Ask Belle: The Workout Attire Edition

Jul 23, 2012

Dear Belle,

Whether running on the Mall or working out at Golds, I inevitably bump into someone I’ve previously encoutered in my day job.  I feel that all work out wear is not created equal.  I despise both those skin-tight black running capris (provides muffin top or doesn’t stay up) and both the diaper-butt nike shorts that every woman in America seems to own.  Further, I get dirty looks when I show up to a spinning class with my political t-shirts or alma matter tees. 

Can’t a girl just get a sweat in? What do you wear to workout in?

I workout…oh, what’s the word…infrequently.  I made a valiant attempt at a regular workout schedule this winter, but it was a phase–like listening to punk rock or dying your hair purple.  I just don’t have the discipline for it, but if you do, I salute you.  Also, since I live in a building with a nice gym, the only thing I wear to work out in is a sports bra, Nike Phantom shorts and a cotton tee.  So to answer your question with more specificity, I decided to turn to my resident health and fitness expert Miss M. 


Dear Reader,

You are on the right track, (Ed Note: I apologize in advance, I didn’t know M was going to use puns.) and I applaud you for wanting to improve your workout look. Because when you look better, you feel better. And when you feel good, you are more likely to keep up on your exercise routine.

We can’t control  who we might run into while working out or how the mirror-covered walls reflect all of our assets at the worst possible angles, but we can control what we wear, so let’s choose wisely.  I realize that you said you hate black workout capris because they either create a muffin top or fall down. We just need to find you the right fit, an updated style, and a quality product.  Well – bottoms up, sweetheart.

Lululemon Recognition PantIf I know of a product that creates the illusion of lift for my backside, there is a huge chance I will purchase it, and an even greater chance that  I will want to shout the name of said product from the Elliptical.

Bia Brazil has an amazing line of basic workout bottoms, including some with a bit more “personality.”  (I love color and pattern, but I am loyal to black pants because they show less sweat downthere.) I like this cropped pair with a wide waist band.  It also comes in a wider leg crop style and a full-length flare.

Another option to remedy the appearance of an unsightly mid-section (muffin top) is to find a pant with a fold-over waist band. This allows you the flexibility of folding over the waist at the spot that is the most comfortable and flattering on your body – because let’s face it, every person’s body is different, and a fold-over style is customizable. Lululemon’s Recognition Pant ($98, at left) has a foldover waistband, and is a great choice in terms of performance wear.  Need something cheaper? Victoria’s Secret makes a good pair that cost $29.50.

Lastly, I’d recommend Lucy’s soon-to-arrive X-Training pant.  (What can I say, I like to have options.)  This pant rests close to the body, has a full leg, and is mid-rise, it also has easy to mix/match options and a handful of color stories to choose from per season.  They also make an X-Training pant with a low rise ($89) and a cropped style ($79).

Hate capris? Hate shorts? Hate pants? Try a skirt – this style has adjustable sides, is still made with sweat-wicking fabric, and has built-in shorts so you can wear it for running, yoga, pilates, whatever workout you fancy.

Now, let’s move on to tops.  There are a variety of styles for ultimate flattery depending on what parts of your body you like to emphasize or camouflage.  So make sure to chose the one that’s right for you.

If you’re conscious of your mid-section, and would like some coverage, this Nike Elastika top ($30) is great for staying cool during summer months.  It has a great body-skimming shape, instead of being so tight you feel like you’re wearing a sausage-casing.

Another high-performance top with a bit of breathing room is the Charm Banded top from Under Armour ($40).  (Ed. Note: I own this top.  In addition to all UA’s moisture-wicking benefits, the looser fit makes it really comfortable if you’re moving a lot.)

Sometimes it feels good to have sleeves on in these super air-conditioned gyms. The Lija Virtue Top ($70) is relaxed and incorporates strategically placed ruching – not just for jersey dresses and mini-skirts! This Danskin yoga tee also has sleeves and light ruching for a wallet-friendly ($18).

Need a workout bra that doesn’t give you uniboob? Try  Belle also likes Under Armour’s Armour High Impact line which provides support whether you’re an A-cup or a DD.  Need to go beyond DD? Panache workout bras go up to 40GG for maximum support.

As for shoes, workout shoes are 100% a matter of personal preference.  What fits you best? What is most comfortable for you?  What will help correct your stride? When traveling I love Nike Free shoes ($54) – lightweight, moderate support, and easy to pack.

