Lost kit #5: I had to buy leggings, and now I hate society

A proposal for a PE kit revolution.

Fundamentally, I believe there are two approaches to choosing sports clothes. Happily, I apply one of them to each of the two sports I do in public right now.¹

For cycling, I insist on matching Lycra and the right height socks — because road cyclists are sort of like that, but also because my colleague complains she doesn’t recognise me in street clothes anymore after I rocked up to all of our socially-distant park meetings over summer in bib shorts and a tiny hat.²

For running, meanwhile, my look is best described as “total dogshit.” I have a range of leggings, every one of them purchased from TK Maxx because I resent paying full price for something I will immediately pollute with sweat. None of these fit me, but, excitingly, they all don’t fit in a different way. One pair from a famous American sportswear brand actually somehow sags from the knees.

On top, I wear a sports bra — these are universally bad, of course — and, if the neighbours are lucky, an old t-shirt. By mile two, my hair is like Cosmo Kramer’s, I am beet red, and look furious (for no real reason; I quite enjoy running). Sometimes, when out on a run, I get catcalled. I imagine they are being ironic.

Nevertheless, I had reached something of an equilibrium, kit-wise, until I recently changed clothing size.

Over the past weeks, a few different friends have mentioned the influence exercise has had not necessarily on their bodies but on their feelings about their bodies, which they have increasingly been able to see as tools for living in rather than primarily as objects to be looked at.

While this experience isn’t universal, it is common — which makes it all the more dispiriting that many women also report a split between the way moving your body can make you feel and the self-esteem impact of the clothes you wear to do it.

Even with my near-Germanic levels of bodily inhibition, I recognise this feeling. Since going back to the market, buying workout clothes has reminded me of nothing more than this tweet about pasta, except with “pour out the amount you think you need” replaced by “select the size you think you are”:

Whatever you opt for, wearing workout clothes is in effect playing dress-up in the wardrobe of an imagined, perfectly average-sized woman (that is, if the brand has a size range which includes you at all). And just as using someone else’s computer with its misplaced icons and inevitably deranged mouse speed is equal parts freaky and frustrating, so putting on most gym clothes is both annoying and disorienting. How do hips work? Apparently, nobody has any idea.

I’m exaggerating slightly, but not by much. With that in mind, I have designed the ideal gym-wear shopping experience, which retailers are welcome to adopt free of charge.

The ideal gym-wear shopping experience

  • As my friend Sarah put it, “there must be a better way to do leggings.” I would propose an option to filter by leg length and body shape, with a minimum of three options available in each size and fit combination.
  • While we’re on leggings: seams won’t be placed directly on the hips, where many women store more fat and where clothing manufacturers love to put a tight band of elastic, for a laugh.
  • There will be a full range of sports bra sizes, including mine, please, and a way to select for concerns like shoulder pain. These will be available in colours other than white, but there will not be only one colourway which will appear to be inspired by Eddie the Eagle’s kit from Calgary ‘88.
Actually, nevermind. I’ve decided this looks quite cool.
  • ​There will be a range of colour options generally, including colourful clothing for you weirdos who like that stuff, but also plenty of black-on-black-on-black options for those of us who don’t teach art at the gnome school.
  • If you want to wear a crop top, there will be crop tops available, but none of the t-shirts will pretend not to be crop tops and then be crop tops.
  • The changing rooms in the brick-and-mortar locations will not have bulbs overhead that light you like a burger on the pass. Additionally, all leggings will be thick enough that no customer will have to suffer the indignity of squatting in the cubicle to check whether you can see through them.
  • The size range will be wide and honest, and consistent across the entire range over time, while also recognising that bodies change with time and age, and that what works at one point might not fit at another.
  • The clothes will be designed with the principle that bodies are for living in, but if you wanted to wear something beautiful there would be options for that, too.
  • In general, the clothes will exist to fit your body, not the other way around. If you needed something specialist, alterations and adaptations would be available.
  • Everyone will be treated equally, whether they look like “an exercise person” or not.

Obviously, the margins on this are going to be completely unsustainable. But don’t you think we’ll all look great?

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¹ You don’t want to know how I look when doing yoga at home, but safe to say it’s good Tier 2 makes it harder for my boyfriend to leave me right now.
² And a top, just to be 100% clear.

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