Why Dressing Sloppily at the Gym Helps My Self-Esteem

It recently occurred to me that my gym clothing preferences have crossed into interesting territory. I was standing in front of the wall-to-wall mirror at the studio where I frequently work out, ready to commence my morning class. I was wearing a favorite baggy white T-shirt, nearly translucent from years of use, baby-blanket-soft as a result.

Following along with the instructor, I raised my set of hand weights over my head for a tricep curl, and that’s when I noticed it: a sizable hole in one of the T-shirt’s armpit seams, just big enough to highlight my underarm’s sensuous five o’clock shadow.

I looked to my left where a woman was tricep-curling in a teal Lululemon crop top and matching spandex leggings. I looked to my right where another woman was transitioning to a shoulder press, rippling the breathable panels of her high-performance Nike racerback tank. I looked back to the front where my bedraggled reflection was flanked by an entire room of sleek, minimalist iterations of perfectly-coordinated athleisure.

I suppose this is the part where I must confess: I really, really, really hate wearing “chic” workout clothes. In fact, I would rather not exercise at all than face the prospect of a sweat-wicking spandex waistband that slurps up my abdomen like a strawberry milkshake, but because exercise I must (according to experts of the physiological variety), I have consequently eschewed that prospect altogether.

Instead of form-fitting crop tops, sculpted spandex and sexy sports bras, I opt for oversized cotton t-shirts and leggings, mesh gym shorts and bralettes from the Gap I still have from eighth grade. If I had to describe how I look in these getups, I would probably say “middle school P.E. dropout” or “Barbra Streisand at a yoga retreat.”

I haven’t always dressed this way at the gym. I used to drink the textured compression Kool-Aid with vigor, but whenever I did, I felt constricted — physically, yes, but even more so mentally. I was conscious of my body in a way that became burdensome, as if the clothes were containing me instead of simply covering me. I noticed every fold of skin, every wobbly spot that refused to cooperate, all the innocuous evidence of a human in motion rendered suddenly intolerable. This mental barrage turned up the volume on a voice I’ve been reluctant conversation partners with for years — a voice that tells me to exercise not because it’s good for my health, or because it makes me feel alive and strong, but because I need to look a certain way.

To tune out the voice, I had to take off the clothes.

I gradually replaced them with looser, softer things that gave my body permission to move freely, to expand and contract and stretch and take up space. The extra room extended to my mind as well — room to enjoy the experience of being active without unwelcome thoughts competing for attention. Those thoughts aren’t gone entirely, but they are noticeably quieter.

I’ll willingly admit I look like a slob at the gym. I wouldn’t blame you if you saw me there and thought to yourself: She should really throw out that t-shirt with the ripped armpit. I agree! I probably should, but it’s so, so, so comfy. In more ways than one.

The irony is not lost on me that, before heading into the office, I change into a pink corduroy suit or a silk midi dress with red boots — outfits that loudly emphasize my interest in fashion. In fact, I used to feel sheepish about that contrast, like I was betraying my sense of personal style by foregoing it so thoroughly at the gym. But what I’ve come to realize is that, although my workout attire isn’t aesthetically “stunning” (to put it kindly), it still serves the same purpose as my everyday clothing: it allows me to be and feel like the best version of myself.

And that’s why I’m keeping the T-shirt.

Photo via Harling Ross; Collage by Edith Young. 

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  • Adrianna

    Athleisure is for instagram. While I appreciate that my Nike tops “wick sweat,” I feel much better running in an old t-shirt from 8th grade soccer. I also prefer to show off which name-brand university I attended.

  • Cristina

    Totally a gym slob too. Except I do buy good leggings (VS Sport high rise pocket capris/tights are sent from heaven, I’ll never wear anything else). But I wear any baggy oversize shirt, some cutoff shirts some old sweatshirts. I, too, don’t want to be constricted and self-conscious at the gym. I’m also not at the gym to become Instafamous or get a man.
    Speaking of gym clothes though.. this same applies to my pajamas. I tried really hard to “take care of myself” and “invest in myself” and buy cute pj sets that match and are silk or what not and I just bought this sleep oxford from Everlane but…. that’s not me. I really luuurrrvvv my 3 year old pair of VS PINK sweats and an old xxl shirt. I guess I’m not a cute gym-er or sleeper. Le sigh.
    PS- can someone tell Eric we are anxiously awaiting the Bach RECAP omgimdyingthanks

  • Marissa

    I’ve just started to do the Gym Thing and I totally feel this! I have a bunch of band merch shirts (and old HS theatre shirts) that otherwise rarely see the light of day that have a new life as my gym shirts. I’m always so self-conscious of what I’m wearing/how I look but it’s SO FREEING to let myself just throw on a snarky t-shirt and leggings and pigtails and sweat my butt off. It also just makes me less anxious about literally being in the gym, so gym slobs for the win!

