them.”
Another is Furi Sport, where Erick Mathelier—a black founder—is rewriting the narrative around accessibility with tennis. The New York Times did a great piece on them a while back about their ambitions in this space.
Their all-black rackets are low-key fire, too!
Surrounding this new-tennis culture is the Instagram accounts, bringing back the nostalgia of Tennis, an era lost in time. It’s completely retro and I’m here for it. Accounts like Slice Tennis Club bring back the nostalgia phenomenally well, and we’ll see them eventually evolve into brands too, selling curated merch or apparel (Racquet Club LA is already doing this).
On the women's side, Rowing Blazers and Alala are doing a nice job bringing fresh apparel table, and the larger opportunity to me in all of this is for brands like FILA and Diadora to re-assert their place culturally.
Next up, there’s cycling. If there’s one thing that pisses me off about cycle culture it’s the legions of bikers who crowd my favorite café on a Saturday morning after their road sesh. That said, cycling absolutely belongs in the category of flexworthy athletic gear, and it’s also the one sport where having the right gear can be make-or-break.
The arc of a Cyclehead
Was DMing with my buddy Jake about how to think about acquiring cycle gear, and he excellently explained the arc of being a Cyclehead (a term that I’m coining).
Breaking down the types of cycling brands
We can’t talk about cycling without acknowledging Rapha, perhaps the godfather of modern cycle brands. Many argue they’ve orchestrated a vibe around cycle culture. Their gear is considered premium, and it’s what many aspire to purchase for their cycling odysseys.
Cycling can get very niche, and there’s a brand for that too. French-based Café du Cycliste takes cycling culture to another level, launching outposts (London, Nice) in cities that reflect where their customers ride. Mallorca, Spain is one such place. The location alone is breathtaking, and it also exposes the level of disposable income to pop by for a ride in Mallorca. Casual.
And if you’re looking for the brand with the most swag, Pas Normal wins this award. “Pas Normal is grail worthy,” says Jake, a hardcore cyclist. “If I see a cyclist wearing it, immediate affinity. I even rock the off-bike stuff and I’ve met a bunch of other cyclists while traveling when I’m wearing their pieces.”
The lines between what you wear while exercising and what you wear on the street get blurred. And that’s exactly how they want it.
Running is perhaps the sport I hate the most out of this bunch.
But the apparel is forcing me to rethink that idea.
Where running apparel is concerned—much like Rapha with cycling—Tracksmith is probably the godfather of modern running brands. They’ve grown fast over the years with a strong focus on making really fucking good gear and apparel. They’ve nailed what it means to be a niche brand in a huge big market. One of my favorite memories from Tracksmith was when they designed a running collection for the Boston Marathon.
The only way to buy it?
You had to *actually* qualify for the Boston Marathon. Talk about a brand equity flex.
Both brands design gear that is highly technical, well-designed, and at a level of craftsmanship that’s second to none. And the products aren’t cheap either. But they are good, and wearing them says a lot about you and your value system as a consumer. My friend and avid runner, Hugh Duffie, justifies his investment in these pieces…
“I don’t even raise an eyebrow at the pieces that are £80/$110, because I know it lasts longer and the quality is there. I ran 1000km last year, so having quality gear makes a huge difference. Plus, it’s important for me to look good while running too.”
Do it for the flex
And then there are the streetwear brands like Madhappy, Aimé Leon Dore, and Noah who leverage running culture to create their own seasonal collections. Madhappy did this for the New York City Marathon…
ALD has made its own running collection as part of its ongoing romance with New Balance.
Annnd Noah did this retro collab with Adidas.
The sport I suck at the most and wish I like hell I was good at it. Golf has the strongest injection of streetwear energy to it right now. The sport has blown up over the last 5-10 for younger consumers; and, if you want to understand the rebellious, streetwearification of what I call Golfcore in 2022, you need to know about Golf Wang first, which is Tyler, the Creator’s brand. If you want to know more about that shift, read what I wrote last year about Golfcore.
In recent years, brands like are Malbon, Vice, Whim, Burning Cart Society, and Seamus are pushing for a new kind of golf aesthetic. These are independent brands trying to support the cult followers, golf enthusiasts, golf hobbyists, and people like me who, uh, don’t play golf (but want to cop the pieces).
Additionally, other musicians are weirdly into golf too. Besides Golf Wang, Macklemore’s got his Bogey Boys brand, and Drake recently dropped a golf capsule collection with NOCTA by Nike.
We live in a strange world, one where tennis, golf, running, and cycling apparel doesn’t feel like corny athletic gear. The lines between what you sweat in and what you flex in have merged. I can go to the club, board a flight, have dinner in, and play my sport wearing this type of stuff.
I can flex while I’m out, and if you recognize what I’m wearing, that says a lot about our value systems.