Apparently workout clothes are chic, and you can wear them to meetings and stuff now. Unfortunately, my closet hasn’t gotten that memo. The other day, I showed up to a fitness class to find a group of girls happily complimenting each other’s neon printed leggings. In my very-worn, old, black (now more gray-ish) ones, I felt like the new kid in the cafeteria who didn’t know that on Wednesdays we wear pink. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with my basic gym wear exactly, it’s just that I wouldn’t ever want to be seen by anyone from my real life while wearing it.
On my walk home from this vaguely traumatic class, I happened to pass by the newly opened Bandier, a boutique fitness apparel store that’s basically the Barneys of workout clothes. They carry cool brands like Alala, Michi, and Outdoor Voices (no, I hadn’t heard of them either). Suffering my characteristic shopping indecision while flipping through the racks of printed leggings and strappy fashion-meets-function(ish) sports bras, I started wondering: What are other people wearing? So, I asked some of my favorite NYC fitness instructors to enlighten me. Here’s all the spandex-related wisdom I gleaned:
Tara Stiles, Strala Yoga “I used to cobble together workout gear from old sweats, cut-up t-shirts, and gear from my dancing days. Most workout clothes are a little too put together for my style. Then I found Reebok. I’ve actually started collaborating with them on a Strala line. My favorite piece from our collection is a pair of rainbow pants that were inspired by a combination of some legwarmers my grandmother made for me when I was five and the colors from the video game Atari. For me color and character are key in clothes, and then comfort. I was annoying and kept challenging Reebok to find softer fabrics. I asked, ‘Can we make it feel like babies? Can we make it feel like butter?’ The way I see it, the more comfortable we can make the clothes, the better people will feel in them!”
Karen Lord, Karen Lord Pilates Movement “Pilates gear has to hold up—it's a tough workout, and my activewear really takes a beating. I look for luxe fabrics that really perform, don't snag or pill, hug my body, and hold their shape. I’m a minimalist, so I’ll buy something in black first, and if I love it, I’ll get a few more maybe in charcoal gray or light heather gray. That’s my fitness color palette—it’s just easier. Currently, my go-to items are my Heroine Sport Performance Bra or Michi Siren Bra, which I wear under a Rick Owens or Isabel Marant tank, and a pair of Michi Illusion Leggings. I’ve gotten a lot of my clients addicted to the line as well, so sometimes we show up for a session in the same outfit!”
Nicole Winhoffer, NW Method “I want to work out in something that makes me feel confident but also comfortable. My favorite line is Adidas by Stella McCartney—Stella is a friend and client of mine! Her Climachill Shorts are my favorite because they flatter and show off the legs. I pair them with her tank tops, sweatshirts, or Studio Crop Top. Stella really knows how to design for every woman. Her clothes make me feel feminine, plus she has leotards, which I love!”
Esther Gauthier, Aqua Studio NY “For my underwater workouts, I go for Seilenna by Annelies De Rouck. I love the Nadine top in black with the Julia bottom. They are just chic, good quality, and very functional. This collection is the perfect fit for aqua cycling because the bottom is wide enough that it stays put during class and the crop top is ideally designed to provide great support.
Debora Warner, Mile High Run Club “I’m all about the spandex and bright, fluorescent accents. Capri pants or leggings are great for running because of the extra compression, and I generally prefer tanks over tees. My go-to brand is Nike. The Nike Epic Lux Printed Running Tights and the Nike ForeveRun ones are both great. The leggings have a super-fun print and a zippered pocket for keys. For shoes, the new Nike Free 3.0 Flyknit is a great super light shoe for treadmill running. It feels like a slipper!”
Annie Mulgrew, CityRow “These days, I’m wearing a lot of NeshNYC. It’s a lifestyle brand that I can instruct in, workout in, travel in, and lounge in (and I always get compliments when I’m wearing it). They have great layering pieces like their jogger pants, vests, and hoodies. I like to layer their pieces because it helps me look like I’ve got an outfit on instead of sweaty gym clothes.”
Sadie Kurzban, 305 Fitness “I look for something that can support high-impact moves. Supportive sports bras are a must! It also needs to be breathable, since we’re moving at 100 miles an hour. I'm a big fan of Nike, because their design is always ahead of the curve, but their products are also durable and reliable. Right now, I’m wearing a lot of the graphic, bright-colored leggings like the Nike Pro N+TC Tour LA and Nike Legendary Mezzo Zebra Tight. I'm also digging the low-cut, flattering look of their Indy Freeze Frame Sports Bra—I love the way it glows under the blacklight in class! These pieces not only have the technology to keep me moving through a tough workout, but they also reflect my style—the same playful, bright, unapologetic aesthetic that you'd find on a dance floor in Miami.”
Sarah Levy, Y7 Studio “When I’m working out, I don’t want to have to think about my clothes. My favorite line is Vie Active. I am obsessed with the Rockell Elite Compression Tights. They are so comfortable and the fit is incredible, plus they come in a ton of different colors and prints. When you are doing yoga there is so much twisting, bending, inverting, and lunging. These leggings always stay up and in place. Who wants to adjust their waistband in the middle of high lunge? Ain't nobody got time for that.”
Vanessa Packer, ModelFit “For me, the fit has to be on point. You do not want to be pulling up your pants during boxing or having a shirt flop over your head in downward dog. I especially like Outdoor Voices and Heroine Sport. I have a white sports bra with mesh inserts from Heroine that is so flattering I could wear it as a top alone. As for Outdoor Voices, I love their super soft hoodies and sweatpants, which are possibly the most flattering ones I've ever worn. Working out in a fun outfit makes me feel good, and it makes me work harder too!”
Photos via Instagram. Photo of Esther Gauthier by Renee Ousley. Work out like Karen Lord from the comfort of your living room—or wherever, really.