I would be lying if I told you that I look forward to waking up at the crack of dawn to workout before heading to the office. Nevertheless, in an effort to get/stay "healthy,” I find myself there pretty regularly, doing my best to keep up with the apparent entire population of Manhattan as a bona fide gymaholic (…ish). And, aside from overcoming the morning dread, my major issue has become: how to dress the part?
If we’re being honest—and what are we doing here if we can't be straight with each other—most of us hit the gym to improve the areas of our bodies that we are self-conscious about. And for women especially, gym attire doesn't leave much room to hide bodily flaws, whether perceived or real (ahem, spandex), nor your lack of makeup (hard to work out in sunglasses) or unkempt/unbrushed hair (beanies = too hot), so there is a real art to finding your so-called 'look.' And to make matters worse (and this could just be a fancy NYC gym thing, though I’m assuming it applies to gyms most everywhere), there are likely to be many attractive people—even famous ones—starring at you or mulling about as you do your first and five-millionth weighted squat. It’s really hard to look good while doing those.
As much as I wonder if it’s all in my head, a quick poll of gym-goers at said fancy NYC gym only confirmed my suspicions. For example, a recent New York transplant by the name of Roger told me he loves people-watching at the gym: "I pay attention to what people wear, their workout routines, things like that.” Hmm, ok, so it's not all in my head*… He said, “It’s interesting to see a woman on a Saturday morning wearing makeup to the gym. It’s like, ‘How do you do that? It’s ten o’clock in the morning!’ That’s crazy.” Me? I could never muster a full face at 6:45am, but what if you work out for a living? You're going to want to do something, right?
“I’m not a heavy makeup-wearer in general, but for fitness, having no-to-minimal makeup is better, otherwise it’s just clogging your pores,” says one of the chicest professional gym rats we know, Natalie Uhling, a trainer and instructor at New York's SLT studios. “But there are little things I do to help look a bit more presentable." She continues, "All women look best with a great moisturizer on, so I always use Origins Zero Oil—because it’s oil-free, it sits lightly on my skin. I’m sweating all day long, so I don’t need the thickness of heavy oil on my face. And, for sure, curling your eyelashes is the biggest trick. It just opens up your face. Mascara works, too. I love the big brush of Smashbox’s Full Exposure Mascara because it fights against clumpy lashes—the big reason why I don’t like waterproof ones. Occasionally I’ll use a NARS Illuminator on my cheekbones and some Aquaphor on my lips. That’s a pretty standard look for me.” Sounds pretty doable.
As for hair, “Usually, when you wake up, your hair looks pretty amazing in that 'messy' way,” says Uhling, “so a ponytail or a simple braided ponytail looks great.” To steal a line from Matthew McConaughey, “Alright, alright, alright.”
With face and head under control, I push Uhling for below-the-neck ideas.
“I love a great pair of leggings, and always in black—true black, not grey-black—because black on the bottom slims everyone down. I’m not a big skin-tight top and bottom person, so I tend to wear big, flowy, cut-off long sleeves or tank top crop-tops and a sports bra. I also like to rotate between two pairs of sneakers, to keep my look fresh. It makes you look chic and maintains your shoes a bit longer, actually, so you’re not wearing ratty sneakers all the time.” Uhling does have one cautionary tip: “I don’t love shorts on women—unless you’re a freakin’ supermodel** with ridiculous legs, of which there are tons, and when I see them, I’m like, ‘Damn, that girl is rocking those shorts,’ but for the most part, it's just not the most flattering look on most of us.” Roger that. No, really, Roger (remember, the NYC transplant?) agrees on that front: “There is kind of a sex appeal to seeing a woman in tights when she’s working out. You are really celebrating a woman’s natural form. At the gym, shorts just seem more masculine.”
As much as we might feel pressure to preen pre-workout, if you want to just brush (your teeth, please) and go, guys like Roger are with you: “When I see a someone who’s just rolled out of bed, I think that exudes confidence. It’s a way of saying, ‘I came here to work out. I didn’t come here to try to catch anyone.’ And that’s sexy.”
Which brings me to the take-away point: working out is supposed to be about you, not about everyone else. It is a time to focus on self-improvement in the physical (and at times, emotional) sense. If you, like me, find it hard to abandon your “style” even while working up a sweat, perhaps hold onto a piece of your everyday self and rock your signature red lip, an all-black outfit, or your collection of twenty-plus bracelets (it adds a bit extra weight, good for toning your triceps?). Yes, Roger and Natalie may not love you in shorts, but if you like to bare those legs, be your own supermodel and wear your shorts with gusto! Maybe you are one of those rare people who can be on the StairMaster for hours with fully straightened hair down your back, a perfectly contoured face, and feel like the hottest piece in that gym. Or maybe after reading all this, you think, “Who gives a fuck? The gym is for working out, not looking good.” Well, whatever your attitude, keep on keeping on/keep on keeping going to the gym (it's good for us?) and do you. What do you wear, on your bod and on your face, to work out?
*Some of it might be…
**While at my gym to shoot the story, we did in fact see a supermodel working out with her trainer in, you guessed it, shorts. And yes, her legs did look amazing.
Elizabeth Brockway photographed by Emily Weiss at Equinox in New York on June 26, 2013. Elizabeth is wearing an American Apparel top, Under Armour sports bra, Lululemon tights, Nike sneakers, and many of her own bracelets.