  • Iram Zaman

    Excellent, My thoughts exactly!

  • I am all for the same actual gym clothes as I wore in 8th grade for the gym, but I have to pull my “old lady” card and say that the old gap bralettes are wonderful for lounging at home and long naps. But for the gym, just go grab like three new sports bras at Target. You’ll be so much more comfortable.

    • Cristina

      Oooo been looking for a bralette that wasn’t specifically made for a tween, so I shall be checking out le Gap, thanks!

      • Harling Ross

        they are truly le best

      • Aerie has good ones too! 🙂

  • Rosemary

    Yes. Yes yes yes yes yes!

  • Preach! I’m all about the “athleisure” leggings -thank you OV and Lulu- but concert t’s are my go-to t-shirt. The combination of being inspired by my favorite artists while rocking my Destiny’s Child, Yeezus and Anti tour t’s and covering up the “problem” area that is my stomach just can’t be beat.

    Otis Unfiltered

  • EmKay

    I 100% used to be like this too, but then I developed tinea versicolor (discoloration of the skin, usually due to sweating) and had to buy into the “sweat wicking” crap. It does help, unfortunately 🙁 but im still all for loose clothing!

    • maiadeccan

      SAMEEEEEEEEE and so badly, especially during the summer. I’ve heard over and over again to change/shower immediately/never rewear workout clothes, but I had never heard/considered fabric choice being a factor, and I love working out in cotton!

      • EmKay

        Yep, and I do change immediately after now! But sports bras are always a bit constricting and you can’t prevent all sweating!! I find light athletic wear and tea tree oil body wash or wipes help!

        • maiadeccan

          I’ve been told to use selsun blue (or any dandruff shampoo with active ingredients) as a body wash!! i’ll try tea tree oil too!!

          • EmKay

            I was always told that too! body wash/shampoo is not super effective though, since it doesn’t really stay on your skin for long. So if you can find tea tree oil wipes, those are better! 🙂

    • JennyWren

      I’ve been super, super careful about sweaty clothes ever since I developed a hideous and uncomfortable under-boob rash from sitting around too long after workouts in a sweaty sports bra. It took weeks of medication to clear. As soon as I’m done working out I take my sports stuff off, and if I don’t have time to shower I use a bunch of wet wipes to get the worst off.

  • Aleda Johnson

    I do a mix of both that oddly has more to do with proportions. I will either wear tight leggings that suck it all in (and then a baggy tank to hide the inevitable muffin top) or an athletic tank and loose jogging shorts. The only time I go for relatively tight all around is when doing yoga because I’m more comfy in longer leggings and a top that wont show my bare tummy while in down dog.

    But I can’t wear t shirts (tight or loose) because I gotta air those pits out.

  • Ciccollina

    Oh Harling….abdomen slurping?! I adore you. I agree, gross clothes are better to work out in because if I have to exercise, I sure as fuck don’t want to have to spend any more money doing it than I have to.

    • Exactly! I’m already opposed to spending so much money on a yoga membership, I really can’t bring myself to spend $80 on a pair of leggings from Lulu that i’m just going to sweat in.

  • Lizzie

    Wear whatever gets you moving! While I agree about how I can see everything move in “athleisure,” I hate how cotton t-shirts stick to me when I get (atrociously) sweaty from cardio, so I wear looser lulu tanks. The perk of tanks is that everyone can see how much sweat trickles from my armpit to my elbow and drops into a pool on the floor while I use the bike. It’s almost as lovely as a hole in an armpit seam.

    • Harling Ross

      “Wear whatever gets you moving” –> yes

  • Ashley Hamilton

    I haaaate tight gym clothes I usually buy men’s sweat wicking shirts though because they’re baggy and running more than a few miles in cotton is bad news

    • Harling Ross

      for some reason i love sweating in cotton i know this makes me insane

      • Mia

        ME TOO! I have a similar arsenal of very eclectic t-shirts, my personal fave is ET, with holes born from rigorous hot water washing …er, um, for breathability?!, Hard Tail makes great cotton leggings and Hoi Bo’s cotton pants and tops allow me to transition from my “professor chic” lewk during the day directly into a restorative yoga class (dare I say, even a pilates class) without even pausing for a mirror selfie.

