Photos: model,; Boulder, Arina P Habich

Boulder is on cutting edge of fashion and style

By Vivienne Palmer

Boulder County is one of the hottest places to live in the United States because quality of life is of the utmost importance. Locals seek happiness through health and nature, and it shows in the fashion choices we make. We often value comfort and function over form, our No. 1 priority being readiness to hit the trail, yoga mat or climbing wall.


Now, apparently, we’re on the cutting edge. Athleisure wear is the bandwagon everyone in the industry wants to be on this season. Stella McCartney is designing for Adidas, Kate Hudson is the face of the explosive new athleisure brand Fabletics, Derek Lam is partnering with Athleta, and Mara Hoffman, Rebecca Minkoff and Tory Burch are launching their own athleisure lines that convey refinement in their sophisticated cuts and urbane details. Your new gym clothes are stylish, sleek and happy-hour ready.

As international designers catch on to the form-plus-functionality aesthetic, gone are the days of donning a baggy Grateful Dead T-shirt, khaki shorts from the Boulder Army Store (R.I.P., sniff) and hiking boots that look like they’ve gone through the wars. Options for the well-dressed athlete have permeated the fashion world—in fact, it’s almost as if fashion has embraced Boulder County’s values.

Designing Away Monoboob & Muffin Top

michi-braSports bras are not just for sports anymore, or solely for support; they’re becoming a fashion staple. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that 41 percent of female millennials had worn one in the past seven days, compared with 21 percent of nonmillennials. Say goodbye to the monoboob-creating, utilitarian sports bras of yore. Michi NY has a line of bras with innovative styling, elegant straps and peekaboo panels that are meant to be seen. They’re as much at home at happy hour as in the gym.

Yoga pants are getting the same treatment with cutouts, sheer panels, ruching, creative construction and eye-popping prints. Not only functional, today’s yoga pants are more flattering than ever before. Higher waists with soft, non-muffin-top bands are a big step up in comfort from their low-waisted predecessors. Yoga pants can be must-have pieces, not just black base layers.

While athletic wear has improved vastly with technical fabrics and sleeker silhouettes, the last few years have seen an explosion of innovation as designers fuse form and function, raising gymwear to the heights of personal expression. Rebecca Minkoff’s new pieces, for example, are practical at their core (stretch fabrics, comfortable walking shoes, bags that could double as gym bags or yoga-mat totes), yet hip and stylish. So if your typical day involves a mix of work, perhaps a yoga class or hike at lunch, and then happy hour with friends to round it out, here’s what’s hot and not for Boulder County streetwear this fall.

Studio jacket from Fabletics' fall line.
Studio jacket from Fabletics’ fall line.

As the weather gets cooler, taking the athletic wear out of the studio or gym often requires a good cover-up garment to keep warm. Move over, ratty old sweatshirt: Studio jackets have arrived. Made of warm, breathable, stretchy and moisture-wicking fabrics, studio jackets are styled with asymmetrical closures, form-fitting construction and flattering drapes. Some tops are so chic that the only sign they’re athletic wear is the reflective brand stamped on the outside—meaning they’re perfectly appropriate for a casual work environment or a night downtown.

Athleta and Prana built their brands on retailing fashionable dresses, sweaters, tops, pants and skirts that easily walk the line between casual and athletic wear; it only takes a change of footwear to go from the office or classroom to the trail. Their garments offer built-in support, so women can enjoy wearing a spaghetti-strap top or sundress without having to find the right bra to fit underneath.

Respected technical clothiers have followed suit with expanded lines of lifestyle wear. Columbia, for one, features dresses treated with Omni Shield to protect the fabric from water and stains, making them suitable for the great outdoors as well as work or home.
Men are embracing a more refined athleisure look, too, with fitted T-shirts, sleek gym pants, and studio jackets that convey a sense of style that carries to the outside and professional worlds.

