Sportwear turns to leisure

Active sportwear manufacturers are acquiring wider and wider audiences as their regular clientele merges with those who are starting to buy such togs for more passive pursuits.

More than half the women who patronize one tennis specialty shop her have never set foot on a tennis court, according to the owner. The number of women buying running shoes reflects not the number of runners as accurately as it does the number of those who are into running plusm those who are walking as a leisure activity.

More and more patrons of such speciality shops as Tennis Lady in Northbrook and The Running Shop in Winnetka do not identify with the athlete mystique. On the contrary, warm-up outfits, tennis dresses, foul weather runing gear, golf, and tennis separates are leaving the stroes regularly to become part of patio, poolside, and vacation wardrobes.

The term "leisurewear," which embraces active and not-so-active sportswear, has been coined to label the change in emphasis. It doesn't signify any losses in the ranks of active sportsters; they've just moved over a little to make room on the warm-up bench for the not-so-gung-hos.

designers of active sportswear for spring '80 are using fabrics and colors likely to attract even more fans.

One young tenniswear designer, Chicagoan Maria Elipas, introduces Silfonetta into her spring line. It's cotton on the inside, to absorb perspiration, and nylon on the outside to provide durability in a high gloss for such colors as cobalt blue, red, yellow, emerald green, as well as White. Her designs tend toward the elegant: strapless, one shoulder, sequined straps, halter necks outlined in rhinestones or beading, camisoles, tucked bodies, and latticed backs.

Solid brights and some white with multicolor trims is how Nancy Stevens of Tennis Lady describes the "gobs of sweatshirts" she says she's ordered in a new acrylic, one-size-fits-all. She sees it as spanning the needs of active and spectator sportsters. So, too, will khaki or vanilla-colored safari shorts in a polyester and cotton blend, suitable for golf, walking, or general leisure.

Fila, the Gucci of international tenniswear, still ranks No. 1 with classicists. Marketed limitedly, definitely a status symbol, the Fila label comes on cotton tops, polyester skirts and shorts, and matching lightweight wool sweaters.

Carol Robinett of Sports Chalet notes that the trend toward leisurewear is putting emphasis on tennis shorts instead of skirts. Shorts are applicable to more activities and nonactivities. White, she says, is not as widely accepted for tennis as it has been in the past. She opted this spring for the new bold brights: turquoise, yellow, fuchsia, hot pink.

Along with an emphasis on separates, though, she perceives a comeback for tennis dresses. One hundred percent cotton is having its own revival, too, she says, as part of the continuing renewed interest in natural fibers.She sees enthusiasm continuing to run high, too, for the simple, classy pinstripe tennis dresses, shirts, and shorts by Head: burgundy for women; navy for men.

Not long ago Williamson Dickies of Fort Worth, Texas, came up with an answer to the question, "What has the easy care, low price, casual look, agelessness, comfort, and smartness of jeans, but is just a little dressier?"

They introduced their khaki pant, sized like a man's pant, by waist and length measurement, perma-press, in a polyester and cotton blend. The basic pant, in khaki, white, or navy solids, fell into the category of a work pant at

This spring it has blossomed into 14 bright new colors, and Sara Kaye of Lake Forest's Outdoorsman sees them taking off with the same momentum as Levi's jeans did a few years back. Dickies' are so basic that they pair well with anything: blazer, turtleneck, down vest, or broadcloth or madras shirt. Outdoorsman is selling them for bicycling, hiking, roller skating. . . .

"I've never seen anything like this," says Sara Kaye. "There's a crossing over of fabrics and usages that's totally unprecedented. Warm-up suits are being used as bathing-suit cover-ups; rugby shirts and shorts are being seen as leisurewear. Bright colors are big, but pastels are, too. There's just a lot of intermingling -- in fabrics, colors, and uses."

Another voice in the chorus extolling the broadened applications of active sportswear is that of Tom Swarsen, whose Running Shop is one year old. Nonjoggers have discovered that the terry-cloth running togs go well beside a swimming pool.

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