      • silla

        I agree! It makes you feel like you’ve worked harder and are more legit for some reason. Maybe all the sweat trapped inside the shirt? It’s anybody’s guess!

      • Lyla

        That feeling when you peel it off! All the feels.

      • Agnieszka Torres

        Nope- it actually prevent eczema and other skin conditions that proliferate in “technical” fabrics. Trust me- two workouts a day put every fancy fabric to shame lol

    • Rachel

      I buy the men’s workout shirts too!

  • Divya Khosla

    Sounds uninspiring and boring. I find that looking more attractive is motivation to continue to improve and hold your self to a higher standard. Sounds like you gave up to early and went for the easy option ( don’t worry it’s a millennial thing) I challenge you to look further there are more options than you listed.

    • Divya

      Doesn’t this also go against the manrepellar philosophy “When we look better, we feel better and therefore we are better. This is a widely held principle…” Leandra Medine

      • Harling Ross

        I think there are different interpretations of that tenet depending on the scenario. When I get dressed to go to work and put thought into an outfit, I look better and therefore feel better. When I get dressed to go to the gym and succumb to the delight of not giving a hoot, I look *AT* myself better and therefore feel better. Same destination, different vehicle.

      • ByeBeckz

        I think you’re missing the point of MR. After reading the site for years, I take it to mean “dress for YOU- if that’s a ballgown, go for it, if thats sweats and flip flops, power to you”. What appeals to one person (or man) won’t appeal to all, and that’s fine- you do you.

    • coffeebee

      I see it as her prioritizing in both phases of her day: wearing easy, basic stuff to get the job done at the gym with no frills, then switching into fabulous day wear for the office and events.

    • lulu442

      Oh jeez. I believe being image obsessed and gym-dressing for the ‘gram could be considered a millennial thing too. I think anything that makes you feel comfortable, strong, and gets you to the gym is a pretty good thing.

      • ByeBeckz

        lol exactly! pretty sure lululemon/oudoor voices, etc were made primarily for instagram!! I love them, but that’s just what I think! Clearly the first commenter got it backwards- millennials are obsessed w documenting their life over actually living their life, hence they actually wear nicer clothes. But exactly- wear whatever you think gets the job done.

        • JessicaB

          … you do realize lululemon existed long before instagram, right? no need to hate on people who choose to present themselves in a different way at the gym. also, i’m a yoga teacher and LIVE in lululemon most days, and believe it or not: that shit holds up for years, through countless classes and washings, which is pretty important to me.

          tldr: i kind of hate how this comments section is basically filled with people hating on those of us who wear “athleisure.” to each their own.

          • Lyla

            It may not have been made for Insta, but it was made for the kinds of girls who worship the app. Everyone at my middle school wore lulu yoga pants like they were jeans. The brand was trendy AF. It always seems weird to me that people actually take them seriously as exercise clothes because in my mind I still associate lulu heavily with Ugg boots.

          • JessicaB

            i’m just confused by how judge-y everyone seems about certain brands … like lululemon. it can’t possibly be because of the cost because the writers here often post about buying clothing and shoes that cost far more than my car payment. anyway, sorry you had an off-putting experience with lululemon. the brand is awesome for exercising in. also, my ass looks incredible in their pants. that is all.

          • ByeBeckz

            My comment said “pretty sure”. I have never looked up when lululemon started- that’s cool it’s been around so long- like so many other brands that have reinvented themselves many times and now retain one specific type of look. I wear athleisure most of the time at the gym and out and about, and personally hate cotton t-shirts for the gym (not for aesthetic reasons but just not comfortable for running imo).

            There was no “hate”, considering I said “I love them” and “wear whatever you think gets the job done”, I just said what I think about millennials (as a millennial) and their obsession with certain brands. I thought my comment was pretty clear about that, sorry you misunderstood it.

    • Adrianna

      Wow this was judgemental. Let’s stop policing how women choose to present themselves.

  • Alessia

    I want to print this! I feel exactly the same!!

  • You’ll always find me in a baggy t shirt and old leggings with a finger sized hole at the knee when I’m working out- unless I’m home, in which case it’s gonna be a 10-year old sports bra and underwear. I’m not super into the matchy-matchy work out stuff myself- and even if it was it’s so expensive like hello I have a gym membership to pay for too!!

