Stylish Exercise Clothes

The new workout clothes are built for exercise but stylish enough to wear anywhere.

By Kim Johnson Gross

Exercise in Style

When I was 16, one of my favorite dresses was a white pique mini that I wore with large hoop earrings and sneakers or Pappagallo flats. It was my tennis dress; I was an avid player and wore it on the court and off. I stuck with tennis through the years of Jane Fonda and Flashdance. When women went to aerobics classes wearing leg warmers and shiny spandex unitards, I was not among them. My workout clothes, such as they were, inhabited a small part of my closet: When my best T-shirts faded, they were relegated to a meager "athletic" stash.

Since turning 50, though, I’ve gotten serious about fitness. I’ve taken surfing, windsurfing, and rowing lessons. I defied all expectations by completing a kayak roll in whitewater. I dabble in tai chi and Spinning, practice Bikram yoga, and religiously attend cardio/weight classes. Are these desperate attempts to reclaim a youthful figure? If so, I’ve failed — but not miserably. For me, it’s about the adventure and the challenge. And I’d no sooner wear one of those faded old tees to exercise class than show up at work in scruffy shoes.

Besides, athletic wear has gotten wonderfully seductive. Slick techno fabrics sculpt the body in styles worthy of an Avengers remake. Pull-on pants with varying amounts of stretch give legs a sleek contour and look good enough to be worn outside the gym. Recently, en route to an exercise retreat (okay, spa), I spotted a chicly attired woman traveling in hiking boots, techno-fiber pants, and a tailored leather jacket. Later in the week I saw her at dinner wearing the same pants and top with stilettos. Both outfits worked brilliantly.

High-Fashion Workout Clothes

Gone are the days when we marched to work in business suits and sneakers, sacrificing style for ease. Now we can stride along in chic Cole Haan shoes that have Nike Air technology. Status watches by Cartier and Bulgari come with rubber straps, suitable for trekking to boardroom or base camp. Fashion has caught up with us, and I’m glad: Job one of activewear is to provide comfort, not just in how we feel and look in our clothes but how we feel in our bodies. True style means not compromising on either.

The athletic look that suits my life best comes from yoga. I got inspired watching my fellow devotees after class: They’d roll up their mats, throw on a cashmere sweater and pick up a designer bag — and suddenly those fitted tees and lightweight cotton pants were perfect street wear. Yoga clothes come in styles and colors that are soothing or sexy, depending on your mood. I wear slimming black with a strategically placed splash of color: sports bra, vest, bag. My workout tops double as camis. With built-in bras, they pull me in and smooth me out, and they are pretty enough to wear with skirts or jeans or under suit jackets. (The moisture-wicking fabrics are helpful for hot flashes too.)

As for my old tennis whites, they’ve now given way to fashion colors and styling that make me want to dress for the sport again, even if I hardly ever play the game anymore.

Originally published in MORE magazine, July/August 2007 as "Exercise in Style."

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