The first thing you should know about some of the hot new workout clothes is that they are not necessarily designed for working out.
Their primary purpose is to show off perfect, preferably tanned bodies, and one outfit can require more accessories and color-coordinated layers than most clothes designed for the street.
The next thing you should know about these particular aerobics fashions is that comfort and practicality are beside the point. So is price, durability and the amount of time it takes to squeeze in and out of them--particularly after class when one is drenching wet.
The whole idea of these new, incredibly revealing togs is to flash--or at least be flashy.
Most popular on the market right now are G-string leotards and "fanny panties" (worn over tights), both of which are cut above the hipbone in front and have a G-string or thong in the back.
And G-string pants are not always worn where they were meant to be. The latest trend is to wear them as tops--one merely pulls one leg-hole over the head to form a one-shouldered, cropped bodice.
The point of all this is that discos may have faded with "Saturday Night Fever" but dancing has not. "Health clubs are still the dance halls of our era. Believe me, I see it every night," says Roo Hogue, who works in a Studio City exercise-wear shop called Terpsichore, two shops down from Nautilus Plus, a 4,000-plus-square-foot aerobics dance hall, where from 5 through 11 p.m. at least 75 people per class show up to "work out."
"I see these little girls go parading by here starting about 6 p.m., and believe me, some of the outfits are barely legal," Hogue says.
Shelly Shai, owner of Shelly's, a discount aerobics and dance-wear shop in Westwood (near Matrix One), agrees.
"I get everyone in here from aerobics junkies to the serious, broke ballerina. The real dancers only want cotton or fabrics that are comfy and breathe. But the aerobics junkies are a hoot. They come in here, don't try on a thing and never ask for a price. They don't care if the stuff is comfortable or not. They only buy for fashion.
"We're not talking practical here. We're talking 'The Look.' Some of them get dressed up like they're going to a ball just to walk into the gym. You've got dynamite bodies out there, and they want to look good with as little on as possible--the rest (she giggles) is mystery."
Shai says she gets a group of aerobics shoppers coming in before class nearly every night. But Friday night is the best.
"I call it the Friday night 'to go' order," she says. "The girls rush in here right after work--between 5 and 6 p.m., say. They buy an outfit, then hit the health clubs."
Hogue adds: "Some of these girls absolutely will not work out if they have a run in their tights or the wrong color leg warmers. They rush in here first to get it all together and then work out."
Aside from the G-string, other come-hither fads feature glitter, lace, Polynesian prints or snakeskin-patterned footless tights that roll down at the waist and roll up at the ankles. These are worn with crop tops that bare the midriff, baseball belts or cowboy belts and two pairs of leg warmers or roll-down socks, the most popular brand being E.G. Smith.
They are accessorized with braided wool headbands and cummerbunds (often worn as bandeau tops or belts) and maybe three pairs of differently colored leg warmers, none of which are worn to keep the legs warm. They are pushed down around the ankles, just above high-top sneakers or special leather aerobics shoes.
"You have to be long and lean to wear this stuff, no doubt about it," says Laurel Sparks, who works out at Matrix One in Westwood. "The skimpier the better."
Dance-wear buyer Denise Wingate for Body Express (a club that features strobe lights, disco balls, soundproof music rooms and aerobics classes called Pump and Rock) adds: "Basically, almost everybody who works out here is already in great shape, so they're not exactly coming here to lose weight. They like to dress up and show off their bodies. They're perfect, and they want the world to know it."
Unlike other fashion trends that can be traced to leading designers or manufacturers, aerobics-wear fads seem to spring from dancers themselves who take standard leotards or tights and then layer them, cut them, hike them up or whatever. Labels or designers' names are irrelevant.
What counts in this business, Shai and Hogue say, are things like how high above the hipbone the leotard is cut or how high above the waist the crop top is cut or if the tights stop above the knee, below the knee, at the calf or at the ankle.
"The truth of the matter is that aerobics and working out have become a way of life now; it's not only a way to get thin. And the people who come in here like to express themselves with their outfits," says Michael Nicola, co-owner of Body Express and a former costume designer who now designs aerobics clothes.