On going commando and athletic clothing

I’m in the middle of writing a longer post on tensions between the standards of ladylike behavior, on the one hand,  and the values of athletic performance, on the other. One of the issues I’m thinking about in that context concerns athletic clothing. I’m interested in the extent to which athletic clothing gets us out of our comfort zone. I think there’s tension between the norms of athletic performance attire and the ways in which we’ve been socialized as girls and women to think about clothing and self-presentation.

And obviously this matters to women. A lot. See my post No way am I wearing that! Body conscious clothing as a barrier to entry to women’s sports.

The number that got me was this one: “67% of women say they wear baggy clothing when exercising in order to hide their figure.”

But the exact issue that came across my screen today was the issue of underwear and athletic clothing and I thought I should discuss it now while it’s timely.

The first story I read was this: Why Are Women Wearing Thongs to Exercise?

Amanda Marcotte discusses the recent Lululemon see through yoga pants scandal and quotes a number of women saying the real issue is people seeing thong lines through the yoga pants. It’s a funny post and she offers a radical suggestion.

“Here’s an idea for women who really are this worried about having visible panty lines under your yoga pants: Don’t wear underwear. It’s not like flies or ants are going to get in there if you don’t seal it off tightly. If your concern is maintaining maximum sexiness at all times, never fear. My careful perusal of photography provided for straight male audiences suggests that while men do indeed find the thong sexy, they have an even stronger preference for women who are wearing no underwear at all. If you choose to share your preferences with the world at large through the the yoga pants equivalent of vanishing ink, well, that’s not up to the rest of us to judge. “

Now, I thought that was a practical suggestion and not particularly radical. But you get a sense of how controversial a recommendation it is when you read the next post by one my fave local bloggers, 3 zigs and a dog.

One of the Zigs reports being shocked that 2/3 of the women in a Women’s Running magazine survey reported wearing running tights and shorts without underwear. In the post aptly called Commando, Zig writes:

“WHAAAAAT? Two thirds of you people are commando?  TWO THIRDS??? Are you crazy? You are tempting wardrobe malfunction fate!”

For her the real issue is ripped shorts and I don’t think thongs would help much in that regard.

The whole thing is a bit on a non-issue for me. I’m a cyclist and while LiveStrong puts their post on the topic in the form of a question– Do You Wear Underwear Under Cycling Shorts? –there is only one right answer and it’s “no.”

Cycling shorts are designed to be worn without underwear. That’s what the chamois is for. Putting fabric between you and the chamois sort of defeats the purpose.

From Hot Sweaty Mamas. That’s right, you don’t wear panties under your bike shorts! “No panties under the bike shorts. That’s right, bike shorts are designed with a built-in chamois and are meant to be worn sans undies. Might sound crazy at first, but the last thing any woman needs is extra fabric bunching and burrowing in an already sensitive area. If you’re worried about feeling a little tender “down there,” look for shorts with extra padding and an anti-bacterial chamois. You’ll pay a little more for the bells and whistles, but odds are you’ll notice the difference.”

I’ve had the worse case scenario happen, the very thing that terrified the Zig. I ripped a pair of bike shorts while halfway through a 90 km ride. What did I do? I wrapped a spare bike jersey around my waist and had my partner draft behind me. Not the end of the world though I missed being able to draft behind him.

In other sports that I do, I’d say the running survey is about right. My guess, though I don’t take surveys, is that more than half of the women I run, row, bike etc with don’t wear underwear underneath tights and fitted shorts.
Here’s two considerations in favour of the commando option:

1. Performance sports clothing is made of fancy high tech quick drying sweat wicking fabric. It’s kind of miraculous stuff. It’s not easy to find underwear made of same and it kind of spoils the effect if you have sweat soggy underwear under high performance wicking fabric.

2. It’s not like you don’t immediately wash sweaty exercise attire. So who cares if you don’t wear underwear under it?

Up to the individual entirely of course. Except in the case of bike shorts. There there’s a right answer.

What do you think? Since this is a discussion about the clash between traditional feminine gender roles and performance athletic clothing, let’s leave it to the women reading the blog.

About Sam B

Philosopher, feminist, parent, and cyclist!

