Why Athletic Apparel Isn’t for Everyone: A Proposal for New Workout Gear

In my days of succumbing to reality TV marathons, I watched far too much TLC: your Trading Spaces in its hey-day, your crazy divas and mothers of Say Yes to the Dress, and, mostly, your positive “Shut up!” from Stacey and Clinton on the American What Not to Wear.  Nearly every episode of that sartorial self-help was essentially the same: stalking a hapless and disheveled American who enjoyed a little too much Wal-mart and capitalizing on the adage “Dress not for the job you have but for the job you want.”

People have told me this variation in reference to the gym as well.  “Stop dressing in baggy clothes that make you look like a hapless and disheveled American who buys her cheap workout gear at Wal-mart,” they say (obviously verbatim).  “Instead, wear form-fitting clothes that make you excited to work out and emphasize what figure you do have.” On the one hand, I see these people’s point; I enjoy wearing moisture-wicking fabrics that lend a sense of legitimacy to the occasion of me sweating like a pig.  But on the other hand…

Are they insane?!

I would love to put on a workout outfit with the same enthusiasm for looking cute or trendy or, god forbid, dignified as I do to go to work or to a social event.  But like most clothing, athletic apparel fails to appropriately serve a “larger” audience, making the social stigma of working out at the gym (especially if you’re the one who needs to work out most) even more oppressive.

Advertisers, I’m onto you. If I wore the athletic gear advertised by Nike or Gap Fit, I would not have the flat tummy or toned arms or cellulite-free thighs, nor would I have that shiny, sunny glow that apparently comes as a special bonus of owning the clothes.  I would look like a lumpy pile of dough improperly wrapped in cheap cellophane.

GapFit: for all who are already in shape. Healthy glow included.

So UnderArmor, Champion, Nike, Adidas, GapFit, New Balance, Fila, and everybody else in the world who manufactures athletic wear, listen up.  I’m about to tell you how to do it.

  1.  The sports bra.  What is the purpose of a light-intensity sports bra?  Give me serious support all. the. time.  Do you realize how uncomfortable it is to jump rope when your chest achieves a greater vertical leap than your feet?  Even in something like yoga, why not have stronger support?  When I’m twisting or contorting my torso, I want those puppies in place; when I’m attempting a headstand, I don’t want a mouthful of breast.  And I don’t even have that big of boobs.
  2. The material.  Cotton’s not great, I understand.  You sweat, it stretches, it droops, it gets disgustingly squishy, it falls off.  But does it have to be all spandex, all the time? I braved the figure-clinging running pants for the first time this year, and I grant that they make a huge difference in how it feels to run.  Of course, I wear them with an oversized shirt.  There has to be an in-between, something that isn’t a paper bag but also something that isn’t a second skin to make me feel even more self-conscious.  Let’s get on that.
  3. The V-Necks.  I don’t know about the rest of the women out there, but I hate crew cut tees.  The feeling of something on my collarbone makes me feel claustrophobic; I could never be a man because wearing a tie would throw me into a fit of panic on a daily basis, eventually resulting in screaming and a possible Tourette’s diagnosis.  OK, maybe that’s just me.  Regardless, less clothing seems important to keeping me cool, and crew necks obviously cover more.  I have a very hard time finding V-necks in the store (at an affordable price), which is why I usually work out in men’s undershirts.  Or when I do find a V-neck, it’s sometimes so low that I wonder if I’ve accidentally wandered from the athletic clothing section into the I-wanna-be-a-stripper, down-to-your-belly-button clothing section. Make (conservative) V-necks more available.
  4. The tank top.  I ask you, what is the problem with sleeves? Yes, I did make the argument earlier that less material = less heat.  Sure. However, I am not yet willing to bare my arms and their jiggle to the world, even at the risk of a little extra heat.  Besides, when I’m on a run, a good sleeve is a welcome companion when I hike my shoulder up to wipe off the forehead sweat threatening to burn my eyes.  Most of the workout shirts in stores, though, (despite the cotton men’s undershirts, obvi) are sleeveless.  Give me more options.
  5. The shirt length.  I am blessed – blessed, I tell you – with short legs and an over-long torso, which made shopping for one-piece bathing suits that much more fun. If I’m already wearing the skin-tight pants that reveal all the embarrassing roundness of the marsupial pouch below my belly button, the last thing I want is a shirt that only comes down to that innie or outie. Is there something so wrong with long shirts?
  6. The shirt constriction.  And another thing on this shirt business.  If you want women with even an ounce of fat on their upper body to buy your workout shirts, don’t make them squeeze into a shirt that creates even more backfat around the edges of the racerback or that emphasizes every roll when they do a crunch.  This will not motivate public exercise.  Make a shirt that’s slimming but well-constructed, one with a tummy panel.  I have one of these and love it…but it’s sleeveless.
  7. The shorts. Everybody has those same shorts – swishy material, wide leg, a little upward curve on the sides.  Apparently, these have become the workout uniform of women everywhere…at least of women who don’t have to work on their leg definition.  When I wear these shorts, the first stride of my run results in a bunch of swishy material gathering in my crotch and my thighs doing the delightful dance that one of our readers refers to as the “chub rub.”  Unless you have the enviable gap between your legs (and bravo to you if you do), you’ll spend more time pulling these shorts back into place on a run than actually running.  Make shorts longer; make them stay in place.

