help me find modest workout clothes
October 3, 2017 2:03 AM   Subscribe

I'm a woman getting into strength training and I'm not interested in showing off my body and getting attention at the gym, but still want comfortable clothes for lifting. I want something that will cover most of my ass when doing squats, etc.

I really, really can't do the stretchy booty shorts and sports bra thing. I understand it's for comfort and whatnot, but it's not my thing. I'm looking to get some work done, not be leered at. I'm looking for natural, breathable fabrics. It's astounding how much workout gear is made of poly blends. 5 minutes in that and I'm feeling sticky, hot and disgusting. I found this style and this is exactly what I'm looking for, but once again, they're a poly blend, but for reference: Link.

Any ideas?
posted by a knot unknown to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I can't help with links because I'm in the UK, but for the bottom half - I buy men's knee-length cotton shorts for exactly the same reason. Look a bit goofy but do the job. They seem to stock these in most sports places.
posted by stillnocturnal at 2:31 AM on October 3 [1 favorite]

Here are some possibilities -- whether they work may depend on how tall you are and exactly how long you want them to be.
- Alternative Apparel Modal/Cotton tank blend
- Alternative Apparel Cotton tank, camo print
- Alternative Apparel racerback with shirttail hem (lower neckline on this one)
- Hanes ribbed cotton tank
- Hanes longer length cotton tank (scoop neck, plus-sizing only)
- J Jill Pima cotton tank
- J Jill 100% linen flowy tank, another J Jill linen tank (looks great & breathable but handwash only)
- Lands End cotton tank top ("falls to mid hip")

If you want even longer lengths, you could search for "cotton tank tunics" (some of these options came from that search term). "Cotton tank shirttail hem" and "cotton tank hi-low hem" also yield options with more coverage in back.

You could also do what I do: buy the menswear version, which is nearly always cheaper, higher quality, and more comfortable than whatever they're trying to sell to women. For tops, I buy a large-ish men's 100% cotton t-shirt (here's one for $6) and cut off the sleeves and/or collar band. The cut edges don't unravel in the wash; they just roll up into a nice new hem. For bottoms, I generally go with knee-length men's gym shorts (here's a two-pack for $18 in all-cotton). You could get yourself a whole kit for the price of a single women's top.
posted by ourobouros at 3:00 AM on October 3 [4 favorites]

I completely forgot to include that I am 5'4'', 120 lbs.
posted by a knot unknown at 3:10 AM on October 3

No links as i live in France, but seconding the suggestion of men's shirts. I find that a 3x (I usually wear an M or L) with tights works well for me - bonus, it's cheaper and higher quality than the fancy skimpy stuff.

I'm 5'4 too, but closer to 150 lbs, and this has been my gym uniform for years.
posted by Tamanna at 3:27 AM on October 3

I get that you are not a fan of poly blends, but you are not supposed to wear cotton next to your skin if you are going to be doing a lot of physical activity. It rubs and holds sweat against your body, leaving you damp. It sucks but I deal with it by finding the softest poly blends I can.

I've never had a lot of luck buying men's workout shirts because the neck is always too tight for me, but men's basketball shorts are my go-to in the summer for covering my bottom half. Men's joggers might work for you in the winter -- they are too long for me so I have to go with the women's joggers, a size up from my usual size so they aren't skin-tight.

Now, you are pretty tiny so I'm not sure that this would work for you, but you might check out the plus-size section at Walmart or another cheap exercise clothes retailer for shirts. They will definitely be too big, even in the smallest size, but the plus-sized clothes are often designed to be loose and flowy.
posted by possibilityleft at 4:49 AM on October 3 [6 favorites]

I work out in jersey track pants and long tanks. Seconding that cotton/natural fibers aren't great for serious workouts.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:39 AM on October 3 [3 favorites]

For ass-covering goodness have a look at spantaloons. Spantaloons plus a t-shirt would do the trick I would think.
posted by 6thsense at 6:37 AM on October 3

You want fabric that wicks away moisture - cotton tends to absorb and hold moisture. Wool can wick, but it also can lose shape, but I see this Forbes article about wool workout wear. I usually know people who wear it as a base layer for biking or running outdoors in cold weather.

Racerback made out of 53% merino wool, 47% TENCEL. similar and lightweight pants
posted by jillithd at 6:38 AM on October 3 [1 favorite]

If you're going to be lifting, cotton is actually a good choice for a shirt. I find it moves better, I get a better platform for the bar with squats, and the material doesn't interfere with movement in deadlifts and presses.
posted by disconnect at 6:38 AM on October 3

I'll second stillnocturnal to just buy some men's workout clothes. Walmart and Oldnavy have wicking shorts and shirts - the shirts have a high neck band, and there's the option of long sleeves, t-shirt or tank top (which might be revealing in the arm area. The "short" shorts are a 7 inch inseem which translates to more than half way down the leg for me (a 6'1-ish leggy guy), but will probably be closer to knee length on someone shorter. They're definitely not revelaing, they're comfortable, and cheap.

