Fitness Fashion - Valerie Bock blog entry #9, August 30


Fitness Fashion, Central Illinois Style

One of the things I appreciate about working out at the YMCA is that it is filled with “regular folks.” Most of us (ok, probably all of us) are not fitness models – we have a few lumps and bumps. And there’s not a whole lot of pressure to conform to a standard of dress. Nobody needs to spend a fortune on Lululemon activewear in order to fit in at the Y.

That said, there have been some really great breakthroughs in textiles for workout wear in recent years, and many people find that their workout experience is enhanced if they have something attractive and comfortable to wear. I know Henry David Thoreau warned us against all enterprises requiring new clothes, but personally, I find dignifying a new project with specialized duds tends to encourage me to amortize the expense by getting some wear out of them!

Our “What the Hill” sprint workout today took place on the lovely grounds of St. John’s Lutheran Church, where there is a nice wide driveway with a hill. The location struck me as the PERFECT place for a fashion shoot! So what I’m describing today are sartorial strategies employed by members of the challenge team – regular folks, none of whom, to my knowledge, have yet pursued a career as a fashion model.

Strategy 1: Come As You Are

The noble cotton fiber has long served the active human. It’s light and breathable, and cool to wear. So Chris Burns at least had that going for him when he showed up in a button down shirt and pair of jeans for today’s workout. There are a number of people who regularly come to the Y in street clothes, and a determined exerciser can totally make this work.


  • Time saving! No need to deal with the locker room or plan ahead. Just get dressed in the morning and you’re good to go!


  • “give”- jeans and sport shirts are not usually stretchy, which makes some moves more challenging than when one is wearing clothing which allows for more movement
  • breathability - jeans are kind of densely woven. A looser weave lets moisture out more readily
  • underwear – people often wear cotton underwear under street clothes, which is absorbent, but then the moisture is trapped by the layer of street clothes, which can make for some real skin discomfort
  • aroma – most of us sweat when we work out. And while the sweat from physical exertion usually is less objectionable than the stuff we put out when we are stressed or nervous, wearing the clothes we worked out in when we return to the workplace may not be the most considerate move with regard to our co-workers.

Strategy 2: Go Pro or Go Home

Molly is always dressed head to toe in professional-grade work-out wear. I have it on good authority that fitness trainers get special catalogs which feature high-grade options designed to stand up to hours and hours of working out each week. And why not? Professional gear is part of their presentation! Molly’s ensembles generally start with relatively form-fitting tops which either have a bra built in or under which she wears a sports bra. She tends to favor black leggings, at capri length. She always looks great, and I like to imagine I look like her when I attempt to do the various moves she gives us.


  • Looks great
  • Form fitting clothing on the instructor helps the class members see exactly what our bodies should be doing when she demonstrates a move.
  • Constructed of breathable, wicking, quick drying fabric, so she doesn’t overheat easily and cool down happens quickly


  • The pro stuff may be a little pricey for some of us dilettantes
  • Those of us who do not rock a fitness trainer’s body may prefer a bit more drape in our clothing

Strategy 3: T-shirt and Shorts

The cotton t-shirt is a go-to for many of us. It has all that soft absorbent cottony goodness going for it, PLUS personal expression through clever sayings or mentions of events and places where we have been. Matt Whitehead has paired his t-shirt with athletic shorts, which offer all that nice breathability we have come to appreciate.


  • Cheap! Most of us already have t-shirts and shorts!
  • Cool! On account of the cotton and/or wicking material, and exposing elbows and knees to the fresh air
  • Drapey! A loose t-shirt covers areas we’d prefer not to draw attention to. Same for loosely cut shorts


  • Slow drying. A challenge workout will cause most of us to soak right through that thing, and then we are wearing a wet t-shirt. Not optimal.
  • Not upside-down proof. Challenge folks are often doing stuff which involves inverting our normal posture. When your hips are up above your shoulders, the hem of your t-shirt responds to gravity, exposing your torso. Loose fitting shorts may also expose a person if that person needs to put his legs up in the air. Also not optimal.

Strategy 4: Form Fitting Tank in Wicking Material over Form Fitting Bike-Short or Legging

This look is way popular with we women of the challenge, for a lot of reasons


  • Many tops come with built in bras – less to forget when packing the workout bag
  • It can be fun to coordinate the tank color with a separate workout bra
  • Upside-down proof – hip length tank does not ride up to rib cage when doing mountain climbers
  • Better able to see (can’t escape seeing) whether we’re moving correctly – with form fitting clothes, you can see whether your plank is tight like it’s supposed to be.
  • Comfortable – usually the stretch is 4 way. This means everything stays in place even when we are moving in 17 different directions
  • Quick drying


  • Can be pricey – but TJ Maxx and Ross often have high quality stuff for reasonable prices. Target is a great resource for active wear, and WalMart and Sams stock “wicking” active wear too.
  • Does force you to face/reveal actual body rather than the one you would prefer to imagine you are wearing. (Some people favor black for the way it hides shadows which otherwise emphasize lumps and bumps. Me, I like bright colors, so everybody just has to deal with my form!)

Strategy 5: The Layered Look

Guys often do the layered look to combine the benefits of a wicking under layer, with the drapeyness of a cotton over layer, as Bruce Jeffery demonstrates. Or in Pilates they wear a form fitting bike-short or running-leggings type layer, with a pair of regular shorts over it for modesty.


  • Looks good
  • Arguably offers best of both worlds


  • Twice as much Laundry!

The reality is that people around here have better things to do than fuss too much about their clothing. If you are a come-as-you-are kind of exerciser, that’s totally cool – you have lots of company. And if you like to flash some color, or the latest look, that’s great too. The important thing is not to let clothing concerns hold you back from getting active!

Senior Yoga Mat

Join Our Free Text Club

Keep up to date on all things Y!