    You know the ones.

  8. The bottoms length. (To emphasize.) I typically prefer to wear cropped pants or, when it’s cold, full pants because I dislike showing my legs.  Sometimes, though, it is just too damn hot, and I’m willing to give up my pride and wear some shorts.  I just wish that I had something to choose from besides shorts that are no longer than underwear, shorts that ride up, or shorts whose bottom edge digs into my leg above the knee and creates a roll of lower-thigh fat, like a leg muffin top. Make an appropriate-length short hitting around mid-thigh that’s tight enough not to ride up with every stride but not so tight that I cut off circulation.
  9. The drawstring.  Give me one.  Plain and simple.  The goal is for me to lose weight, and I’m working on it.  But I’m not made of money; I can’t afford to buy a new pair of workout pants with every inch that I lose.  Without a drawstring, the pants slip downwards, especially during plyo moves.  Then, my stomach bounces up and down, and I imagine my skin stretching like silly putty with every bounce. Gross.  Let me tie it up.
  10. The bottoms height.  Many of us have an extra little stomach friend hanging out above our belly button.  Give me athletic bottoms that are high enough to keep this guy in check, just long enough so I can work on getting rid of him.
  11. The bottoms seam.  Never ever is it a good idea to stitch the pants together with a straight line down the crotch, especially if you don’t make the pant rise high enough and I have to hike it up over my stomach just to comfortably work out.  A camel toe never did anybody any good.  Seriously, help humanity out and eliminate this terrible epidemic.
  12. The shoes. I realize that most people have fairly normal feet, but I happen to have very wide feet with low arches. It’s necessary to get fitted and have a shoe consultation every time I need to get new shoes because, inevitably, the style I was wearing has been discontinued.  For those of us with this affliction, I ask: why is it necessary to make these more supportive shoes look like orthopedic experiments?  All they’re missing is a little Velcro.  We like color and pizzaz, too.

    ‘Nuff said.

Clothing designers, I hope you’ve learned something here today.  If you need a consultant, I’m happy to offer my services in the development and testing stages, provided that I get to keep any samples (that I like).  This shit ain’t cheap.


*Music video for Fanny Pack’s “Camel Toe.” Hilarity. “Is your crotch hungry, girl?  Because it’s eating your pants.”

If you have any workout clothes comments, complaints, or suggestions, please let us know!  Or just let me know that I’m not the only one who has these rants.

24 responses to “Why Athletic Apparel Isn’t for Everyone: A Proposal for New Workout Gear

  1. Awesome blog. This blog needs to be in every sports & fitness magazine. I might be a smaller/petite person yet all your suggestions are valid & noteworthy. My religious upbringing has had me terrified to reveal any skin or clothing (not appropriately fitted) which would be subjected to judgment. As I continue my path for optium health, I still am uncomfortable wearing shorts or tees which expose belly fat or unshapely extremities. Yet, there is hope that sports/fitness apparel manufacturers will listen to the consumers.

  2. Ha. I hate a lot of workout gear too. I’ve been a runner for a few years now, and even though my legs are much more defined, I STILL get chub rub in shorts if I run a long enough distance. I have a pair of running leggings that I really love, I just wish they weren’t so expensive. and I also agree on the shirts; when workout companies like Adidas or Nike make anything with a sleeve, it’s twice what the tank tops are, except for the really fancy high-performance, covered-in-glow-in-the-dark-panels ones that make you look like some kind of superhero. And for me, a. I don’t like going outside in tank tops and b. I can’t afford the fancy superhero one, even if I wanted to look like a superhero. So I mostly run in t shirts.
    As for sports bras? I recommend the Champions ones at Target. They have good support (I wear a C or D usually) and are pretty inexpensive, I have some I’ve had a few years and they still do the job.

