Athleisure apparel taking over the streets

In the world of fashion, 2014 has become the year of “athleisure.”

The term, if you haven’t already heard it, has been used in recent years to describe a rising and broad category of apparel that is basically clothing which can work for athletic pursuits, leisure time or both. Think yoga pants and hoodies with a bit of elevated design that looks good in or outside the gym.

The trend may have started with the fleece and nylon tracksuits in the 1980s, then moved to the french terry luxe of Juicy Couture, but the latest items are a different mix altogether and seem to have more staying power. Athleisure gear has reportedly unseated denim as the go-to clothing item of choice for teens.

Brands such as Athleta, Lululemon, Lucy, Nike and Under Armour are among the most popular names in this fast-growing segment that is fueled by sales of women's athletic wear.

The growth has outpaced overall apparel sales since 2010, according to data from Euromonitor. The athleisure movement is so big — the U.S. athletic apparel market will increase by nearly 50 percent to more than $100 billion at retail by 2020, according to a Wall Street Journal report — that everyone is getting into the game. Competition is fierce at every end of the fashion spectrum from luxury to fast fashion.

In January, fast fashion retailer H&M launched a new sportswear line with the help of Swedish Olympic athletes. While traditional athletic apparel companies — Nike, Puma, Adidas — may have the advantage when it comes to performance, H&M tops them on price with items under $20.

In July, online fashion retailer Net-A-Porter launched Net-A-Sporter with luxury sportswear including items from the Adidas by Stella McCartney line and Lucas Hugh, a British brand that features items such as a $295 knit stretch wool-blend jersey jumpsuit.

Last month, designer Cynthia Rowley showed a full active wear collection. It was a natural progression for a woman who has designed wetsuits and is often seen wearing printed leggings. Items in the collection are mix and match and can move from workout to workplace to a cocktail party.

Macy's recently increased its active wear offerings in stores and online, and in September, Kohl's department stores welcomed the launch of Simply Vera Vera Wang Simply Breathe — a collection of seamless tanks, capris, hoodies and sweaters priced from $30-$54. Wang is a former figure skater and wears black leggings as her uniform, so she knows something about cute athletic wear.

Not to be left behind, celebrities are fighting for their share of the market as well. Actress Kate Hudson is celebrating the one-year anniversary of her Fabletics line of women's workout and lifestyle apparel. Most of the items retail under $50, and if you have a VIP membership, you can get a complete outfit for that amount.

If you’re still not convinced that athleisure clothing is taking over the world, here are a few more newish entrants in the market:

Betabrand: This online clothier blends corporate cuts with unexpected materials to make items like Women's Dress Pant Yoga Pants: stretchy yoga pants disguised as stylish work pants; and Bike to Workwear: office-appropriate pants and shirts designed for two-wheeled commuters. Prices range from $80 to over $200.

Bloom/Sports Authority: The Bloom line of yoga gear is available exclusively at Sports Authority. It is also billed as a lifestyle collection and prices start at $35.

Without Walls/Urban Outfitters: Launched in March by Philly-based Urban Outfitters, this brand offers a range of gear for activities from yoga to surfing to hiking. It is available online and in select stores.

Lou & Grey/Loft: This line features comfortable-looking leggings, tees and tunics at standard Loft pricing.