I saw a couple today. They were running down the sidewalk in normal street clothes, but it was apparent that they were exercising, if only because they were wearing running shoes, they didn't look like they were stressed, and there wasn't anywhere to go in the direction they were headed. It got me thinking about two things: how we use clothes to explain our actions to others and how uncommon it is to exercise in our daily lives.
I know there are advantages to specially-made athletic clothing: it can breathe better, wick sweat, allow freedom of motion, and provide needed support. However, I think that often times people buy it simply for the look and feel, both of which are valid reasons. If you feel the part, you're more self-confident and likely to push yourself harder. If you look the part, people aren't going to think you're in trouble, late, or just crazy--it's a social signal.
When I fenced, and especially when I taught fencing one summer, I felt the need to buy loose-fitting athletic pants. They were perfect for fencing (and all sorts of other activities--I still have and love those pants), but I'd be lying if I said that those pants didn't help me feel comfortable carrying equipment through a mall full of people every week or keep control of a class of armed eight-year olds.
It also struck me that manual labor and fitness are now often relegated to hobbies instead of integrated with everyday life. People aren't churning butter, grinding wheat, or whisking eggs by hand. People aren't building barns, clearing fields, or cutting stones. (Okay some people do these things, but if they're in the States, they're probably either professionals assisted by technology or Amish.) It's funny that someone will use an electric beater and then lift weights to strengthen those same muscles the next hour. I think it'd be really interesting to design a workout system that consists entirely of activities in which the primary goal was not fitness-related but some other productive task.