I have no idea what to wear to work out!
January 17, 2019 1:45 PM   Subscribe

I joined a gym recently (and I'm struggling to get myself to go) after being completely sedentary for years and years. I promised myself I would buy some workout clothes if I hit a certain number of visits. I've been wearing regular fairly heavy cotton leggings and an oversized stretched-out cotton t shirt, but I keep hearing I should be wearing "performance" fabrics. I have 2 concerns: I don't want to pay much money, and I don't want tight or overly fitted tops. I am an older lady on the cusp of plus size with a lumpy, bumpy body, and I want a top that will cover my crotch and my butt and will barely skim rather than cling to my body. I guess I'm looking for full-length leggings, capri leggings for warmer weather, and short-sleeve tops. I don't want a lot of jazzy designs, cut-outs, mesh inserts, etc. I'd prefer plain dark colors.

I'm not working up a huge sweat at this point, just walking on a treadmill and using a recumbent bike. That will hopefully change in the future as I add stretching and weights? Can you suggest what kind of fabric I should look for and stores or manufacturers that I can check out? Thanks!
posted by primate moon to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
There's a lot of good into in this post from earlier today
posted by jonathanhughes at 1:52 PM on January 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

Where are you hearing that you need performance fabrics? As long as you are comfortable, and not getting too warm, you are probably fine.

Having said that: if you'd like to do this somewhat affordably, maybe go to the workout section of your local Target. They have a wide range of sizes and often simple options from Champion. Because clothes are fitted, it can more challenging to buy things online.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:57 PM on January 17, 2019 [14 favorites]

I buy Larace short sleeve tunics on Amazon. They cost around $16, come in a range of colors, are long enough to cover the butt, and flare at the hem for a fun swing feeling. They do not run small, so don’t order up. Lightweight, machine washable, etcetera. Not a performance fabric, but I don’t like the plastic feel of those in a.shirt. Champion leggings from Target.
posted by Malla at 1:58 PM on January 17, 2019

Joe Fresh (This shirt looks perfect for example) and Old Navy (these leggings for example) are going to be your friend for inexpensive activewear in a good size range.

Both brands have plus and regular lines. I think I have a similar body size to you, and the big difference I notice with moving to performance lines is a reduction in chafing, and I "jiggle" less, so exercise is a lot more comfortable (I find this especially with pants).
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 2:04 PM on January 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

you can wear whatever you want as long as it's not unsafe for you (as in, won't get caught in machines bc it's so loose/flowy, you won't trip over your own baggy pants legs, etc). the main purpose of performance fabrics is to prevent chafing and general soggy discomfort when you're really sweaty. if you're not noticing that as an issue yet then you don't really need to worry about it.
posted by poffin boffin at 2:06 PM on January 17, 2019 [6 favorites]

I was going to suggest Old Navy and second the comment about performance fabrics beign better for chafing.

Also, you probably want to get a sports bra.
posted by TORunner at 2:07 PM on January 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

TJ Maxx often has a good variety of exercise clothes for not too much money. I agree that as long as you are comfortable in the clothes you are wearing and able to do all of the activities you want then you are fine in whatever you want to wear.
posted by arachnidette at 2:07 PM on January 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I agree about checking out Target. I have stuff from their athletic dept and it's very nice for the price. In terms of performance fabrics, the main reason for me is that they get less smelly than natural fabrics. If you are a sweaty person then you might want to give it a try.
posted by joan_holloway at 2:12 PM on January 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think the biggest difference is exactly what poffin boffin mentioned - non-performance fabrics, like cotton, get wet and soggy and cause chafing, particularly if your thighs rub together. I bought a few capri performance leggings at Kohl's for less than $20 each and the difference was night and day, particularly once I started running.

Having a performance shirt is much less important unless you're sweating a lot and the sweat stains bother you, IMO.
posted by widdershins at 2:16 PM on January 17, 2019

When you're buying leggings, look for ones with a wide waistband that are higher cut, and if you're trying them on in the store, bend, sit, squat and move about in them to make sure that waistband stays put. I wear L-sized pants and with my shape (butt and thighs are much bigger than my waist), many don't stay in place, the waistband rolls, the stretch over your butt could make them see-through, and constantly adjusting them is not fun. I'd given up on leggings until the recent start of high cut fashion... From somewhere like Target, I'd be looking a to try a pair like this
posted by cholly at 2:55 PM on January 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

In my opinion - buy Champion (either by their website or Target), not Old Navy.

