A word of warning to anyone foolhardy enough to experiment with a line of athleisure that in theory was constructed around the idea of making you feel more like Beyoncé but in practice obviously dramatically expands the already significant difference between “you” and “feeling like Beyoncé”—the Ivy Park sizing is a real game of roulette.
Before we get into details, a few disclaimers are in order. First, to be frank, I don’t know what I’m talking about. I exercise (walk my dog and purchase expensive group classes that heavily involve lying down on the floor) but I have not been to a gym in half a decade and my fitness motto is Always Give 70%. In other words I am not acquainted with “performance,” so neither am I acquainted with “performance apparel,” and have never stepped foot in, say, a Lululemon, despite the fact that their million-square-foot New York flagship store is directly underneath the Gawker office near Union Square. I know relatively little about fashion in general or athleisure specifically save the way the latter concept appears to me from the outside, i.e. a sick and twisted fantasy that positions the upkeep of one’s ass-cheeks as the primary work of one’s life.
Second, I find visible brand names profoundly embarrassing, even and especially when they are “Ivy Park.” I feel the same way about the prominent display of a clothing brand that I do about tweets where you can tell the sender is horny, i.e. save it, buddy, you can take care of this need in a more discreet way. As I approached the Ivy Park display, I felt the type of affectionate dismay that I do whenever I see my own Ashlee Simpson Autobiography Official Tour XL t-shirt and/or tweets where you can tell the sender is horny, which is specifically the sort of “Oh god, you’re trying to elicit a conversation, aren’t you” feeling, immediately accompanied by “...you will not be eliciting that conversation from me.” (On that last point—as with so many others—I was wrong, a primary exhibit being the existence of this piece.)
Thirdly, I must disclose that Beyoncé and I have an intimate relationship consisting of A) both being from Houston; B) me seeing Destiny’s Child perform at the rodeo in 2001 and purchasing one (1) “backstage pass” on a lanyard; C) me narrowly missing her and Jay Z in 2007 as they exited a standout H-Town chicken ‘n waffle institution called The Breakfast Klub; and D) my ninth-grade cheerleading tryouts being judged by a former member of Girls Tyme. Each of these close personal encounters with Beyoncé left me with profound insight on how she has built, and how she maintains, her fame.
So now that we are seeing eye to eye on everything, I’ll ask you to quickly put yourself in my shoes (wandering a large mall in my-and-Beyoncé’s hometown in an attempt to purchase a dress you will wear to a wedding the next day). I found myself in Topshop, where I was tempted to buy something ill-advised involving “nude illusion,” and then became mesmerized by the Ivy Park line, which occupies a taped-off portion of the sales floor. I picked up a pair of gray sweatpants first, and then an Ivy Park-branded sports bra, and then a white mesh tank top, and then a pair of bright blue leggings, and then a peachy pink sweatshirt. I laid these things gently over my arm like large sheets of fresh pasta (the most precious things I can imagine) and headed towards the dressing room in a fugue state. Somewhere around the Janky Bathing Suits portion of the building I turned on my heel and walked back. I replaced every Ivy Park item on the rack carefully and hurried myself out of the store before Beyoncé’s witchery could ensnare me again. Yikes, I whispered to myself. You don’t even work out.
I continued upon my quest to find a dress appropriate for a day wedding. It’s hard to say exactly what I did at this point, as I was under-caffeinated and dehydrated and had not eaten breakfast as a result of eating an overly voluminous midnight snack upon my plane’s arrival the night before. It was like that scene in Gladiator with Russell Crowe brushing his fingertips through the cornfield except it was me wandering under fluorescent lights in the Houston Galleria wishing I had been born a boy. I could have spent an entire hour lying on the floor of White House, Black Market and I would likely not recall it now.
The next thing I remember clearly was stumbling into Nordstrom. Ivy Park greeted me, like an old and treacherous friend, right away. (The list of Ivy Park “stockists,” as per their website, is extremely short: it’s just Topshop, Nordstrom, and something called “Zalando,” which...good luck, Zalando, if that’s really your name.) (Also, be assured that “stockists” is not the only example of the website’s extremely Tilda Swinton-as-PR-girl language swag, as in “IVY PARK IS MERGING FASHION-LED DESIGN WITH TECHNICAL INNOVATION. [Ed. note: “technical innovation” is a bit of a stretch here, as I recognized many of these fabrics from the last time I was in a Sports Authority around 2012.] CREATING A NEW KIND OF PERFORMANCE WEAR: MODERN ESSENTIALS FOR BOTH ON AND OFF THE FIELD.”) (My translation of that for the common man is “IVY PARK WILL APPEAR IN MANY CORNBALL INSTAGRAMS AND WILL BE LIKE A SOULCYCLE VERSION OF ‘KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON.’”)