I know you said you wanted natural fabrics, but there's a reason most workout clothing is artificial; for it's wicking properties. If cotton gets a bit wet, it holds in all the moisture and doesn't spread it around much, and that waterlogged area stops breathing, and insulates, making things warmer faster. I still use cotton over a wicking layer if I'm doing heat training, and it's amazing how much worse it is than "technical" fabric once it's wet, and heavy with sweat.

Others point out some brands of smartwool if you really want to go for more natural fabrics - if you find any woman's items too revealing, just check out the men's section.
posted by nobeagle at 7:05 AM on October 3

In terms of bottoms that cover, better brands are going to be Girls Who Powerlift and GRRRL. GRRRL has joggers and other pants that are not leggings that may meet your "natural fibers' criteria, but if you want leggings that cover, this is where I'd look. Technical fabrics are going to contain some mix of natural and engineered fabrics that are made specifically to wick away moisture and stop fabric from being stinky.

I wear smartass 100% cotton racerbacks and tanks when I work out from The Fitness and other brands - once you look at any of these links, you'll start being served ads for all these places like Constantly Varied Gear and Wantable. FWIW I think Wantable is overpriced.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:06 AM on October 3

I like men's workout shorts, but I've found I need to wear some sort of light compression short underneath. The waist size that fits my hips and butt result in a leg width that gives the whole gym a look up my crotch when I'm squatting down.
posted by schroedinger at 10:11 AM on October 3 [1 favorite]

I solved this cheaply by buying men's workout pants from Walmart and just rolling them over once at the waistband so they didn't drag on the ground. I vastly prefer this to the skintight, crotch-revealing three-quarter length pants currently on offer to women as workout clothes. I absolutely cannot stand those things, either in appearance or the way they feel when worn.

For shirts I just buy three dollar cotton tees sold to Juniors, also from Walmart, which have sleeves, a long torso, are fitted, and have a neckline I can accept (I hate the v-necks of most workout tees on offer for women, as they hit my neck around the collarbone, also these kinds of shirts usually hit me around the hip and are boxy, making me feel like I'm swimming in them) and are not scratchy. I know polyester blends wick better but I *hate* the scratchy. They are also a decently inexpensive alternative to the standard workout shirts sold to women, which seem to me to barely cover anything at all.
posted by Crystal Fox at 11:30 AM on October 3

Agreeing with the above posters regarding the folly of all-cotton exercise clothes and the men's shorts option, but before you invest in a whole new workout wardrobe make sure that "looking to get some work done, not be leered at" is the true tenor of your gym. If the environment is unfriendly to women in that particular way, what you wear will not matter.
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:18 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]

I lift in sweatpants and a tank top. Most people at my lifting gym wear t-shirts (not special fancy lifting shirts but totally normal ones, that often were given away as swag by their employers) and either leggings, track pants, or basketball short style gym shorts. It's news to me that you're not supposed to work out in cotton but I don't get very sweaty when lifting anyway, except on the back of my neck. I think anaerobic weightlifting indoors in a climate-controlled environment is a pretty different ballgame than, say, running 10 miles outdoors in Florida or something.
posted by phoenixy at 12:29 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]

American Apparel makes some *really* soft poly blend ("tri blend") t-shirts. My comfort-driven SO has almost completely given up his old cotton tees in favor of AA tri-blend tees because they are so soft. My Bella Canvas shirts are pretty soft too, although I haven't checked the label on whether they are poly or cotton. Just saying, not all poly blends are the same.
posted by serelliya at 2:45 PM on October 3

I just wear old ratty t-shirts and cheap capris or leggings from old navy to the gym. Expensive workout wear is stupid and if you spend a lot of time at gyms you'll notice that serious regulars don't buy it. Some trainers do as it's part of their image and young college age and early 20s do sometimes. No one else does.

I will spend money on swimsuits and bras and shoes. And headbands. Everything else is old ratty stuff because if you work out a lot it'll get trashed anyway from the sweat and being washed all the time.

If you need to be able to see your form just buy long, slim cut cheap tshirts or tanks. Your trainer may ask you to and may encourage expensive wear because it looks good for them if their client is affluent looking. There is no real need for expensive clothes for lifting. Half the people at my gym are in converse, cotton shorts and old 5k t-shirts.
posted by fshgrl at 3:26 PM on October 3 [4 favorites]

I agree with fshgrl - I have a lot of friends who lift and we have a really active gym going community, but most people wear the free shirts and tank tops given out by the university. I wear over-sized men's shirts and some nice basketball shorts and I'm very comfortable.
posted by yueliang at 8:06 AM on October 5

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