  • Autumn

    I absolutely am the same! I wear my parents old ratty tshirts, or tshirts from bands I saw in college. I figure I’m at the gym to “work”, not make a fashion statement.
    Also, thanks for making me realize that “slurp” is a really gross word

    • Harling Ross

      slurp = gross but great!!!!

      • Autumn

        haha yes I can agree with you there. And very descriptive

  • coffeebee

    I stand in sloppy solidarity with you. My gym uniform is white Hanes v-neck, ancient Nike crop leggings, and off brand sports bras. In the summer, I swap the leggings for looser fitting shorts. I buy the six pack of Hanes t’s and they last forever.

    • Harling Ross


  • theysayshycity

    Sounds like I’ve been buying all the wrong tshirts, mine are not soft enough to work out in….at least not for the HIIT workouts I do. The friction + sweat = not worth it. Form follows function: I need sweat wicking and mesh panels.

    I used to be like this though, once upon a time. I work out a lot though and if I didn’t dress for the gym, I just wouldn’t have anything to dress for most days (wearing suits to work doesn’t count).

  • I am seriously inspired by this, Harling! I have a love hate relationship with nice workout clothes. I think they look cool but they’re expensive and I’d much rather throw on a pair of shorts and a tee. When I was my most athletic (in high school) I never cared about what I was wearing to xc practice, the only thing that mattered was whether it was hot or cold outside. I’ve definitely fallen off the workout horse as of late. The throw on and go method might actually help me get back into it. Mind officially blown.

  • Katrina

    Harling, I didn’t know you went to Georgetown! I’ve been a huge fan of Man Repeller for a long time, and you’re one of my favorite voices on the site. I’m a current Georgetown student and it made me smile to see a Hoya who has what’s honestly my dream job. 🙂 Keep up the great work!

    • Harling Ross

      hoya saxa!!!!

      • Emma Woodruff

        Hoya Saxa till I die! I’ve actually worn your same look to the Georgetown field house many a time, no joke¯_(ツ)_/¯

  • Basil

    I agree with SO much of this. First of all, “Barbra Streisand at a yoga retreat” sounds like a life goal. Secondly – I also look like a complete slob at the gym for many reasons. It’s comfortable, and if I’m sweating and otherwise getting super uncomfortable, why add to that? It’s also a fuck you to the patriarchy – men don’t have to wear super tight and sexy outfits to work out, so why do I? And finally, I’ve been traumatised by being behind one too many people in a class wearing leggings that are see through. Please no more!

  • Kinsey W

    Unfortunately for my wallet, I’m all aboard the lululemon/Outdoor Voices/alo yoga crazy train. I like being cute during my workout because it adds a different style element to my wardrobe and makes me feel more confident during the workout. I’m also hoping I’ll meet Prince Charming by the squat rack but I don’t think that’s happening any time soon.

  • jilline

    Ha, this is how I realized that I didn’t need to wear bikini’s or even a normal ladies swimsuit. I could instead wear swim shorts and a rash guard thereby protecting my flesh (and the ocean) from stares and judgement (even if only in my own head) but also from having to wear buckets of toxic sunscreen. Yays all around!

  • Emily Michaelis

    barbra streisand at a yoga retreat! i like this article so much.

  • Lauren Thompson

    Girl, I do the same thing. I’ve started to embrace and it find myself specifically looking for goofy or ridiculous oversized tshirts to work out in… luckily my dad just gave me a bunch of his from the early 90s so I will be hitting the new year gym rage in style

  • wilhelmina

    Harling, your verbiage is divine. You don’t know how refreshing this essay was. I feel like wearing lululemon and the like is now a requirement to go to the gym 🙁 timely article, also, what with new years and such. The knowledge that you eschew athleisure gains you many points in my book, and you already have a TON xxxxx

  • Greer Clarke

    As soon as I read this title I was like mE ToOOOOO
    Ugh this is so real!!

  • eli1992


  • Mallory

    Just curious – what do you do when you do any type of downward dog or plank position? Do you tuck your shirt in? Or let it hang wherever? I love wearing loose tops to work out, but I don’t like it when my torso gets exposed! Even if I’m wearing high waist leggings. So I stick to tight tanks… even when I’m post-New Years bloats.

    • Adrianna

      I tuck my shirt in. I don’t find it a big distraction to do that. but sometimes I say fuck it, and let my stomach rolls hang out to enjoy the breeze

    • Lyla

      Let it hang loose, baby. Nobody is looking at your tummy during a yoga class.

