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What Not to Wear to the Gym

Whether you are firmly entrenched in a regular workout routine or you have made a New Year resolution to get moving, the topic of what to wear while you are working out is always timely.

I’ll be honest. I have not been a fan of working out. I know for some people it’s a must and they cannot imagine not doing it, but that has not been true for me most of my life.

Then, a couple of years ago, I had to admit that even though I am slender working out is about more than keeping a stable weight. For me, it’s about maintaining a healthy heart, bones, lungs as well as staying strong and reducing stress. I couldn’t ignore it any longer (my underarm dingle-dangle was getting out of control!) and so I joined a local women’s gym.

I go twice a week like clockwork (I am nothing if not disciplined) and, while I still keep waiting for the day when they tell us that working out is not that important, I enjoy it as much as I can enjoy working out. I also attend a yoga class once a week (I’ve been doing that for quite a few years) to cover all my bases!

When I signed up for the gym I realized I had to have workout clothes. I wasn’t interested in bare midriffs or the latest trend. I just wanted to feel good about how I looked and wear something comfortable and appropriate for the gym.

I began to pay more attention to what I saw other women wear and what I saw in the stores. While there is no need to be a fashion plate at the gym, I quickly realized that a lot of women dress to cover up and disappear.

When one day one of the women who is always in my Monday afternoon session said to me, “you’re the fashionable one,” I knew I had to address this topic here. Not because I was doing anything particularly fabulous, but because what I was wearing was so simple and so reproducible. That day I was wearing a pair of black workout pants, a white tank top and a bright orange workout jacket.

Do you find yourself feeling totally uninspired by your workout clothes?

If so, let’s change that now. Your workout wardrobe doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive and I have found that these clothes are nearly indestructible so you can wear them for a long time (although if you tend to sweat a lot they will not last as long). I tend to wear the same three or four outfits over and over. They have been washed countless times but hold up well.

The goal is to mix comfort with function AND feel good doing it.

What Not to Wear to the Gym:

  1. Your Good Bras – Not only will they generally not give you enough support, especially if your aerobic activity is rigorous, but sweating in them regularly means you have to wash them more and the more you wash them the more they lose their elasticity and shape.Find a sports bra that is comfortable and offers the proper support. There are plenty of options for sports bras so doing a little shopping to find the right one for you is important.
  2. Baggy Cotton T-Shirts – There are a couple of reasons not to wear baggy cotton T-shirts that have nothing to do with fashion:
    • When you sweat, cotton absorbs moisture and makes the shirt stick to your skin. It doesn’t wick it away from your body.
    • If the t-shirt is too baggy it can get in the way of your workout or can actually be revealing in certain poses or activities.

    Instead, invest in fitted (that doesn’t have to mean glued to your body), moisture-wicking fabrics that keep you comfortable and safe.

    Important: Before you dismiss this idea because you worry you will feel too exposed in something tight, keep reading. I promise I will offer some great options.

  3. Dangly jewelry – Notice I didn’t say all jewelry. You do not want your jewelry to be a health hazard and interfere with your workout by getting caught in something. While I have a yoga friend who says, for her, it is sacrilegious to wear jewelry when practicing yoga, I like to add a touch of sparkle to my workouts (and I have noticed that I am not the only one). I always wear these earrings below. They do not get in the way of anything and they make me feel happy!

How to Create a Great Workout Wardrobe

Now that we have determined what you do not want to wear to your workouts. How do you create a workout wardrobe in which you feel great, is comfortable and is appropriate to your workout?

Let me show a couple of typical outfits that I wear.

Choose the bottoms that feel best to you. Whether you like something with a little flair like a yoga pant or you prefer a fitted long workout pant or one that ends at the knee or mid-calf, it’s up to you. Choose what feels right. I have both depending on what I am wearing on top and what workout I am doing.

I always wear a fitted tank. Something like this:


If you like the idea of sleeveless, but don’t like something as fitted, try this:


Click here for other specific recommendations:

I never wear the tank by itself. Even though I am slim I feel too exposed. Yes, if I get really, really hot during the cardio portion of my workout, I might take off my jacket, but mostly I wear a second piece that stays on—I vary them depending on the season.

Workout jackets are great. Yes, you can go with the traditional workout jacket (see here for ideas), but why not try something a little different or asymmetrical like this (shown in black, but it comes in other colors):


And, if happen to prefer a pullover sweatshirt type top, instead of settling for a traditional oversized sweatshirt, why not try something like this in a pretty color and with flattering ruching in the front:


And, I happened upon a fabulous ¾ sleeve workout jacket this summer (mine is bright orange) and I wear it all the time. Something like this:


Click here for other specific recommendations:

There is one woman with whom I often workout who obviously doesn’t like to wear anything too fitted and gets too hot to wear layers. She has a variety of tops like this in pretty colors that look great and she feels comfortable during our weight training and treadmill work. It has the ease of an oversized t-shirt, but is prettier.


You do not have to wear a workout jacket if that feels like too much or you know you’ll need to remove it as you get heated up during your workout. If that’s the case, you can still wear the tank, but choose something like this over it instead. I have this top in two colors and wear it a lot in the warmer weather. It’s loose and provides coverage without feeling heavy and hot.


As I mentioned, I attend a weekly Iyengar yoga class and my Glima tops are perfect. In fact, I have exactly this one:


Click here for for yoga and interesting printed tops:

Get out of the black funk. Despite the fact that we see a lot of it out there, you do not have to limit yourself to black and gray for working out. How boring is that! Color will inspire you and you can use it strategically. Notice that nearly all of the examples I have provided above and on the special page with more options are pretty colors. Venture into the world of color by adding a colorful tank under a black workout jacket or maybe you are ready to bring in lots of color like the example below. Either way it will make you smile!


What about when you leave the gym? Perhaps you will be running errands or simply want to feel a bit more pulled together on your way home. I wrote an entire article about ‘How to Go from Yoga to the Real World‘ filled with many ideas, but let me share a couple of new ones here as well.

You can toss a comfy, sweatshirt material longer jacket over your workout clothes. Something like this is so pretty:


Or, if the weather is warmer, you could just add a scarf like this (which actually goes with the red/black striped top above). It adds a little flourish but isn’t fussy or out of place.


I will leave footwear up to you. Some people love the traditional supportive athletic footwear and others swear by the minimalist workout shoes. You choose what is right for you.

If your workout wear could use a little spiffing up, now is the time. With a little bit of attention, you can add new life to your trips to the gym or outdoor workouts. Make this the year you try something new—you’ll be surprised at how it not only makes you smile but gives you an energy boost as well.

Some of the affiliate links may generate commissions for Total Image Consultants which helps support the time spent creating these very specific recommendations.


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Ginger Burr is a fashion stylist and personal shopper serving clients worldwide from metro Boston.