Your Workout Wardrobe

I want every woman who reads this blog to feel good in her own skin.

Getting out and moving to the best of your ability improves your relationship with your body. The Mud and Grace community includes women from age 15 to 85, some of them do yoga, play tennis, climb, or kick box. Some run 50K races and others walk 15 minute miles. And all of us need to wear something while we’re out there getting our heart rate up.

Lydia and Ella might be a little more hardcore than the rest of us.

One barrier to working out regularly is not having the appropriate gear. I managed to dodge the swimming pool for four straight summers because I didn’t like my bathing suit.*

Getting your workout wardrobe in order will make getting ready to exercise easier, help you feel better when working out, help you to forget about what you are wearing (Is it too tight? Falling down? Pulling up? Smelling horrific?) and allow you to focus on your workout.

Me, not thinking about what I’m wearing.

“Great!” you say, “Sign me up.” Because if a great workout wardrobe were easy, we’d all have one already, right?

Given that I have been working out regularly since my freshman year in college and just last month finally nailed down my own workout wardrobe,** I am not in a strong position to judge anyone who finds the process a little baffling. Wandering through a mega store filled with fantastically expensive leggings is not fun. When said leggings are designed for 7’ tall women, and will in all likelihood slide down and expose half of your behind by the third down dog, one can be forgiven for walking out without buying anything.

One Lululemon jacket cost the approximately the same amount as the rest of my wardrobe combined.

To begin, let’s get a few ugly truths about workout gear out in the open.

#1. Athletic gear companies don’t want you to have an easy, mix and match workout wardrobe. They very specifically come out with new and difficult-to-match colors season after season. The best course of action, then, is to skip the colors and go straight for the black and grey they nearly always offer. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve wasted trying to match navy and peach shorts with a running top.

#2. Workout gear is often expensive. Sorry, it just is. Buy from a company with a good rep for sustainable practices and feel good about it. Quality leggings will fit better and last longer than a cheaply made pair.

#3. Athletic gear doesn’t last forever. Think about what you are doing as you work out: Running, jumping, sweating, stretching. This would be hard on any piece of clothing. Evaluate your pieces regularly and replace them as needed.

#4. Workout gear takes special care. Mud and Grace is a style blog founded on the principle that women don’t want to spend their waking hours hand washing silk sweaters and steaming linen pants. That said, extra care will allow your expensive workout gear to exist in the world for a little longer than it might otherwise. Washing your gear on cold, then line drying will help garments keep their shape.*** If your clothes smell funny Bac Out Biokleen or something similar can help.

Seriously, I have to line dry a sweatshirt???

All that said, the benefits of having a good workout wardrobe still outweigh the time and energy it takes to create and maintain one. Take it from the woman who ran in very old, 2nd hand shorts and free t-shirts for 20 years. We spend money and energy on all sorts of things, dinners out, make up, pedicures. Diverting your energy and money from say, your phone and data plan, to clothing that will help you meet your fitness goals seems like a reasonable idea.

Lydia, spending her time and energy getting outside.

How much do you need?

You need one complete workout ensemble for everyday of the week you do a particular activity, plus one. So if you run four times a week, you need five running ensembles.**** Less is more in this situation, you want to keep the decision-making to a minimum when preparing to workout. Keep in mind the seasons. What I wear running in February is very different from what I wear running in June.

This is my gear for indoor climbing: Four tops, for pairs of tights, two sweatshirts. This all can double for the yoga I don’t do nearly as often as I’d like.

How can I make it all work together?

Regarding color, start with a base of black, grey and white. If you look better in warm colors, go black, tan and cream. For a good long while, only buy workout clothing in these neutrals. Then add in one or two other colors if you are inclined. Or, you can have color for tops and buy only grey and black bottoms, or colorful bottoms and black, white and grey tops.

Regarding style, remember the basic rules of proportion. If it’s floppy on top, keep it fitted on the bottom and vice versa. With workout clothes, it is appropriate to wear fitted clothing throughout, but I find I’m more comfortable with some movement in my tops.

All of my running gear is black, white and gray. Any extra thinking and I’ll spend more time getting dressed than actually running.

Where should the biggest investment be?

Shoes. And after shoes, invest in bottoms, then jackets. You don’t need to spend a ton of money on tops unless you want to. I still climb and run in 2nd hand tank tops, as they don’t seem to impede my progress. Contrary to the massive advertising we are bombarded with, most women don’t need a top-of-the-line sports bra. A simple pull-over bra works on all but the most generously busted among us.*****

My beautiful climbing shoes relaxing on the deck after a hard workout.

Where should I start?

Start by removing all the workout gear that you own and don’t love. Several months ago I donated a bright pink running top, an expensive fitted tank, and several weird-colored pairs of running shorts. It may be that by getting rid of what you don’t wear, you will find you have a tidy little workout kit ready to go.

This simple top was withering away in my drawer, until it occurred to me to wear it to the gym.

If you have nothing, you can’t go wrong with a great pair of sweats, a pair of shorts, a sports bra, and good shoes. Then walk out your front door and enjoy!

Being active will add substantial joy to your life. If you need some great looking gear to get you out there, go buy it. Then forget about what you have on and go crush your workout.

Let’s have one more picture of Lydia and Ella, because they are awesome and totally representing the black/ gray/ one color theory of workout gear.

* Seriously? Four summers?? Yes, four. Crazy.

** 27 years

***My friend Renee has a clothes line in her attic for just this purpose. It is super cool.

**** My husband, who was an elite runner in college and for many years after, thought this was way too much. He then related stories of having only one pair of running shorts for several years. So, if you are an incredibly fit man in 1986, you only need one pair of running shorts. For the rest of us, have a ready-to-go workout ensemble for each day of the week you work out.

***** You know who you are, and honestly the rest of us are a little jealous.