Psychology of Lululemon: How Fashion Affects Fitness

But if you’re buying more into the brand than yourself, it might be a matter of fitting in, not getting fit. Lululemon has been called “cult-like.” In one interview with Business Insider, an employee says new employees are indoctrinated with motivational CDs and Malcolm Gladwell books, and to succeed, “You have to drink the Kool-Aid a bit, and if you're not going to drink it, you won't do well and you probably won't like it.” Even their approach to commission is communal, with every employee getting their share of the store’s sales.

Controversies aside—and there have been many—the business model has been immensely successful. Lululemon is the first company to figure out how to wheedle athletics into the lifestyle of your average Jane. And as it turns out, your average Jane likes feeling sporty. Gym clothes are no longer hidden away in a bag, they’re proudly on display in your street, your office, your grocery store.

Granted, just because you’ve stocked up on tight pants and breathable tees doesn’t mean you’ll become a robot, slave to the gym. Rudnicki advises just picking up a few items at a time. “People who get a totally new wardrobe—that’s never a really good sign. Too much, too fast to accommodate your routine and lifestyle,” she says.

The transtheoretical model of behavioral change, developed in the mid-’70s by University of Rhode Island researcher James O. Prochaska, outlines five stages to making successful changes in your life: Precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. Originally applied to smokers attempting to quit, the cycle now is applied to all sorts of change, from eating habits to job-searching to fitness routine. There’s a difference between someone in, say, the precontemplation or contemplation phase and someone in the preparation or action phase. The former is just thinking about it—they’re barely motivated. Enclothed cognition isn’t a substitute for intrinsic motivation. It’s unlikely a new pair of pants will inspire you to go to the gym for the first time in six months.

But conversely, it makes no more sense to wait for success to update your wardrobe. “I’ve seen that with clients who were heavy and waited to get nice clothes because they’re heavy,” Rudnicki says. “Don’t wait to get nice clothes. You’re allowed to feel good now, and that will help you lose the weight.”

I started thinking about workout clothing when I adopted my own moderately-successful routine. Like, well, pretty much anything, I’ve tried one method after another to try to wedge myself into a healthy, fitness-focused lifestyle. Classes. Running. Yoga. Hours after hours on the elliptical. Nothing really worked—I had an excuse for everything, because cardio sucks, for me at least (I’ll never stop envying marathon runners). Then I found weights, and came to enjoy picking them up and setting them down again, and again.

Next thing I knew I found myself in an Old Navy, deliriously purchasing all the compression pants and mesh tops my wallet could afford. New tennis shoes. A new sports bra, to replace my six-year-old stalwart. New socks. I texted a selfie to my boyfriend. omg I look so silly. But I didn’t, not actually. And despite it being, in every other way, a completely normal Monday, I kicked ass.

I might have even gone for a run.

It all comes back to Adam and Galinsky’s idea of enclothed cognition: That the clothes you wear directly affect how you think, and what you do. Dress like a doctor, you’ll pay more attention; dress like an athlete, you’ll be more inclined towards physical fitness. And clothing that bridges the divide between activewear and streetwear means you’ll wear it more often—and by doing so, you might feel like going to the gym a little bit more often. It’s not a perfect analogy, and Adam agrees more research is needed, but Rudnicki and Burke back up the theory.

“The more confident you feel, the more apt you are to go to the gym and work on getting the results you’re looking for,” Burke says.

“Once you start feeling better, you’re gonna dress the way you feel,” Rudnicki says. “Your clothes represent your inner motivation and feelings. It’s a feedback loop—I feel good, so I’m going to wear the things that make me look good."

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Jamie Wiebe is a writer based in Astoria, New York.

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