  3. ha! is that a legit Lululemon ad?? it is hilarious. and it’s true, their pants don’t give camel toe.

    in other news, I’m a size 4 pretty much across the board, but some athletic clothing companies make their clothing so damn small, that i have to purchase a size 6 (or even an 8) sometimes just so i can get the piece of clothing on! small girls have problems too, trust me.

  4. Unfortunately, the “good” stuff is expensive! I can’t wear shorts, either, unless I absolutely have to – I don’t have a problem with my legs, it’s just that they never fit right! I’m the opposite of you, though, if I buy anything with a drawstring in it, the first thing I do is cut it out (I feel it only calls out the handful on each of my hips that no amount of exercise or diet has made in dent in).

  5. Liked so very, very much – I always feel like a stuffed little sausage in those tight yoga pants – I could totally remember every single (funny, even though devastating to the inside) scenario that you described… God bless you, babe… I am cheering you on!

  6. I LOVE IT!!! *Applauding* Now, that’s what I’m talking about, not everyone who is working out weighs 90lbs and is perfectly porpotioned. People come in all shapes and sizes and deserve to feel comfortable with themselves while excercising or else they probably will not proceed and keep up with the physical activities.

    Great job! I look forward to more posts.

    • This is really isretenting, You are a very skilled blogger. I have joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of your excellent post. Also, I have shared your web site in my social networks!

  7. I’m right there with you about the crew cut t-shirts. V-neck is my favorite. I’m the type of person who likes those funny, sarcastic t-shirts but, they’re all crew cut. 😦

  8. That is my biggest problem with shorts, the ride up! I have large thighs from riding my bike everywhere and those “short shorts” just don’t do it for me. AS for shoes, I don’t know if these would work for you, but, I have have knee and back problems that used to prevent me from running, or really being active for long amounts of times, then I bought some Vibram 5 fingers, and they make a HUGE difference. I can run without knee and back pain now, and I can walk all day in them without any soreness. 🙂

  9. Lol, I totally agree, except for the V-necks. I can’t wear them. I have a short torso and I’m a D…and if you put a V-neck on me it’s going to all hang out…and NO ONE wants to see that…and I especially don’t want it smacking me in the face…

  10. I have been going to the gym regularly for about two months now. I used to be in much better shape (weren’t we all), but stopped working out for a year or so. I’m a comfortable size 6 and I’m slowly getting back in shape/fit, but seem to still have noticable flabby belly. I’m having the hardest time with this part of my body which I call Agnes. I wear a C cup and I have never found a sports bra that can stop these girls from bouncing all over the place. On top of all that, I have been “blessed” (rolls eyes) with a bubble butt. With all that being said, I can’t buy those spandex shirts because Agnes will be bulging out of them…eeek! finding good shorts that are not cotton (because I seriously sweat like a 200 pound man and have noticable butt cheek sweat) and don’t ride up is such a literal pain in the ass. I don’t want to look cute when I go to the gym. I want to be comfortable and have everything kept in its place. This is an AWESOME post and I’m so happy you touched on this subject! We can only hope the manufacturers are listening!!!

  11. THE SHORTS. Oh God – those things give me a terrible wedgie all the freaking time. My legs are not even all that chubby, but they are VERY straight, and therefore my thighs are rubbing at each other all the time. It’s annoying even with jeans because it tends to rip in between my legs. -.-

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  14. If you can afford $50-60 to buy a good sports bra, do – it’s as important as good shoes. I have one by Berlei and it’s great. (it’s Australian and runs to an H cup! Sadly there are only black & white options after the DD’s.) I’ve worn mine on brisk walks, and to yoga and hip-hop. I’m not much of a runner 🙂 I loathe teeny tiny shorts also, and racerbacks, because although I like the shape of my back, I dislike showing my bra straps.

  15. Started yoga 2 months ago, still can’t find pants that fit 63-y-o. I wouldn’t wear those below the belly if I was 23. Rather be comfortable than cold. About to return to men’s workout pants. Men’s clothing is always cheaper anyhow, and long enough.

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