What are your favorite workout must-haves?

Ask The Edit, Style

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  1. Anna says:

    I used to think it was crazy to spend so much money on Lululemon. Then, I bought their WonderUnder capris in black. My butt has never looked so good. Worth. Every. Penny. I wouldn't wear them running, but they're great for weight training and yoga.

    I still don't think I'll pay for their tops or anything like that, but those pants are a godsend.

  2. B says:

    On a VERY related note: to the ladies that go to yoga classes in cotton leggings… you can't tell when you are standing upright and looking in the mirror, but in your down dog, they become completely see through.

    I unfortunately see this all the time and will tell my friends if i notice, but don't feel comfortable telling the unknown stranger in front of me that we could all see if she chose to wear underwear under her leggings or not that day.

  3. CEM says:

    Any tips for activities that just get you really sweaty, like running in the summer heat? At some level I just decide I'm not going to look cute while I'm exercising, that's not the point! But then other times I do wish I looked less frumpy.

  4. Roberta says:

    I highly recommend sports bras made by local company Moving Comfort. They come in great colors, have soft, comfortable fabric, and are definitely supportive if you need it (I'm a 34D and a runner – I need it!). My favorite place to buy sports bras in particular and workout wear in general is Title 9 sports – . I also second the recommendation for Under Armour gear – it really works, lasts, and seems to repel cumulative workout stink better than other gear.

  5. L says:

    Workout skirts! I love them. With a well-fitting shirt they're SO much more flattering than shorts or pants. A big bonus here is that the cheap ones are just as good as the expensive ones (unlike pants). My favorites are from Target and TJMaxx. The TJMaxx near me also has a pretty good selection of workout wear. They definitely have some duds, but I can always find one or two high-quality tops (Under Armour, Nike, Addidas) for a great price.

  6. kim says:

    Workout skirts are amazing, try them! Also the latest trend is workout shirts that are looser in the midsection; even Target serves a version by Champion. Try Athleta, they have stuff for more functionality. Lululemon and Lucy are good, too.

  7. E says:

    I used to wear cotton when I worked out thinking it was loose! and breezy! and hid unsightly bulges! Turns out, cotton just absorbs your sweat and keeps it close to the body body while bunching up and showing those things you don't want shown anyway.

    Without sounding like a total snob, I pretty much only wear lululemon. The price is high but the quality simply cannot be beat. I have capris I've been wearing twice a week for four years (including washer and dryer, which they tell you not to do) and they are still in great shape. Last weekend I had a pair of capris where the seam on the crotch was coming undone a little and I brought them into the store after a year of wear and no receipt. They gave me a brand new pair, no questions asked.

    As for tops, if you are worried about the shirt riding up, try the 'Cool Racerback *Extra Long' tank.

  8. Molly says:

    I like the workout tops from Old Navy, especially since they come in long sizes, and they don't ride or fall up while doing yoga and anything else involving being upside down (otherwise I'd just wear a tshirt).

    I used to LOVE my workout shorts from GapFit — they were about halfway down the thigh and had great support and a zip pocket for keys in the back. Gap stopped making them and now I can only find short shorts, knee length, or capris — anyone have a favorite workout short in this length??

  9. Katie says:

    I have these capris from Target which I love because they have a higher rise, which helps to hide any muffin tops/bulges. The material is thick (but I never get hot in them) so they feel very structured and secure:

    I purchased Athletic Essentials nylon/spandex shorts at Marshalls for only $8 not long ago. I can't find them online, but they have a fold-over waistband that is super comfortable. For the price, they're great and I wear them all the time. They are very similar in design to these, though I would not suggest buying activewear from Forever 21:

  10. S says:

    Second the Target Champion stuff. The non-cotton sports bras are great. They have workout shirts in whatever that fabric is that isn't cotton and is supposed to catch sweat. It's often on sale. The capris ride pretty high actually and there's no muffin top or falling.

  11. Casey J-D says:

    Lululemon is expensive, but worth it. Love the pants, and I often will go in once a quarter and get three to four pieces from their clearance rack (I'm an odd size that tends to have a lot left over when the season ends) for what I would spend on one or two piece regular priced. If you are larger busted, however, go for something more substantial than their spaghetti strapped tops. I have also found a good sports bra, good pants and an old navy special tank (in a size larger than I usually wear) always work for me whether I'm in class, running or biking.