  • Troublepuss

    I have two arguments for proper workout attire:

    1. The morning of Christmas Eve, I took a barre class. As I had a mani/pedi scheduled after, as well as zero time to do laundry leading up to the holiday, I grabbed a baggy old pair of Target capri leggings (which were super cute a decade ago). They allowed access to my legs for the well-needed massage and they were clean. The pants kept sliding down during class, which caused me to have improper form and a poor workout, as I had to keep stopping to pull my pants up! Also, they allowed the chick next to me to be completely blinded by my pale butt when they slip past my underwear! Improperly fitting clothes are too much of a hassle for barre and dance classes. I need to see my alignment and not have others see my ass!

    2. I’m job hunting and constantly networking. I’ve met people in my industry in my Pilates and TRX classes. I would have for someone I could potentially be interviewing with judge me on the fact there’s sweat stains on my favorite tee shirt from high school. And, again, I don’t need a potential employer to see my ass when the elastic fails on my decade-old leggings!

  • elpug


    I’m all for loose fitting tops and old leggings with holes! Why spend hundreds on an outfit you wear so often and have to hang dry and worry about washing correctly? I already wash so many other clothes with tender care. It’s enough that I worked out. Let me tumble dry worry free!

  • Aimee Jennings

    My work out clothes make me look like a prison weed dealer at the gym. Various oversized old promotional t-shirts, sweatpants, the same sports bra I’ve been using since the 90’s and a bandana. I just run on the treadmill but I enjoy my workouts very much and I don’t care what people think of me. I’m there to work out not socialize.

    • Lyla

      Yassss to the promo t-shirts. Planned Parenthood, Hillary Clinton, Obama, AIDS Walk, ACLU, Trevor Project, HRC, GLAAD. Yo, I am a sloppy liberal and I am in shape. Watch yourself.

  • Abbie

    As usual, spot on, Harling. Also, I don’t like getting hit on at the gym and I’m seriously no supermodel but when I dress like I DGAF I spend way less time being self-conscious about the male gaze from gym bros.

    Also–you are such a good, compelling writer that I want to ask you to think about using the phrase “drink the Koolaid.” It’s one of those cliches that is totally separate from its origins these days, but it references a truly horrible massacre. Once I read this article years ago I stripped it from vocabulary immediately. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/11/stop-saying-drink-the-kool-aid/264957/

    • Harling Ross

      Oh wow, yes. Thank you for pointing out, Abbie (and so kindly at that)

  • Emily Chertow

    I’ve never appreciated an article more – my favorite ones are the tourist shirts my dad brings home from vacations years ago that he will wear once and forget about giving me the opportunity to swoop in and steal

  • Angie

    Honestly, the reason I dress “sloppily” at the gym is because I can’t get the fancy things clean properly…. HOW do you guys wash all that nice spandex a) so often and b) get it clean??? I so much prefer the ratty tee and basic running shorts that I can just throw in the wash again and again (and again) and have them come out smelling fresh with minimum effort. Is there something I’m missing?

  • Elisabeth S. S. Greenwood

    Heck yes, girl! I am in the exact same boat. Loosey-goosey t-shirts and shorts when at home or the gym and my fancy pants for everything else. Vive la wonky balance!

  • Xenita

    I LOVE wearing crappy, loose-fitting workout clothes too! In a workout world where I’m constantly confronted by unflattering lighting and wide mirrors, wearing a baggy tshirt with questionable leggings reminds me I’m not there to look good.

  • Today I wore an old J.Crew t-shirt with a gaping hole in the armpit to a private Pilates class. As I tossed off my zip-up I explained to my trainer that I cannot part with my worn in tees! Since it was one on one I felt like I had to explain, but I am all in on the holey t-shirt club! They are SO much softer, more breathable, and since I sleep hot I even prefer them over cute sleepwear.

    Harling, I feel so similar about the athleasure crowd, and prefer a uniform for working out. Black leggings, (three-quarter length if it’s hot, full length if it’s cold) and a white top (ribbed tank if it’s hot, tee with zip up if it’s cold), and I don’t really stray from the formula. I’m there to work out, not make a fashion statement. In fact, I would rather no one look at me when I’m gross and sweaty! Also the bras from Lululemon cause such back neck and shoulder pain for me! So overrated!


