A funny thing happened on the way to the gym. Those droopy sweats, wimpy leotards and bulky leg warmers have become the relics of the workout world, replaced by outfits as aggressively sleek as some of the clubs in which they're worn.
For today's no-flab generation, it's racer-style everything--and whatever can be exposed, is. That goes for men as well as women, although the raciest look of all is usually reserved for females: the thong leotard, borrowed from the Brazilian G-string bikini. And everyone looks like a body builder these days--all it takes is a wide leather belt.
Lifting weights at the Sports Club/LA, Venessa Sligar wore a body suit that revealed well-exercised shoulders and arms. A belt showed off her whittled waist, and eye-catching floral Lycra tights did the same for the rest of her torso.
But the airline purser and owner of "about 20 different outfits" said her workout clothes "are usually more wild than this. Most of them have cutouts somewhere."
A muscle-bound man nearby, dressed-to-the-minute in a tank top and capri-length tights, said Sligar is known for her gym chic.
"When you look good, you work out harder," Sligar explained.
A Sligar outfit might run $150: "A leotard could be $40 or $50, but shoes are always the biggest expense. I spend a lot, not because I have the money, but because it's important to me to look as good as I can."
Earlier in the day, thieves broke into Joni Greenberg's car, stealing her athletic bag and most of her equipment. After work, the West L.A. attorney raced over to the club (and a nearby athletic store) to purchase new black cotton tights, pink-trimmed Reeboks and a black mesh bra meant to show under her leotard, which was her only remaining one. Until that morning, Greenberg owned enough leotards to wear a different one every day of the week.
That's not unusual for dedicated gym junkies. Many feel the way Sligar does: The better they look, the harder they perform. That in turn makes for "a major fashion scene," according to William Escalera, co-owner of the Beverly Hills hair salon Menage a Trois. He now owns "more clothes for aerobics than street wear. I have a huge closetful."
While dancers used to inspire the trends, today instructors and students call the shots. Dressed for classes at Karen Voight's Fitnessand Dance Center in West
Hollywood, Escalera looked like a trend-setter in an outfit that reminded him of a '20s bathing suit. Made by L'Homme Invisible and sold at Maxfield, such aerobics innovation doesn't come cheap: $60 for the cutout maillot, $90 for the long knit trunks.
But no one ever said working out was going to be cheap. According to Karen Voight's husband, Hank Siegel, "Many people spend as much as $2,000 a year on classes here." The average outfit "runs $125 to $150 with $60 to $70 of that spent on a good pair of shoes."
In a recent class of high-stepping, high-energy aerobics students, one man stuck out like a sore thumb. Dressed in the $60 shoes, he was a disaster elsewhere: His loose T-shirt and equally loose shorts made it impossible for him to check out his form in the mirrors, and an instructor would surely pass him over: "If you've got 40 students in a room, your eye is going to go to the things that are correctable," Siegel said. "Because of the shirt, for example, you can't see his back when he's doing exercises on the floor."
Not every exercise palace accepts the current bare-is-better attitude. At the Mid Valley Athletic Club in Reseda, personnel wear conservative office-style uniforms. Aerobics instructors have "a strict dress code," says program director Ellen Siegel (no relation to Hank Siegel). And patrons are required not to expose their midriffs. That rule was born several years ago when men were asked not to wear cut or ripped shirts on the fitness floor.
"It's for aesthetics and hygiene," Siegel explains. "If you're perspiring and lying on equipment, the perspiration is going to get on the equipment."
Denise Coffee, owner of Los Angeles-based KO-FE dance wear (a term she prefers to bodywear) thinks the current trend "has gotten about as bare as it's going to get. The bicycle shorts could get shorter, but the tops are as brief as they can be."
Exercise apparel "couldn't be much barer and still be functional," agrees Arthur Levinson, president of the Weekend Exercise Co., which manufacutures both the Marika and Baryshnikov bodywear lines. Levinson's company "sells essentially the same silhouettes nationally, although Southern Californian women tend to be a little more trendy. Instead of a 17-inch crop top, which comes down to the trunk line, they'll buy a 13-inch, which ends just below the bust."
Sometimes the California look runs into trouble. "Attire varies from region to region," says Diana Wood, communications director of the International Dance-Exercise Assn. (IDEA). "In many places, what is worn in Los Angeles would be considered improper." That was the message from a group of fitness instructors Wood met at the IDEA convention in October. "They found the aerobics attire that's popular in a lot of metropolitan areas 'shocking.' "
As for a group called Body and Soul, Wood explained: "They exercise to Christian music. You wouldn't see a thong leotard in their classes."