I buy tons of regular clothes from Old Navy. But I find their workout stuff to be rubbish. They often put plasticky tags in places that itch or rub, the stitching is terrible, unravels, and can also chafe, the sizing is all over the place between garmets, and the elastic/lycra (e.g. waistbands, leggings, etc.) is poorly and unevenly sewn together in ways that make it sag in some places and squeeze or cut in others. (Also, I find many of the designs unfriendly to those of us with a bit extra in the stomach area.)

Switching to Champion/C9 via Target was a shocking upgrade for a minimal price, and I have multiple cute tops from there that have lasted many sweaty years. (And they have plus sizes).
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 3:07 PM on January 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

Old Navy compression pants will be your friend. I linked to the ones I wear, which are crops, but they come in 7/8 length and ankle length as well. No mesh inserts, nothing fancy about them, but they're great for actually working out. I've got lumps and bumps on top too (thanks to losing a kidney six years ago) so I wear non-clingy cotton t-shirts from Cheapest Tees in various pretty colors. I work hard at the gym and sweat drips onto my shirt, but I've decided that is a badge of honor and don't worry about it a bit. (And I've tried performance fabric shirts which, as you note, cling too much and really don't keep me any cooler than a plain old cotton t-shirt.) Oh, and make sure you buy crew-neck shirts; V-necks will make you too self-conscious when you're bending over or using the weight machines.
posted by DrGail at 3:13 PM on January 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I get all my workout clothes at Marshall’s or TJ Maxx. I prefer performance fabrics over cotton by a mile because I don’t like the way sweaty cotton feels. YMMV. I usually find very inexpensive clothes and multiple options there.
posted by sockermom at 3:16 PM on January 17, 2019

Check out Rainbeau Curves - lots of very well constructed leggings, and some of their tops are nice and roomy. They also have a bargain bin where everything is $9.99.

(NB: may be too big for you depending on what you mean by "on the cusp" of plus-size).
posted by Cheese Monster at 3:21 PM on January 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

Sweatpants and a t-shirt of your choice, on top of whatever sports bra is most supportive. That's what I work out in, and I am quite a regular at my Y. performance fabrics and fancy work out clothes are nice, and I do own a few, but honestly I haven't worn them in years. The simplest and most comfortable clothing you have to work out in, the easier it is to work out!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 3:24 PM on January 17, 2019

Old Navy is good, but also check out Lands End and Kohls. Kohls has some cheaper basics, and Lands End has nice quality, but more modest, looser fitting gear. (Like, this tank top covers the butt & belly nicely)

Best of luck! I started jogging last year, and no joke, the 'going outside in athletic gear' was the biggest hurdle. And while the truth is that while nobody else really cares what you're wearing, being comfortable in what you're wearing can be a big boost.
posted by Caravantea at 4:12 PM on January 17, 2019

I was just talking about exercise clothes with a friend who fits your physical description and is uncomfortable in things like swimsuits and certain exercise clothes.

We were talking about the fact that something called "modest exercise clothes" or "modest swimwear" exist. Much of that stuff is geared towards people with religious prohibitions about showing female skin, but some of it is simply more comfortable and looser clothing that might do the same thing your loose t-shirt does, should you get to the point where you want more exercise-styled clothing and some interesting options besides simply plus size. What I saw when I glanced online was that it was slightly more custom exercise wear not modeled on tight "yoga pants"/spandex fashion or whatever. It came in a variety of sleeve sizes and the like, we're not talking about head-to-toe covering or anything.

Some of it is quite cute should that be a thing you're looking for.
posted by twoplussix at 4:17 PM on January 17, 2019

So many great suggestions! I especially love the Joe Fresh tshirts Sweet Chrysanthemum linked to. Can't wait to go shopping! Thanks, everyone!
posted by primate moon at 4:33 PM on January 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I wear Lands End yoga pants (they're constantly having sales) and a cotton t-shirt or tank top. The one thing that I think is key and I will spend money on is a good sports bra. I really like Moving Comfort (which was bought by Brooks). I wear the Maia for high-impact (including the elliptical) and the Fiona for everything else (including hanging around the house). You can sometimes find discontinued colors for cheaper on their site or Amazon. It's worth it finding a place that will fit you for a sports bra.

Also, if you don't have good exercise shoes, that's also a good place to invest. Find your local old-school running store and find the oldest dude in the store to fit you. It's ok that you're not a "runner" -- just tell them the type of activity you do and they'll find shoes that work with your feet.
posted by radioamy at 5:15 PM on January 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

Just jumping in to say that workout pants/tops are super-cheap and abundant at my local Goodwill. So for *really* cheap, check there first!
posted by dbmcd at 10:33 AM on January 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

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