  • Alex R Florence

    I am very on board with this post, thank you! I wear my old leggings and beat up Katy Perry tee when I ride my bike to work. It feels awesome.

  • Hannah

    I had no choice but to update to fancy athleisure when the holes in my rags, I mean gym clothes, became large enough to be hazardous. The worst part: now people comment on my fancy gym attire, and this is not so cool because, for me, the gym is strictly interaction-free. Thanks for making me look snazzy on the machines, Lulu, but my sweat and worryingly red face would rather go unnoticed.

  • Sophia S.

    I also look like a 12 year old boy in the Gym, I literally buy my workout clothes in the boys and mens section. I hate that there are not more loose fitting, more androgynous (especially when it comes to plain simple shorts, those for women are either skin tight or super short) workout clothes for women. I basically pull up my shorts under my armpits in a Steve-Urkel-like manner and then tuck my xxxl mens shirt in. I do this especially for deadlifts. I love that I can walk around freely and even carry around a food baby after a huge dinner without anyone noticing.

  • romanhans

    At the gym yesterday a guy had a gym bag that was literally larger than carry-on luggage. My boyfriend said it had wheels. My gym bag has a t-shirt, shorts and a towel — that’s it. I refuse do wash an entire load of laundry after an hour’s workout.

    And look at the hottest guys at the gym. They can wear old shorts and torn t-shirts because they know they’re sexy in anything. That’s what I’m going for. 😉

  • Ana Tavares

    I too enjoy working out in loose-fitting gym clothes because they kinda make me feel invisible and I love it – going to the gym is a purely functional thing for me; I get in, work out, shower and leave. I don’t mean to sound like a jerk, but it’s my time to be antisocial (while saying a polite ‘hi’ to everybody I actually know, of course). Every time I’ve worn leggings or a top instead of a plain t-shirt, I feel watched or have to respond to awkward chit chatting by other gym members or trainers, which is very flattering but not really the reason I’m there.

  • dancewitme211 .

    I feel uncomfortable wearing loose workout clothes to gym. I don’t like to expose my skin when I have to bend down. It’s also necessary to wear a sports bra for all the jumping we do. Otherwise I could develop saggy breast. Yuck! Don’t like wearing baggy pants, as the flap at bottom sometimes gets in my way when doing step aerobics. I’ve almost tripped on them. I also love wearing cool looking workout clothes cuz it really motivates me when I see my reflection in mirror. Not so if I dress frumpy.

  • C. Killion

    Brava! as a retired triathlete, I view gym workouts as training tools for better performance on the course. I am not at the gym to pose or impress others, but to strengthen my body and my resolve. Also, that binding lycra stuff scuffs my skin.

  • while I completely understand where you’re coming from, I’m also almost freaking out bc I work in sports retail and the idea of all the cotton and the friction and the pants that will have knees in them so soon oh god
    honestly I used to work out in old leggings/sweats+tshirt, but when I started this job and learned about the materials etc I went to the dark side so quick. I’ve never in my life instagrammed myself at the gym, but wearing functional workout clothes that look decent has made going to the gym more enjoyable to me?! I know my leggings or pants won’t fall down, I know my shirts wick away sweat, and after I throw it in a gentle wash, hang to dry, done.
    also if you do one thing for yourself this year: GET A DECENT SPORTSBRA. honestly. it doesn’t have to be fancy, get a heavy support one from H&M if you’re on a budget or a Shock Absorber if you want to have it 4-evaa. control the bounce. your boobs deserve better.
    whenever I see girls in the gym running on the treadmill while wearing one of those flimsy cute tops my boobs hurt in solidarity.

  • When I saw the title of the article, I thought: “duh… of course, saving my money to pay for an extra workout class or for non-workout clothes makes me feel better about myself”.
    Honestly, for the regular mortals, our wages are not infinite and spending a lot of money on clothes that I am going to sweat in anyway sounds like a bad investment.
    Also, I HATE to sweat in synthetic materials, which tend to be what high-end workout clothes are made of.
    So yeah, I am much happier in my old cotton stuff and with cash to pay for one more class from time to time.

    That said, nice piece!! I can totally relate to the feeling of working out for yourself and not to look a certain way.

  • Emily M

    “…as if the clothes were containing me instead of simply covering me.” Dang, this hits home. I think I actually fall somewhere in the middle here – I don’t love how I feel in baggy, sloppy workout clothes but I don’t love the skin-tight-cropped-designer-everything either. I’m going to refer to this next time I’m perusing for new athletic wear…is it making me feel like a thing needing to be contained? Or is it letting me move with minimal stifling but just enough support? Thanks for this!!

