How to find flattering and functional exercise clothes
"Experts say when you look good, you tend to want to work out more, and work out harder. So it's really a win-win."— -Lesley Rotchford, Executive Editor of "Women's Health" magazine
Spending money on well-made, stylish clothes is something women tend to prioritise. And yet, when we exercise, often we’ll dig in the back of our drawers for those oversized T-shirts and tattered sweats we almost gave to Good Will. But experts agree that well-fitted, high-quality and, yes, even stylish exercise clothes not only make for a more successful workout for practical purposes, but wearing better gym clothes themselves have been proven to help build confidence and motivation to maximise your routine. "Experts say when you look good, you tend to want to work out more, and work out harder. So it's really a win-win," said Lesley Rotchford, executive editor of Women's Health magazine. So how do you find the most flattering, practical and ever-so-stylish clothes for your routine?
Wearing the Pants
Baggy T-shirts and trousers can be a fallback for many women who are heavier set or (egad!) don’t have a six-pack. But Rotchford advises quite the opposite.
“Avoid baggier clothes," she said. "Because not only does it not do much for your figure, but they can also be distracting and get in the way of your workout.”
She suggests instead opting for pieces that are streamlined and comfortable. “I like a black bootcut pair of fitness trousers," she said. "They fit similarly to a boot cut jean. I think it takes 2.27 Kilogram off of everyone.”
Ashley Borden, a celebrity trainer and lifestyle consultant in Los Angeles, also recommends the bootcut, but says to avoid the mass-produced, yet not flattering three-quarter flare pant.
When looking at these trousers, she says, “The key is that you have a waist that’s high enough to avoid the muffin top, hitting you right below your belly button.” But not higher, as she warns it can cut into your waist and restrict movement.
Finding a well-fitting sports bra is crucial for any woman’s exercise routine. Rotchford encourages every woman to be fitted for a sports bra just like you would a regular bra. If you have a larger chest, Borden warns against wearing two sports bras as some women do.
“The problem with that," she explained, "is it constricts your rib cage from opening and closing so you don't get the right amount of air in your lungs." Rotchford suggests looking for a bra that has padding in the straps so it doesn’t cut into your shoulders.
But even if you’re not busty, that doesn’t mean you should forgo a sports bra. Sarah Harte, designer of the Oscar Mimosa fitness apparel line, says that no matter what size your chest is, a sports bra is important as it helps with your posture when working out. If you so choose, slightly padded sports bras or ones with soft cups in the market “give a little bit of a boost,” Rotchford said.
And if you invest in a few good sports bras, Borden says you can then save on the tops that you put over them. “[The bras] will make such a difference in how your chest looks and how comfortable it is with your back," she said, "that you can get a tank tops from Target to put over them and you will look great.”
For women that want to hide their stomachs, but not wear baggy tees over their bras, Borden also recommends looking into fitness tops that ruche at the bottom. They look stylish and can also hide any imperfections
Styling Your Routine
No matter what your body type, you won’t be wearing the same outfit going for a jog as you would doing yoga. For running and other high-intensity workouts, Kim Parker, director of women’s training for Adidas America, says that she has been seeing the trend of three-quarter tights (or leggings) resurging.
Whether you wear them on their own or wear shorts over, it’s a great choice for running as she explains, “Your body heats up while running, so it’s important you choose lightweight clothes that offer ventilation.”
Rotchford advises looking for seamless leggings, tanks and other workout clothes, as a lot of chafing can happen when you run. Though she does generally advise against baggy clothes, Rotchford does recommend looser-fitting clothes for yoga, Pilates and lower-impact exercises.
But you don't want clothes that will, as she puts it, “fall over your face when you’re in the downward dog position.”
Parker from Adidas agrees. “Stay away from flowing tops and trousers that may look great, but get in the way," she said. "Oversized apparel in yoga also makes it difficult for your instructor to see your alignment and posture. Less is more.”
And if you want to get a bit more trendy and funky with your styles, yoga, Pilates and dance classes are the place to do it.
Andrea Davis, a teacher for the Bar Method, a non-impact ballet/yoga/Pilates-type class, explores the fun workout fashions in class. She says she sees a lot of leg warmers, little shorts and the like.
“When people put creativity and fun into what they’re wearing, it will make them feel better and bring a little fun into their workouts."
If you’re looking for clothes that are a little more outside the box for low-impact classes, she suggests exploring the colourful, edgier activewear of stores like American Apparel.
The Fabric of Our Exercise
While you can play with the cut and colour of workout clothes, it is crucial to wear the right fabrics. And as Rotchford notes, with the technologies in fabrics today, performancewear that is attuned to your body is not difficult to find.
Adidas has explored quite a variety of innovative fabrics, such as a quick-drying tee called the Ultimate Workout Tee and Techfit polyfabric. It is tight, but as she notes, it's “made for a full range of motion through gusseting and specific design details for sport.”
One of the most crucial characteristics to look out for, according to both Rotchford and Borden, are clothes that have sweat-wicking properties -- “material that wicks away the sweat from your skin as you work out,” as Rotchford explained it. She warns that without it, particularly in high-intensity workouts such as running, you can develop rashes and chafing. And no matter how cute your outfit looks, a rash is not the best-looking accessory.
But so long as you find these performancewear-specific properties, you can have your pick of the colour and style. The experts all agree that the two most important components of feeling confident and motivated at the gym are comfort and fit. After that, your fashion inspiration -- be it Anna Kournikova or Richard Simmons (we don't judge) -- is really up to you.