Polyurethane has long been a key component in exercise clothing. The features polyurethane brings to this apparel —stretch, water resistance, durability and light weight — have made it indispensable in fabrics that need to perform in the gym or out in the elements while allowing the wearer freedom of movement.
Those same characteristics have had an unexpected side benefit: exercise clothing is extremely comfortable to wear. The athleisure trend — essentially, wearing clothing that is designed for or styled like exercise clothing even when not exercising — was already in full swing prior to the pandemic.
Then, suddenly we were all doing video conferences where no one could see us from the waist down, as well as working longer and/or more unusual hours to accommodate our new work-from-home life. As a result, leggings and yoga pants made with polyurethane became ubiquitous. Polyurethane even made an appearance in our footwear as we traded oxfords and heels for slippers and flip flops flipflops that use the material in their soles. Some have even coined a new term for the style: workleisure.
As the rest of the fashion industry has struggled in 2020, brands that focus on athleisure have enjoyed renewed success. Recent numbers from the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research say that 42% of Americans are still working at home full time, suggesting that demand for these clothes will remain high in the immediate future.
But there are signs that this trend may continue even after we’ve returned to the office. Polyurethane’s chameleon-like nature means it can be incorporated in workleisure clothes that look like leather, snakeskin or even denim. This gives workleisure clothing a more polished look without sacrificing the comfort and stretch.
Some brands are pursuing a looser style of leggings that look more like pants, as well as tennis-style skirts with embellishments that create a more business casual look, further blurring the lines between casual and business casual. With innovations like these, we may soon reach a day when you’re the only one who knows you’re rocking a workleisure outfit in the boardroom.