Fashions for the Few

While athleisure styles are all well and good for the down-to-earth Boulderite, there are still some who believe that fashion hurts. Plenty of this season’s runway looks are anything but practical. Here are some trends for those of you who don’t mind a little pain or inconvenience:

Extra-long sleeves. Not just coming past the wrist and skimming the first knuckle, they cover the entire hand! Just try and type, bike, cook, wash your hands, answer the phone or do anything at all with sleeves dangling inches past the tips of your fingers.

Women’s bags carried around the neck, in the armpit, and wrapped around the wrist. I’m sure they make a statement, but aside from bags you wear around your waist (which Boulder festivalgoers have been doing for years) these sound terribly impractical.

Renaissance-themed clothing made of velvet with corsets and bell sleeves will appeal to some local residents, but it’s likely you saw most of them in Larkspur during the Colorado Renaissance Festival. Anyone who has worn a corset knows that they are the opposite of comfortable and functional.

Full velvet ensembles. These pettable dresses and pantsuits might delight, but they’re difficult to launder. Let’s face it: Lots of locals will put in the extra time to specially clean their semi-permeable North Face raincoat, but they probably aren’t willing to do the same for their going-out attire.

1980s one-shoulder power dresses with pouf sleeves and ruffles. I don’t think our down-to-earth town throws enough ’80s parties to make these a hit, and no one is going to wear them to get coffee.

One-armed tops. Meh. This experimental fad will go out of style far too quickly. How would you keep the other arm warm? Unless …

Superman by N Azlin Sha
Superman by N Azlin Sha

Capelets. Perhaps helpful when your one exposed shoulder gets cold, but too specific in their use to become a staple Boulder fashion.

Cross-body fur stoles and statement furs. With almost every trendy restaurant boasting vegan options, most Boulder County residents bristle at the idea of wearing any fur at all. Even if you’re not vegan, animals’ suffering isn’t beautiful.

Fashions for the Many

Now, here are a handful of fashion trends that really might catch on this fall:

Hoodies. Guess what? They’re an actual fashion statement and not just what you throw on when you don’t feel like dealing with your hair. Designers like Lacoste and Anthony Vaccarello are turning out pieces that convey luxury and comfort. Everyone is going to love these.

Photo of David Bowie by Wikimedia
Photo of David Bowie by Wikimedia

David Bowie boots. Granted, they won’t transition from the coffee shop to the trail (or even work in the office), but for an edgy look I can see them gaining traction in Boulder. Platforms are fun and relatively comfortable, and there is still a great deal of David Bowie nostalgia after his passing.

Embellished gloves with fringe, appliquéd flowers, beading, sheer netting and leather ruffles. Although they sound way too fussy for athletes, these seem like fun elements that women can add to plain-Jane outfits to give them some pop.

Statement chokers and embellished guitar straps on handbags. Like the fancy gloves, these are quick ways to freshen up your look without buying a whole new ensemble.

Photo by Udmilafoto
Photo by Udmilafoto

Puffy jackets over everything, even fancy dresses. This is a slam-dunk, given that we’ve been rocking that look forever.

Gray plaid and pinstripes in menswear. Sure, as long as they’re on a functional garment. Prints and colors that are staples of men’s suiting are being taken out of the business context and creatively incorporated into casual wear.

The author admires the pinstripe vest on a man she bumped into on Pearl Street Mall.
The author admires the pinstripe vest on a man she bumped into on Pearl Street Mall.

Also for men: baggy trousers, ’70s bell-bottoms, big collars and androgynous looks, including skirts. Boulder guys are surprisingly adventurous, embracing trends you’re more likely to see in big cities. I think they’ll go for this season’s avant-garde looks.

Only time will tell which trends take hold in any given market. But it’s about time the fashion world caught up with Boulder’s progressive mindset that puts movement, health and nature at the top of our values.

Vivienne Palmer has been following Boulder fashion since 1990, when she moved to the Front Range as a teenager. She has two boys, and is a writer, blogger and pole-dance enthusiast.

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