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Is leisure an aesthetic? Wellness tees say yes

Don't have time to drink lemon water and do morning yoga? Just wear a wellness tee.

The modern approach to wellness is one well-documented. In the ever-moving current of popular culture, some habits—made famous by our social elite—have managed to resist the tide and imprint themselves firmly into the social fabric. You see, ‘That Girl’ is an aspirational all-rounder. She starts her day off with a detoxing drink—a green juice, perhaps, or the omnipresent lemon-in-water. Then, because she’s woken up at 5:30am, she has time to do her morning yoga routine. (This is most likely completed in a matching knitwear set, white headband holding back her newly-trimmed curtain bangs.) The day closes with an afternoon of clean eating—sashimi, definitely, or edamame and shallots, scattered confetti-like over a poke bowl.

Wellness is performative, and the latest stage of casual fashion is the epitome of that. Commodified leisure, which used to look like the now-mocked ‘live, laugh, love’, has been given a facelift. Scroll through your feed and you’ll see Instagram models, lounging insouciantly on a wicker chair in a tee that says, “I’m on vacation.” The new cool girl might be a working woman, but she’s chill, unfazed and on holiday in the space of her mind.

Sometimes, she ventures into the world of laid-back sportsgear. Her shirt will feature two racquets crossed over on her pocket patch; she’ll wear a tennis dress or pleated mini skirt lounging around at home. Cool girl fashion isn’t just oversized blazers and Jacquemus bags, it’s sweat sets that let everyone know she’s relaxed—or rather, has the privilege of being so.

But pardon the cynicism. There are, of course, some labels whose venture into wellness wear is paired with something greater than just aesthetic. More than just an abstract advertisement for leisure, some designers are choosing to mix wellness and fashion with movements close to their heart. Take Museum of Peace & Quiet, for example, whose brand is an ode not only to tranquility, but the healing nature of simplicity. A description of their label’s philosophy on their website reads like a Marie Kondo-approved mantra, a brand “committed to a clear state-of-mind, enabling you to focus on what matters by design simplistic objects and apparel for every day use.”

Their products reflect their love of the minimal. A simple white cap, a candle, and recently, a welcome mat, celebrate serenity. Each Instagram post they make is a square of pure zen: empty hillsides, endless bamboo, a bag or a sweater draped over grass. Even the shopping tab for their online store, called their ‘museum’, imparts a certain reverence. It’s clear that each piece—whether it be a tote or jumper bearing the word ‘Natural’—is meant to be meditated on and consumed like a piece of art. Just like a healthy diet, the pursuer of wellness incorporates the wearing of these products into their everyday routine.

In the contemporary age, the fashion label driven by wellness doesn’t just offer you clothes, but a new state of mind. Sartorial positivity calls to mind Australian label P.A.M.’s recent collaboration with Los Angeles artist Cali DeWitt. Their capsule collection, titled “A Positive Message”, is feel-good fashion at its most interactive. Taking inspiration from the designer’s community of creatives, the collection offers consumers different vignettes of happiness, snapshots of the small, quotidian pleasures, captured on a tee or a tote—watermelon pickle recipes, printed on a watermelon-pink canvas bag; pre-and-post meditation scribbles, scrawled on the back of a top. So too does Japanese streetwear label Have a Good Time echo the happiness imperative. A small group of Tokyo-based graffiti artists, they peddle their merchandise out of a back alley in Nakameguro, theirs a Warhol-esque perspective on joy, viewed through a Polaroid lens. “Have a good time”, “Trance state”, and the open-ended “Love is…”—these are the positive messages both labels encourage us to embody. Dressing ourselves in optimism, they propose, might just be the same as practising it.

In the case of Madhappy, a label launched to create a “conversation around mental health”, that truth is amplified. “To us”, they say on their website, “the beauty of Madhappy is that each person can have their own interpretation of it. It’s about the ups and downs and everything in between.” “We felt there was a lot of negativity both in the world and in the space at the time of our launch,” reiterated cofounder Peiman Raf to Forbes. “We are about creating incredible products and experiences that uplift all people who interact with the brand. It all started from the paradox of the name Madhappy and grew into a movement focused on spreading positivity.”

Indeed, Madhappy doesn’t just specialise in dress, and that’s the source of their power. Their sister site, called The Local Optimist, is full of mental health resources including toolkits for patience, creativity and a personal hotline to chat about anxiety and depression—all the while, bright colours and a playful tone mirror those present in their clothing. A visitor is welcomed to the site with a gargantuan peace sign radiating rainbow concentric circles. Sweaters and tees are characterised by the same pastel enthusiasm and youthful, rounded typography. Here, donning a sweatshirt that reads ‘Local Optimist’ with unabashed joy isn’t meant to feel like an act, but like wearing your heart on your sleeve, and above all, becoming part of a community.

Inevitable really, that in midst of a pandemic, so many of us want to feel well both inside and out. So think what you will about wellness wear. Is leisure an aesthetic? Yes. Is positivity performative? In some cases, certainly. But does such fashion from smaller, community-based labels also possess the power to do immense good? It would seem so.

Bring on the mindful dressing.

Written by Gladys Lai.

This article originally appeared on Vogue Australia.

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