  12. CynthiaW says:

    I second the UnderArmour suggestion – I used to think that it was way overpriced and then I bought some. The heat wicking really works and keeps you from overheating in the summer and their cold gear is unbelievable in the winter – it keeps you warm and wicks away moisture, which keeps you from chilling. They also have the only compression gear that actually compresses.

    And… bonus, it absolutely does not hold odor and keeps you from stinking.

  13. Jennifer says:

    Another recommendation for Moving Comfort sports bras! I'm a 32 F and they are amazing and feel wonderful. I also love to run in my Sport Skirt. Built in compression shorts, cute style, and pockets on both legs on the shorts part that hold whatever. New Balance Running shoes, and a nice hat, wicking T shirt and I'm good to go. And I love the Champion C9 clothes at Target. Great price point for what you get!

  14. nicci says:

    I'm an outdoor runner and gym goer and trust me, no one is really judging you if you wear your alma mater or political T-shirts. The only thing I give the side eye to is stuff that looks especially filthy or ragged. But that's still a pretty low threshold. Just get your butt out on the street or into the gym and try not to worry about what you're wearing. I am a big fan of Under Armor, Brooks and Target's C9 line. Also definitely check out Marshalls and TJ Maxx for good deals on brand names. As for Lululemon, their pants feel like butter and they make your butt look amazing but I find that I hardly wear my Wunder Unders because I get too hot in long pants. So think about that before you drop $90 there.

  15. renee says:

    Agree with nicci. I have worn and have seen some pretty bad things at the gym. It's always nice to look good/not frumpy when working out, but when it comes down to it . . . sweaty = good.

    As far as clothing goes, I wear almost exclusively Lululemon these days. It's expensive, but I workout a lot, and I work out hard, and I would definitely say it's worth it. I also LOVE my Gapfit gFast leggins and the Gflex pants (they are VERY similiar to the Lululemon Groove pants) for yoga. In my experience, the Champion C9 sports bras from Target are the best on the market for yoga (I also use them for running, but I am small chested).

  16. anth says:

    I recommend going to Marshall's/TJMaxx etc and looking for workout gear. You can get “previous season” stuff pretty inexpensively.
    Target is also making some nice tanks w/built in bras that are semi-fitted. I've been running in these or sportsbras all summer.

  17. JMK0316 says:

    Call it another vote for Target's C9 line. These shirts ( in practically every color are a regular fixture in my workout wardrobe, which is used running alongside a busy highway (and thus occasionally through work areas populated by young men) in the mornings in the hot, extremely humid south (Central Arkansas). Unlike the embattled letter writer, I am a fan of Nike's ubiquitous running shorts, but I do find that these very similar shorts from Adidas ( fit a non-perfect physique slightly better and are somewhat cheaper, though not astronomically so. I would also second the running skirt suggestion, as it gives the compression of a snug short but provides an added degree of modesty one might look for when potentially running into colleagues (I also just think it's cuter :).

  18. Caroline says:

    I am in love with the Bia Brazil pants! I'm confused by their website, though. Are they wholesale only?

  19. CynthiaW says:

    Yes – Marshall's is awesome. I hardly ever find Under Armor compression gear there, but I've found heat gear and hats both at awesome prices. Also – it's a great place for cold weather gear. At the end of last season, I scored a $150 running jacket with awesome pockets for $9.99 on clearance.

    I actually like Old Navy's yoga pants – the Active line fits pretty nicely and seems to last well. As for Lulemon – it might be expensive, but if it lasts, you wear it all the time, and it makes you feel great – go for it.

  20. Artemisia says:

    Thirding the suggestion for Moving Comfort – if you are busty and a runner, the Fiona is a must-have. You can often buy them on Amazon or from Sierra whatsis for half price.

    If you are trying to look put together in case you meet anyone from work, nice plain tee from Under Armour aren't revealing and wear like iron. I'm devoted to my black running tights of varying lengths but Nike makes running pants that are looser if that's important to you.

  21. Sara says:

    I'm a very avid runner. It's hard enough to get out the door to run, let alone look good doing it. I do want to look good when I exercise because I do subscribe to the 'look good, feel good, do good' mantra, so I pick up my digs from Target. My Hill salary keeps me out of Lululemon so I have to suck it up and wear the ugly diaper-butt Nike shorts (which are also functional and allow me to stride well). Please don't judge… or I'll have to race you.

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