Why I’m Trying to Break Free of the Uniformity of Activewear

Nike Uniformity
Women’s activewear, while meant to be functional, often tends to all look the same. 

I decided last month to get back to the gym. It had been a while since I’d regularly attended, despite being in a good groove last winter. Going to the gym was about my alone time, my unwinding time. I’d put on a podcast and rather than rush to get there by taking my bike or transit, I’d walk the 30 minutes from my place to the YMCA on College street.

But, I always find getting back into gymming after time away to be challenging. And then there’s the gear. I’ve got to pack a bag complete with gym shoes, gym socks, sports bra, tights and gym shirt, Bluetooth headphones, a snack, protein shake, ball cap, iPhone, and a lock. It really becomes a whole “thing” to go to the gym.

So last month I decided to do something differently—what if I just didn’t make it a thing? What if I just worked out in whatever comfy home clothes I wore that day? What if I stopped by the Y as one of my various errands I had to do in the area? What if it wasn’t about getting a “good workout”, but just about going and doing the exercises I’ve been craving?

I was excited about this new mindset, but when I arrived in my baggy sweatpants and loose Homer Simpson t-shirt, I definitely noticed that I stood out from the other women there. Most women my age wear the same gym uniform: black or patterned tights and a snug sweat-wicking tank top. In fact, that’s what I normally wear too. But something felt different this time going dressed as “myself.”

My Homer-Simpson-as-the-Godfather t-shirt. One of my favourite workout t-shirts, (or hanging around the house t-shirts, or going grocery shopping t-shirts, or writing my dissertation t-shirts…). 

I think that, on some level, when I was dressed in the usual workout uniform, it was very easy for me to look to other women and their bodies and compare myself. After all, when we’re all wearing the same thing, it becomes pretty easy to notice the differences. Shes thinner. Shes more muscular. Shes got bigger x, or she’s smaller y. I know I’m not supposed to do this sort of thing. It’s bad for self-esteem, self-image, and generally doesn’t help with my own fitness goals or accomplishments. But it happens. Even when I don’t intend it to. Actually, especially, when I don’t intend it to.

Outside of the gym, I’m the kind of person who places a lot of my self-expression in my sense of style. Having fun with fashion is a big part of who I am. But donning the gym uniform felt to me as if I was stripping away a part of myself when I’d go workout. And while the clothes are also about function, I’ve just never been the sort of person who enjoys skin-tight clothes in any context. (So why did I think I’d enjoy it at the gym??)

Diane Keatonstyle
Diane Keaton, one of my style icons! I wonder what she wears to the gym? (Probably just regular gym clothes…)

Unfortunately, the activewear industry is for the most part fairly uniform these days, apart from some advances in certain areas (as with the launch of the Nike Pro Hijab). I was hard-pressed to think of other types of self-expression or diversity in activewear. Even a quick Google search of “diverse activewear” pretty much shows the same sorts of things: bright and tight.

Ah well, for now I’ll stick to my oversized Homer Simpson t-shirt.

Nike Hijab
Earlier this year, Nike announced upcoming release of it’s Nike Pro Hijab, a sweat-wicking, breathable Hijab for female Muslim athletes. 

What about you? Do you care about what you work out in? Is it about comfort physically or psychologically? Does it feel like “You” or an extension of You? Or do you feel self-conscious?

10 thoughts on “Why I’m Trying to Break Free of the Uniformity of Activewear

  1. I think if you know where to look there are alot more brands out that have surfaced recently to offer a more diverse collection of activewear. I think it’s great because it’s pushing companies like Nike, Adidas, and under armour to come up with new ideas to keep up with the expanding market. Maybe if you shopped around Instagram you may find something you like. However, the Simpsons shirt is pretty awesome so if you were to just roam around in that I wouldn’t be mad at you 😉

  2. Perfect timing! I’ve been told by the knee physio people to avoid multiple trips up and down the stairs. So the other day I was working at home in a t-shirt and sweatpants, as one does, and it came time to go to personal training. I thought about the stairs to the basement where there is laundry and clean gym clothes or the bedroom, ditto, but just decided to go as is in an old wear around the house tee and sweats. Felt a bit out of place. But it worked fine. Of course, I ran into Tracy there. But no stairs and I survived. I like the idea of street clothes that do all the things.

    1. I didn’t even notice what you were wearing, Sam. I love this post because it really shows how self conscious we can be and probably no one else cares. I can also relate to the comparing. This is another reason I like personal training. No one else’s body to compare to! The is for a great post.

  3. I love this! Yes, you’re right– there’s a burdensome (not to mention boring!) uniformity to workout wear that does emphasize size differences and income differences, too. Since I started doing yoga at home everyday, I discovered that I can do some/many yoga poses in whatever clothing I have on (exception– no really baggy shirts, as they end up over my head in downward dog…) I used to go to the gym in leggings and a big loose T shirt. Other people did this, too, but no more. Hmmm, this is a great idea– a way to reclaim our originality, welcome previously-unused but loved clothing (love your Homer Simpson shirt!), and make working out and moving in general less of an event and more of the fabric of our lives. Thanks!

  4. I care but I don’t.
    If I’m doing the treadmill, I need a loose tank. I wear capri leggings. If I’m not running the treadmill, a lightweight t-shirt will do.
    For a while at my gym there was a contingent of people who very carefully color-coordinated entire outfits. Their shirts, shorts, hair ties, socks – even shoes and laces – were all perfectly matched. Either that fad has passed or the people who do that don’t go there anymore.
    I don’t go to make fashion statements. I go to workout comfortably. Baggy sweats aren’t comfortable to workout in.

  5. I pretty much wear what I wear to the gym to work every day…black leggings.
    I usually wear a sweater dress, but under is often my sports bra and tank top.

    I prefer fitted workout clothes. They are comfortable and out of the way, especially at yoga.

  6. Glad to hear you talk about this! I have, for a long time, worked out in t-shirts and shirts that are not standard “workout wear,” which has made me self-conscious plenty of times. But the fact is, most of the time they work just fine!

  7. On most days I wear whatever shirt was wearing anyways and combine it with a nice pair of sweatpants. I’m also not really into ‘active’ tight clothing.

  8. Morning yoga is done in my pjs =)

    I do like the company for my hot yoga bras. They very much conform to the workout clothes norm, but their clothes last well and they pay their workers a living wage. I also buy from their eco line, which is made from recycled materials.

  9. I agree with Catherine– too loose t-shirt doesn’t work for doing a sundog manoeuvre.
    However for tiny me….guess what? I have NEVER worn a sports tank top, shelf bra nor cropped top when cycling, walking/hiking. I haven’t even worn a racer back sports top. I’m talking about cycling for 4-5 hrs. in summer heat.

    I wear tights for cycling…and they aren’t even padded. That’s how ordinary I have been over the years.

    Being slim, doesn’t mean every woman wants to wear all tight fitting clothing for sports. This is more for skin protection.. and my own lack of motivation /disinterest. Who will see much of me anyway, cycling by?

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