athletes · body image · cycling · fashion

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.