Fitness Fashion: What to Wear and Not to Wear to Your Workout

By on January 6, 2014

By Alice Burron

Are you waiting for the time when you are at your ideal weight to buy new fitness clothes? Wait no longer…update your fitness wardrobe and use the momentum to get you motivated to move!

We all have our favorite workout t-shirt and shorts/sweats, but if you’re going out in public, think twice before wearing these because you’re missing a great opportunity to look amazing and increase the success of your workout.

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How can your fitness clothes affect your workout? Your self-esteem is affected by how you perceive yourself, and if you think you look good in your fitness wear, you will ultimately be a more inclined to stay at the gym and give your workout an extra boost of effort. A 2012 study at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, concluded that clothing can affect the way we act, and even coined a term “enclothed cognition” which describes how clothing influences the wearers’ psychological process, such as positively affecting workout performance. Also, having a nicer workout clothing selection will inspire you to become more active so you will be more likely to go to fitness classes or the gym.

Fitness wear is everywhere and convenient to buy. Department stores have plenty relatively inexpensive pieces, but it’s what you’re not seeing, and how pieces are put together, that may make a difference in how they feel and look.

Fitness wear can be objectively broken down into 4 fitness fashion-affecting components: fabric, seams, size and style. You want to consider all four before purchasing your fitness wear to get the best of your fitness clothing.

Fitting Fabrics

Many less expensive brands use fabrics that are quite thin (mostly polyester with a little spandex) that show bulges and don’t hold body shape. These are the pieces that end up worn with a large t-shirt to cover up what’s left behind.

Fabrics should be tight knit, yet light enough to move in. Steer away from bulky cotton, as in the sweatpants. Instead, look for polyester, nylon, spandex mixes that aren’t so thin they snag – a sure sign they won’t last long. The weight of the fabric will depend on your intentions: A lighter weight is good for indoors or layering, and a heavier weight is good for outdoors. Heavier weight fabrics used for indoor fitness can catch odors, and feel heavy when you’re really sweating it up.

A quick word from experience: the dance wear fashion industry is a great place to look for fitness wear, too, and sometimes is less expensive. Look online or ask your local dance studios if they carry dance wear.

Behind the Seams

Higher-end fitness wear typically has seams everywhere; sometimes multiple panels are sewn together in front, behind, and around the waist. This helps contour the body while keeping the bulges in place, which not only looks better, but is much more comfortable during an impactful workout.

Here’s a rule of thumb:  If seams look like railroad tracks, reconsider, but if seams look like two railroad tracks with stitches in between, it’s worth considering.  And, as a general rule, the more seams the better.

A Mile of Style

Sometimes fitness wear has patterns, pockets, buttons, and other fun accentuations on the garment. If the buttons and/or pockets are in a place you want people to look at, then go for it. Remember, the bling on a product causes the eye to go to that area. That’s what it’s for, so if you don’t want eyes stopping at that point, then keep looking for another option.

Slimming side strips on fitness pants and seams top-down on the sides of shirts are also great slimming effects that works for all body types.

If you have long legs, consider a capri that hugs the leg – not one that ends mid-calf with a bell-shape. If you have shorter, stocky legs, capris are also a great choice, but try to have them land before or after your calf muscle. This keeps the eye from focusing on the calf. Legwear should be dictated more by the type of exercise than fashion, but as long as the length is right, the size is not too tight to cause a muffin top, and the waist is covered to keep belly flab in, the fabric seams are good, you shouldn’t go wrong.

Black is always a great sliming choice, but black legwear and solid upper wear is also a great go-to. If you have a chesty upper body, or are bigger boned, stick with solid colors. If you are petite or have muscular arms, patterns might be a fun option.

A note to those skinny fit folks: We appreciate you’ve worked hard on your body and it looks good, but do you really have to share the bare belly with us all? Save it for the beach.

Size It Up

It’s tempting to purchase something that keeps all the bulges firmly in place, but if you see a muffin top, or fat flab overflow at the waist or around the arm openings of tanks, go up a size, or find a fit with a higher waist to hold in tummy fat. Worried it will be too big? As long as it stays on, you’re good to go.

If you must insist on a t-shirt, consider a long-sleeved yoga hoodie – a classy alternative to t-shirts. T-shirts come in new options that are more breathable, fitted, and styled than a typical t-shirt, too. Find a solid color (not your 5K shirt from 5 years ago), and make sure it’s long enough to go past the waist so as not to flash everyone while you do overhead moves.

Cost is always a consideration, but in the world of fitness wear, don’t be afraid to spend a little more for quality. You’ll love wearing clothing that moves with you, looks good, is comfortable, and keeps you active.  It’s worth the investment!

About Alice Burron

Alice Burron, one of the co-authors of the “Stress As Trigger, Your Body As Target” book, is a life-long student of health and wellness. Her experience includes worksite wellness, wellness coaching, personal training, writing, speaking and community wellness initiatives. She can be contacted at [email protected] The book can be purchased at

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Fitness Fashion: What to Wear and Not to Wear to Your Workout