  • Tootie Jenkins

    I stopped working out as a result of trying to win the battle in my head about looks. I never started again, because I didn’t love the way my previously tight “active wear” clung, to my now perfectly acceptable body shape. Maybe I should pull my head out of my ass, and take back the gym in my now, “mobility wear”. Thanks girl. xoxox Tootie

  • elyse

    I want to make my own line of baggy work out t-shirts with some slogans I’ve thought of while working out (in the free baggy t-shirts they give away at debate tournaments lol!):

    -Not here for a date or a trainer
    -My Resting Bitch Face is not False Advertising
    -Don’t ask me about my Misandry

    • autillicautnullibi

      I need this except, honestly, PLEASE do ask me about my misandry haha.

    • Izalika

      Let a girl know when that resting bitchface tee is ready for purchase 😉

  • I’ve been waiting for this article and I support everything you’re saying. When I ran cross country in middle school and high school you wore whatever cotton shirt was clean with whatever Norts and sports bra was clean and that was IT. If it was a long run day, that shirt was coming off and tucked into the back of your bra. Pretty sure in my first 7 years of running not even my socks matched, let alone my entire outfit.

    I’m more motivated to sweat if I don’t look “put together.” I have an XL Twin Peaks tee and some shorts and baseball cap waiting for my workout this afternoon.

  • JennyWren

    For me a bit of fancy workout gear is helpful, because it makes me feel a bit more attractive and generally enthused, and frankly I also need the compression stuff for my unruly bottom and bosom. But I do think it’s whatever works best for you. For leggings and shirts I just buy cheap and cheerful stuff from Old Navy and TJ Maxx but I do spend more on my shoes and sports bras. But my favorite gym things to wear are definitely my extra-big green camo sweatpants (Calvin Klein by way of TJ Maxx). I bought them to wear OVER my clothes for cold days but they’re also excellent for yoga and watching Netflix.

    The only time I’ve judged anyone at the gym on their clothing choices as when I saw a guy on a stationary bike in jeans and dress shoes. Animal.

  • Miciah

    And this is motivation for me to get in the gym and not worry about others opinions

  • Lyla

    I am with you on the oversize tops thing, but my lack of a booty requires athletic leggings as the black cotton variety slide downnnn. I need the thick band with a firm hold. Thanks to the American Apparel obsession that plagued me in 2008 I am flush with dozens of oversize v-neck cotton tees of a rainbow of colors. Black Nike full length running leggings, AA tee, ASICS, and mismatched socks. I hate working out in a spandex tank top. I feel so exposed.

  • Agnieszka Torres

    I spilled my coffee laughing….. I’m a self proclaimed gym rat that works out in clothes at least “many” years old …. because change doesn’t happen in the gym… and because I find perverse sense of satisfaction outrunning girls trying to constantly pull down their perfect outfits that fit not so perfect way. As Arnold said long time before anybody heard of athleasure: If you are in the gym to look “sleek” you are already missing the point 🙂

  • Ashley

    100%!! Clothes to express you, and baggy cotton could not express me any better. Somehow this article validated me lol

  • Jeanne Zamansky

    Aarf ! So good to read your piece ! Very much on point. I just browsed the internet for one or two hours this afternoon in search of a cool legging and decided I would keep my old one and my shapeless T-shirt for a little longer. ✌🏼

  • Modupe Oloruntoba

    Underarm’s sensuous five o’clock shadow? Textured compression Kool aid? Harling my sides hurt! Really good.

    I have to disagree though. Cute gym clothes help me project the image of who I want to be (in fitness terms), not to others but to myself. And I’ve been that way since before athleisure’s hostile-with-stretch-for-comfort takeover. I see the girl in the mirror who’s dressed for this and looks like she knows what she’s doing and then I believe I can be her, for the 45 minutes it takes me to get through the next bootcamp class. I put on compression tights like a superhero costume, and I need to – most days regular me has trouble getting out of bed, so she’s not the one going to the gym.