18 thoughts on “On going commando and athletic clothing

  1. 3zigs says:

    Thanks for the mention in the blog. The horror of the ripped bike shorts! I suppose I could ditch the gitch and just wear a running skirt full time…

  2. courtneyszto says:

    My question is since when did it become unfashionable or a faux pas to wear underwear? I understand the whole commando under bike shorts thing but I’m referring to the lululemon thong line issue. Why are visible panty lines a problem? I would much rather see panty lines to know that there are at least 2 layers of bottoms between myself and everyone else people during regular-everyday circumstances. Men never worry about boxer lines. Just one more thing for women to worry about. If it’s such a big deal to walk around with panty lines then why do we also make it such a big deal when a celebrity steps out of a limo and is caught commando. Seems like a lose-lose.

    • Sam B says:

      Yeah, I don’t think it’s a big deal either way. For me, it’s not about panty lines but about comfort and that goes different way in different contexts.

  3. Tori says:

    Depending on the activity and the pants/shorts/tights and how I’m feeling that day, I sometimes wear underwear and sometimes don’t.

    As a general rule — Just like I don’t really invite comments about what I put in my crotch, I don’t really invite comments about what I put on it — one layer or two — either. ;)

  4. Susan says:

    I never wear underwear while exercising. It defeats the purpose of the gear. It’s uncomfortable.

  5. Steph K says:

    Regarding 2) – Uhhh… at the risk of sounding really gross…sometimes I *don’t* immediately wash my exercise attire! That would be at least four small loads of laundry this week, not counting my regular washing! Eeek. I usually wear a pair of shorts twice before I wash them (they don’t reek, I swear – if they did I’d buy more shorts I guess), but I certainly wouldn’t re-wear them if I wasn’t wearing underwear underneath.

    Regarding 1) – that’s a good point, and I guess I ought to invest in some more technical undies! That’s what I’m taking from this convo! ;) I can definitely get behind commando for cycling, but I don’t think I’m going to take that option for running. Also: I had never even considered what would happen if my shorts ripped while I was out for a run – I definitely don’t carry an extra anything while I’m running so it’d just all be out there, I guess! Yikes!!

  6. Meredith says:

    Whether or not I wear underwear under workout clothing depends on the design of the garment. My favourite shorts for running and rowing are loose, light weight, and most importantly, have underwear built in. Some of my tighter shorts, however, have seams in uncomfortable places, so I wear underwear under them for comfort. Technical thongs are great for this as they protect me from seams without there being a lot of extra fabric.

  7. Heather says:

    Haven’t been through menopause and don’t use tampons. No Brazilians, either, and I don’t like to let the world know the state of my pubes. Underwear for me. No bunching problems, ever, as long as I wear the right size. I don’t care about VPL unless it’s really

  8. Heather says:

    oops…
    unless it’s really, really V.

  9. Jean says:

    I’ve been cycling for transportation, fitness and for travel/touring for last 22 yrs. I’ve been car-free last 30 yrs. of life. Now….some years I’ve piled in 5,000-7,000 km. annually of cycling.

    I have …NEVER worn padded cycling tights/shorts. Yea, shocking. but that’s mean. I wear panites. THank God.

  10. Jean says:

    Sorry that’s what I mean. Despite kegel exercises, under effort of cycling up hills, or a ride over 50 kms. I seem to have tiny amount of secretions, etc. And it doesn’t get easier when I get older.

    I don’t even understand why on earth women worry about seeing panty lines under their pajnts. I w

  11. Jean says:

    Sorry for misspellings, seems like the form below covers up the comment space for me to see what I’m typing near the end of a paragraph.

  12. 62shelby says:

    Ive never worn anything under exercise clothes. To avoid small loads of laundry I have a bucket I put my accumulated work out gear in. I let it soak with oxyclean and white vinegar then throw in with the dark load when I get around to it. Works great.

  13. [...] or comfortable in, performance athletic wear. I’ve written about that here and here. See also my post on going commando. Sports clothing geared to athletic performance have as their purpose to go fast not necessarily to [...]

  14. […] wearing them, of course don’t wear anything under bike shorts (that’s silly, read why here), don’t put off peeing if you need to go on the road, pull over and pee by the roadside, the […]

  15. Jane says:

    I tend to wear Tech underwear with my tights as I’ve had a seem issue in the past. But I wear underwear specifically made for it. Under running shorts I’m commando.

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