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FASHION : Exercising the Options of Workout Clothing : First, there's the issue of coverage-- skimpy or modest. Then comes the choice of fabric, color and pattern.

January 27, 1994|KATHLEEN WILLIAMS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When there are more women coal miners, there will be fashion in coal mines.

If you don't believe it, look at gyms. These are places where you go, basically, to sweat. Most women prefer to sweat in color-coordinated outfits in the latest style, with matching headbands.

This may be because health clubs are really less about health than they are about hard bodies--as you might guess from ads showing people flexing exposed muscle groups that are nowhere near the heart.

We have to admit a robust EKG pattern would make a pretty boring ad. But, couldn't the models be a little more demure?

We went looking for demure exercise fashions at local shops. Right away, at The Body Shop in Thousand Oaks, we found a solid-color, ballet-cut leotard with tights. Understated and classic, it put focus on the head and arms.

It was not quite a bull's eye with the aerobics crowd, though. Only 1% of them go for that look, said Pam Papin, who has been selling exercise and dance wear for more than a decade. The rest are into shorts, the high-cut "French" leotard, or its anorexic cousin, the thong.

The thong is popular, especially with younger women, according to Papin.

"It's easier to move in," she said. "If (women) have always been brought up to think of it as a normal thing, it's comfortable. Otherwise, some people think of it as gross."

Worn over contrasting spandex shorts, the narrow thong leotard tends to bring attention to the lowest dorsal area.

We noted this at a fast-paced aerobics class at Body Focus in Thousand Oaks. Lisa Flanagan, who teaches at the club, said she does not wear the style for this reason.

But, she said, "Definitely, skimpier is in--the thongs and open midriffs."

While the scanty style may be growing locally, it is shrinking elsewhere, said Glen Greenbaum, vice president of sales at Danskin Inc. At one time, the thong accounted for 45% of their leotard sales; now it's 25%.

In fact, the leotard itself is in a downtrend.

"There's a movement to more casual styles--drawstring waistbands, a looser, casual fit that can go into day wear," he said.

Separates are in demand. "(Women) can take a bra top and a thong (pant) over shorts and still be covered; their midriff is exposed and they will be able to show off a lot of body and a lot of muscle," he said.

Not only is there this coverage decision to make; one must choose fabric, color and pattern.

Shiny spandex is out, Papin said. Everyone wants cotton blends, or the new Supplex nylon.

As to pattern, "It goes: solids, prints, stripes, solids," said Papin. "Two years ago florals were the biggest thing; now florals are out."

While women ponder these variables, men get by mostly in gray jersey shorts--both in the weight room, and in aerobics, should they choose to join in.

"Men are more function oriented," said Debra Sanders at Sport Chalet in Oxnard. "They look for practical purchases, and they stick with those."

Men buy a couple of tank tops or T-shirts, a couple of pairs of shorts, Sanders said. Some like to wear body-fitting black spandex shorts for support; but most want gym shorts over these for modesty.

Speaking of modesty, some women were wearing the gym shorts in that aerobics class too; but they were distinctly in the minority.

The way we see it, there's a modesty cycle--which we are now at the bottom (or top) of--that operates in gyms as in life. Following the law of cycles, this trend toward skimpy will soon reverse, and produce an opposite demand.

So we plan to buy that classic leotard at the first opportunity. It should put us ahead of the pack.

Kathleen Williams writes the weekly fashion column for Ventura County Life. Write to her at 5200 Valentine Road, Suite 140, Ventura, 93003 or send faxes to 658-5576.

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