Reader Carolyn submitted this question:
How to look good in workout clothes. Whenever I go to one of those classes like zumba, it’s full of these women in their coordinating gear and I just flail around in the back of the room in yoga pants and a t-shirt and feel out of place. How do you style workout clothes without just buying whatever the mannequin is wearing at lululemon?
First, a quick word about spandex, designer gym wear, and peer pressure: People have gotten serious about their workout attire, which is fab. There are some really beautiful designs out there and they can be fun to wear. But just because the people around you are wearing skin-tight $80 wicking tanks doesn’t mean you should feel obliged to do the same. Or that wearing anything less makes you a gym schlub. You can wear anything you damn well please to work out, so long as it isn’t uncomfortable or prone to getting caught in your pedals/jump rope/weight machine.
Also some of these fancy brands size their clothes extremely small and make women who are sized out of them feel unwelcome. Which, as you might imagine, infuriates me. Gyms are intimidating enough as they are – places where people stew in anxiety and feel judged and compare themselves and worry about looking awkward in the studio mirror – and when you add another layer of size-based elitism you’re making it harder for people who want to exercise and get healthy to push past their hesitations.
Lulu is NOT your only option, and the first step toward feeling chic in your gym wear is to expand your search beyond the trendy brands. This post on modest workout tops includes some super stylish size-diverse brand recommendations, but I’ll call them out here, too:
- Lane Bryant
- Land’s End
- Addition Elle
- For sustainable options: Patagonia, Alternative Apparel, Yoga Democracy, and Prana offer some options in organic cotton or recycled fibers.
NOW. After broadening your search, look for workout clothes that share design elements you seek in your regular clothes: V necklines, longer length tops, empire waists, cap sleeves. The current standard seems to be a tight tank or tee worn with running tights. I would feel unbearably self-conscious in that combo, and opt for skirt capris and wicking tees instead. I’m most self-conscious about my butt and hips, so skirt capris are a great alternative to both loose pants and tights for me. Since most workout tops are cut super long, I’ve actually had a few of mine shortened at the tailor so they look proportional when worn with the skirt capri. Another alternative is a tunic top worn with running tights – perhaps not ideal for body pump, but totally fine for spin classes, yoga, pilates, weight-lifting, and lots of other activities. Athleta has some cute tunic options.
Next get a couple of coordinated outfits. Part of what makes those other gals look so great is that they’ve taken it a step beyond black pants and something on top. You don’t necessarily have to buy multiple outfits of tops and bottoms, but think about buying a bottom and a few coordinating tops from the same collection so they’ve got some visual unity.
Then take a hard look at your shoes. Even if you don’t want to wear the fancy outfits you see around you, you’ll likely feel a lot more chic if you ditch the puffy, dirty, or outdated shoes. Find a sleek or colorful pair that you love, and incorporate them immediately.
Finally – and this is the biggie – try not to worry about it. You’re there to make your body feel loved and invigorated, to build muscle and to have fun. How you look is not nearly important as how you feel. And so long as you feel great while you’re at the gym – and you should, because you’re in the midst of some fan-freakin-tabulous self-care – wear anything you want.
Except black-soled shoes. No black-soled shoes on the gym floor, please.
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