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Dear Athletic Clothing Companies: How to make non-ridiculous fitness clothes

Posted Feb 04 2013 12:44am

Today I came across a picture in a magazine of a model wearing these pants:


All I could think was Holy Menstrual Explosion! Aren’t white pants with red splotches all over the crotch a woman’s worst nightmare? The funny part is that they were designed by fellow possessor-of-lady-bits Stella McCartney so we can’t chalk it up to a lack of understanding of female biology. (At the very least they could have made them blue – like the innocuous not-blood used in tampon commercials, right?) And yet while these bloody bloomers are one of the more egregious examples of bad fitness clothing they’re certainly not the only offender.

Snapping a hole in the butt of my capris with a jump rope. Triumphantly pressing a heavy bar overhead, only to have my bra go north with it. Accidentally kicking my shoe across the room during a kickboxing class. Doing a headstand in a loose t-shirt only to be blinded and then hog-tied by said shirt as I thrashed around trying get out, cover up and not land on any passerby – in that order. I think we can all agree I’ve had more than my fair share of gym wardrobe malfunctions. (We won’t even talk about all the torn shirts, peekaboo bras, rogue nipples, inadvertent moonings and split crotch seams I’ve witnessed – I think I’ve embarrassed all my gym buddies enough for one lifetime.) And I think we can also all agree that the majority of them were definitely my fault. But there are some – like the sports bra incident – which were caused by ill-fitting or poorly designed clothes.

And this past week I almost fell victim once again, thanks to a pair of workout capris that could best be described as the fitness version of a$$less chaps. It sounds so unbelievable that I offer the photographic evidence:


You like my pink polka-dot undies? I bet everyone at the gym would have too! And yes that mesh panel runs the entire width of my butt, from hip seam to hip seam. (Shirt pictured is not from the same company – the shirt is Lucy and I LOVE it.)

This would have been bad enough but the accompanying top (not pictured) hugged my lower belly like a second skin, sagged on my chest and then hit right at the top of my thigh (a.k.a. the fattest part of my leg) thereby making me look flat chested, thunder thigh-ed and 6-months pregnant. The whole lot was one hot mess.

Now, before we go any further, I want to say that getting to try out the latest and greatest in fitness fashion is one of my absolute favorite parts of my job. Quite often I get the stuff for free and I’m not trying to look a gift horse in the mouth or be ungrateful. 99% of the time this process works seamlessly: I try the stuff, sometimes I love it and blog about it (and with really great companies score stuff for you guys too!), sometimes it’s just meh and I don’t. Occasionally it’s boring or unflattering. Rarely is the stuff awful. But after a… surreal… conversation with the company that left me with the  feeling that they expected me to fit their clothes rather than the clothes to fit me, I decided that enough is enough.

Dear Fitness Clothing Companies,

1. Don’t use fit models for designing, use fit women. Women using fitness clothing for its intended purpose come in all shapes and sizes but often have larger quads, butts and shoulders thanks to all our awesome muscle and so it would be helpful if you could design for more of an athletic figure rather than, well, a catwalk figure. Some companies really get this and even use real athletes to model their clothes (Thank you Athleta !) but so many more don’t. We’re not all built the same which is why different styles, adjustable waistbands, strategic ruching and other methods of customizing the fit are so important. I don’t expect my clothes to fit as if they were custom-made but I do expect them to not fall off my butt when I sprint on the treadmill.

2. Respect the boobs. Shelf bras work for almost no one. (Unless they’re just “lounging” – see below.) I’m about as small as they come – my cup size appears on Kindergarten charts under the apple – and even I don’t get enough support from them. Please recognize that women have more issues than just “big” or “small” chests. Boobs go through a lot of changes in our lifetimes: puberty, pregnancy, nursing, aging, menopause, breast cancer and many other things effect the ability of the girls to stay upright, face forward and mind their manners. Most of this is taken care of with a good sports bra – and bra technology has come a long way in the past few years! But if you’re going to make a bra part of your top then you need to put more thought into it than just running an elastic band around the front middle.