  • Margot Mathews

    i actually think this is a LOOOOK and doesnt have to be framed as being inherently less fashionable than tight, chic work out gear
    I feel both cuter/sweeter and like im exercising for more wholesome reasons in big old cotton tee shirts, loose running (or basketball!!! basketball shorts are a game changer) shorts, and HIGH socks!!! and thick white or black elastic headbands <3
    have only been tempted by the pastel outdoor voices stuff
    am glad i am a member of a $30 monthly gym instead of a super bougie one for similar reasons

  • Cynthia

    Diaper like NORTS and a baggy tee for life

  • Ingrid

    Currently doing this, too for a different reason: #transformation. The grungier I am before I shower and get ready to go somewhere, the more dramatic the transformation to dressed up! I sometimes even put coconut oil in my hair before a run. I definitely don’t want to see people I know at that point 😉 but later I emerge like a butterfly and feel better about how I look since I looked so sloppy before. Does that make sense?

  • Lisa Zahn

    I love this post so much! I can’t even go to yoga class at the Y without feeling sloppy these days, if I’m not head to toe in “athleisure.” The Y!!! It’s sad. I hope you start a new trend.

  • Scarletbee

    I’m digging the principle here of wearing what works best for YOU to work out in, whatever that may be. I’ve landed on my most comfy being a combo of tight-fit leggings (because when I’m running somewhere, they’re less chafey than something that moves, and if I’m deadlifting or what have you, there’s no bunchy fabric getting in the way) and a loose sort of top in a quick-dry fabric (because if I’ve run in, it’s with a backpack full of work clothes for after, so my whole back is a puddle). Shoes-wise, I’m usually wearing a crappy old pair of converse-style shoes, or I’ve kicked off the running shoes I wore to get there and am lifting in socks, so stylish it is not, but I enjoy knowing I’m dressing deliberately for the function I want 🙂

  • crystal timbrook

    OMG thank you for this. SAME here.

  • Tallent Ricca

    Never comment but LOVE THIS SO MUCH! 1000% accurate and exactly how I feel. I do not want to think about how my boobs look in a sports bra while doing warrior 2 pose…. not the point of yoga.

  • Eru

    I’m so happy someone else feels this way! I can’t wear synthetic fabrics; they trigger my eczema and all the cracking and bleeding obviously discourages me from exercising. I wish I had the confidence to be able to show up in a public place like a gym in ‘unfashionable’ workout clothes since that’s really been the barrier stopping me from getting healthy.

  • LJ

    Me too. I am not the biggest fan of synthetic fabrics. I’ll pick cotton any day! So my gym/yoga attire comprises of yoga pants, longish Tees, cotton leggings. I look around and see women in stylish outfits but I am too cheap/lazy to go that route.

  • Rosemary

    I’m super late but I have such a feelsy story about this. Freshman year of high school, I was pleasantly surprised to learn the track team was the only team not required to wear practice uniforms, so we all wore the grossest old tshirts and baggy neon Nike shorts and it was absolute heaven. I had one friend who occasionally stunted in her mom’s Nike tanks or Lulu shorts, but that was it. I never knew anything other than running as a slob in a swath of soaked cotton with the free-est of unshaved legs. The first day of my sophomore year, I showed up in the usual garb and discovered, to my horror, that the popular set in my grade had all decided to join our lovely no-cut sport for a PE credit, and they all showed up in head. to. toe. Lululemon. High schoolers! 15 year olds with no money of their own! It completely changed the norm of the team and I started feeling so much pressure to (make my parents) invest in colorful, coordinated, logo-ed “performance” gear, which has followed me to this day. This article felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders and I apologize for the essay but recounting this experience has been !!so cathartic wow!! I love u Harling. Keep rocking the tshirt holes.

  • Linda Fulleda

    Love this article – while I do like some of the fun leggings my go to t shirt is a Johnny cash t shirt. Why are so many women fixated on wearing such a particular outfit. Does it have to be sexy ? I’m there to get busy and feel good. Then get on my way.

  • Brittany

    I like yoga pants and a loose tank top or t-shirt for the gym. I never have makeup on, my hair is frizzy, I breathe heavy and I get really red and super sweaty. I could never understand why anyone would pay 100$+ for pants to just sweat in. I’ve noticed that literally every girl at my gym I’ve seen decked in head to toe lululemon doesn’t seem to push herself hard enough to break a sweat. I’m not saying this is the case for absolutely everyone, but it’s a definite trend I have noticed at my gym. Why are the girls who seem to put the least effort into their workouts the same ones who spend the most on their attire? I just don’t get it. The other thing I could do without are the girls who think it’s appropriate to wear shorts to the gym that don’t cover the bottom 2-3in of their butt when they are standing up straight. What do they think will happen if they bend over or squat?