Anyway, the Ivy Park display was right at the mouth of the department store, the baby pinks and cobalt blues and sans-serif-all-caps black-and-white logos screaming wordlessly at me like they wanted to be touched. The Topshop-via-Nordstrom selection was slightly different from that in Topshop-via-Topshop. I found myself with my hands in the leggings, brushing little triangles of mesh and sheer. Once again I ripped myself away, staggering towards the dresses, and then after finding nothing I liked that was reasonably priced and then trying on several exorbitantly priced dresses and (the worst scenario of all) liking the way they looked, I returned to my old friend Ivy Park, whose $52 sweatpants suddenly seemed not only like a bargain but the best type of thing to buy in respect to the way I live.
Suddenly I was inside the fitting room again with everything in the Ivy Park line piled onto a chair, including the logo leotard, which you may recognize from that time Beyoncé wore it:
To be honest, this is halfway my shit. I wear bodysuits; I have a floral mesh jacket that says GIMME in big white letters on the back; I am not averse to these stupid vibes, but let me assure you that this leotard looked even dumber on than I could have imagined. I would describe my vibe in it as “joiner Silly Putty.” It is too cottony, like I bet you could punch your fist through the stomach and leave a large fist-size dent; it’s also sold out at Topshop in every size except XXS. (If what I’m saying excites you, I’d say this one runs true to size: I wear a medium in American Apparel bodysuits but a small most other places and a small here “fit” fine.)
Next up, the capri leggings.
I tried these on because the length amused me: they looked like padded Sport Dad biker shorts that you’d put on for a long-distance fundraiser. There was no room in these leggings for either my body or underwear, which I’m realizing may be because there is an “inbuilt brief” (?? Is this normal?) as Topshop is telling me. Either way, size one up.
Next, I tried on Beyoncé’s lewk here.
Ah yes, the classic “exercise underwear,” which I love to wear while doing 90-minute sessions on the rings.
The Ivy Park name for athleisure panties is the “mid-rise dance pant,” which sounds like the exhaling move that Britney Spears did in the “I’m a Slave 4 U” video, and looks like...whatever that looks like to you.
The $36 piece doubles as swimwear, Topshop says, and would probably be good for if you were trying to wear granny panties underneath a sheer something or other, but please, you are definitely not wearing this to a dance class: the entire point of tight, short clothing is that it feels like no clothing at all, and I can describe my experience of putting these on as adversarial at best. Size up.
This mesh crop top was the most “flattering” thing I tried on: it was snug, like one of those shirts you put on a dog when it’s afraid of lightning. I felt very cute in it, like a little Beyoncé-themed sausage link, if baffled by the functionless over-the-thumb loop that appears to be present in the Nordstrom version only. “True to size,” though it’s really tight; I’m assuming if you’re looking at this and thinking “YES; SO ME” it’s safe to say you are comfortable with a lot.
Next up, this thing:
BYE. I tried on a small, which managed to be both excruciatingly tiny and too big to snugly hug me around my completely average-sized middle. My take: avoid this leotard at all costs.
Now, the logo sports bra:
I tried on the small and two-thirds of my chest immediately fell out of the top of the sports bra. Buy your size if you’re into tits and restricting your own breathing; if not, buy one, maybe two sizes up.
What else? This stuff was all fine:
Normal sizing on the tops: the one on the left felt airy and comfortable, the one in the middle felt like Thundershirt Lite, the one on the right felt like a sweatshirt.
This, on the other hand, is just...
“Do you like hoodies, but wish they didn’t have those pesky backs?” No, you’re generally fine with the concept of hoodies as it stands, currently? Same, yeah, that’s what I thought.
Here is a bad picture of me wearing the “All-Over Mesh Longline Tank,” $52, which, as you can see, would make an OK pool cover-up on a 5'4 person, I guess.
What’s left? Basically, the sports bras run very small; the pants also run small but are slightly less disturbing; the tops run normal to a little bit large; the loungewear is comfortable; the best fabric is the relatively unremarkable “seamless”; the jackets are cute but impractical, as they are mostly rustle-y; the bodysuits are unspeakable. And though the outfits ostensibly work on different body types (as you can see via this BuzzFeed post) I am a compact person and I remain slightly suspicious of the inclusionary possibilities of the type of sizing gambit that puts me in medium and large. And of course, though again, I don’t truly know what I’m talking about here, it seems like about one-third of this line would be pragmatic to wear for exercise, at most.
In the end, the siren call of my close personal friend Beyoncé’s new clothing venture did not really sway me, except for the fact that the day dress I bought for the next day’s wedding turned out to be a sweet, calming, Ivy Park-ish pink. Out of all of the bunch, there was only one exception:
These were great. I bought these. I’m wearing them right now.
Images via Ivy Park, Nordstrom, Topshop; top gif by the dark lord Bobby Finger