3. Assume the clothes will be used for their intended purpose. If you are creating “lounge wear” then by all means include cleavage zippers, single-stitch seams and light gray cotton leggings. But if you call them workout clothes then expect us to jump, run, twist, lift and get really, really sweaty in them. That means we don’t want shirts that roll up like a window shade and pants that slip down into crack town. We don’t want the range of our arm or shoulder motion limited by too-tight sleeves or badly placed straps. We want to squat without fearing the rip of a seam or a foldover waistband gone rogue. (True story: I used to own a pair of workout pants with two vertical zippers on the front waistband. Every time I jumped they slipped down a leeetle bit farther. So eventually I’d have to yank them back up which would then catch my skin in the zipper. I looked like I had bug bites all over my business.)

4. Use “aspirational” very carefully. In a discussion with one major apparel company I told them that I found it odd that they only used very tall, very thin, and very ripped women in theirs ads and catalogs when that was so far from what the average woman looks like. They replied that they knew their models didn’t look like their customers but they wanted to be “aspirational” – a way to inspire women to be “better.” Which would be great if I aspired to be very tall, thin, ripped (and tan and blond). But I actually aspire to be a better version of myself, not someone else entirely.

5. Flatter us. No really, tell us you love us. Tell us you think we’re gorgeous. Tell us that our hard work in the gym is really paying off. And tell us that by flattering our assets. Things to consider:

- 3-inch rises make even tiny models have muffin tops – do not make us wear pants that need a bikini wax to wear. And take pity on the moms among us who thanks to post-baby trauma have the lower tummy pooch. Yes, some of us want our pants to come up to our navels.

- Careful with large all-over patterns. Done right they’re fun and spunky but done wrong and you’re two sizes bigger in an instant and we do not like those kind of magic tricks.

- Just say no to cameltoe – do not stick a seam right down the center of the crotch. Just stop it. Our labia are not the Red Sea and do not need to be parted. (Nor do our butt cheeks)

- Enough with the see-through pants already. This is not a hard problem to see – just have someone put the pants on and do a deep squat in front of you. Nor is this a hard problem to fix – use thicker fabric, don’t use 100% cotton, attach a skirt, insert a panel, reinforce the gusset. Do whatever it takes to keep our Victorias a Secret.

- Careful with pocket placement.

- Design your “control-top” waistbands or other shapewear features to actually shape and not just relocate the fatty bits out the top of the garment.

- Plus size does not mean “same thing just bigger.” From what I hear from my size 16-and-up friends, their weight can be distributed in different ways which means differing designs, patterns and the placement of extras needs to be considered. Offer options beyond plain t-shirts. Larger women belong in the gym every bit as much as smaller women and they deserve to look as cute as they want to.

6. My last tip: Don’t be ridiculous. When you design something you think is pretty sweet then just take a moment to consider how the ladies in your life would wear it. So many problems could be avoided if just one person piped up and said “You know? I don’t think my mom would like to look like a used maxi pad.” Function over fashion always! Some of us (namely, me) like the super trendy, bright, unique gym clothes and others of us prefer to stick to tried-and-true basics but every single one of us will tell you we don’t give a 1-lb dumbbell about the color or pattern if they just don’t work right. And for the amount we’re usually paying for this stuff, it had better work.

In the end, the above fitness company offered to send me a different pair of capris. Nice of them except it’s still ignoring the fact that it wasn’t a matter of getting the wrong size but the fact that they were strangling my thighs and calves and loose on my waist. I’d have to diet myself into an entirely different body shape to fit those things. And that’s still not fixing the problem of FULL BUTT NUDITY.

Don’t be ridiculous.

What’s the most ridiculous piece of fitness clothing you’ve ever owned? Ever had a wardrobe malfunction in the gym? What’s the one thing you wish you could tell fitness clothing companies?

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