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SWEAT & SIMPLE : People are working out in whatever they see fit: They're pumping up in relaxed styles and basic colors. And only muscles get shown off.

July 07, 1994|KATHRYN BOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In the 1980s, a fashion show mentality muscled its way onto the fitness scene. Gyms were filled with men and women who looked like they spent as much time on their wardrobes as they did lifting weights.

Even if they were just going to sweat, exercise buffs made sure they had on the latest fitness togs with splashy prints and electric colors. Everything they wore matched, from their headbands to their socks.

Then came a sobering recession, then a President who jogs around in T-shirts and shorts that look left over from his days at Oxford.

Now people pump iron in relaxed workout clothes that don't look quite so put-together.

They've gone back to the basics.

Black, navy and sweat-shirt gray have replaced loud colors. Simple shorts, tank tops and T-shirts, worn in loose layers, make up the low-key fitness look of the '90s.

To be sure, no one's going to the gym looking like a slob. Fitness-minded people still like to show off their bodies, but they're doing so in quieter fashion.

"You still get people who want to be decked out, but over the last year people are more relaxed," says Jamey Bender, manager of the boutique at the Sports Club/Irvine. "It's not quite so much of a fashion show."

At the Sports Club, members no longer parade around in outfits that show off every tendon. Things are much looser.

"It's like the grunge look," Bender says. "We're seeing lots of sweat shirts wrapped around waists and over-size tanks thrown over leotards. Everything's real comfortable. It's not so structured."

The look starts with the basics, such as the women's collection of bike shorts, tank-style and V-neck leotards and bra tops by City Lights at the Sports Club. The pieces come in a subtle floral print or muted solids, including black, gray, cream, dark blueberry and sea-foam green (about $20 to $28).

The grunge influence is seen in leotards by Mossimo that have the look of plaid flannel but are made of Supplex, a breathable, color-fast fabric similar to Lycra and cotton ($47), at the Sports Club.

There's also nothing fancy about the men's simple cotton tank tops ($15) and nylon shorts ($18 to $26) in traditional shades of black, gray, blue and white. The only prints for guys are the dark tropical and floral patterns seen on volley shorts ($35), also at the Sports Club.

Harsh hues and wild prints have all but vanished from the floor of Body Issue, an aerobic/fitness apparel store in Laguna Hills.

"Florals are out," says Cassie Piasecki, owner of Body Issue.

A favorite choice of many of her customers is a simple camisole leotard in neutrals such as white, cream, beige and black ($33). The influence of Donna Karan's pared-down style is everywhere. Dance France's mock turtleneck leotard ($36) in black accentuates the shoulders much like a similar Karan gown worn by Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The leotards are plain, but for interest designers have added fun back treatments like crisscross straps and keyhole cutouts as well as halter and mock turtle silhouettes. Maxi Modo designed one leotard with a crisscross back resembling the stripes on the British flag ($41), available in navy or red.

Fitness fanatics want to look as if they just threw on an old tank top and shorts instead of carefully coordinating an outfit.

Small wonder that a hot item for men is a faded pigment-dyed tank top that looks like it's been worn over and over, says Cammie Doder, merchandising and marketing director of Club Sportswear in Irvine that manufactures men's sportswear and active wear.

"The (faded tanks) give the effect of making the guys look like they work out all the time," Doder says.

The tanks come in red, blue, green, black and yellow. Club Sportswear is carried at Nordstrom, Bullock's, Beach Access in South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa, the Balboa Beach Co. on Balboa Island and Chick's Sporting Goods in Tustin.

Classic elastic waist shorts in such solid colors as black, navy, red and teal are also strong, she says.

Both men and women like to wear their baggy shorts over tight-fitting and longer-legged support shorts. Champion's Power Liners in black, white and gray ($23 at Sports Club/Irvine) have become a staple for guys, Bender says. So are Calvin Klein's athletic shorts for both men and women (about $20).

"Years ago you wouldn't let your underwear show," Bender says.

As part of the layered look, women are letting the straps of their sports bras show.

By Kimberly introduced a line of sports bras that feature pretty lace and floral print straps as well as flattering underwire support ($30 to $35), at Sports Club/Irvine).

"Most sport bras are plain and unattractive. Women really like to have nice bras, even when they're working out," says designer Kimberly Mattson. "I wanted to design something that doesn't flatten you the way most sports bras do."

The line is also carried at Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and the Broadway. Mattson will introduce a complete body-wear line in September, with leotards and tops that also give women a lift.

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