Tips for Buying the Right Workout Clothes

Make sure you’re wearing the best gear for your sweat session

woman working out

The saying "dress for success" no longer just applies to your work or academic life. When it comes to exercise, wearing the proper clothes can help facilitate a more comfortable and enjoyable workout. From accessories to shoes, Karyn Riale, the national retail buyer for Equinox Fitness Clubs, discusses the workout clothes you need, how to care for them, and how often you really need to wash that sports bra.   

Go Fitted: "A common misconception is that [workout clothes] make [you] look fat. The majority of tops and bottoms are fitted—a lot of women aren't comfortable in fitted clothing because they feel it emphasizes their bad spots," Riale says. Fitted clothes, however, help avoid chafing—excess fabric of too-baggy shirts or shorts will rub your skin with repeated movement, like on the treadmill or elliptical.  

If you feel uncomfortable in fitted clothing, don't worry! The clothes are meant to be fitted, Riale says. Opt for slimming colors like black and navy instead of patterns and lighter colors, and use a warm-up jacket as a cover-up when you're not actively working out. Riale recommends:Buy well-fitted clothes that aren’t so tight that they uncomfortably squeeze but aren’t so big that there’s excess fabric. 

The Right Materials: "The best materials for workout clothing, from a technical aspect, are any tops and bottoms that breathe well," Riale says. Choose lightweight fabrics that wick away moisture and dry quickly so that your sweat doesn't stay trapped on your body, making you feel clammy and uncomfortable. That means ditching that old cotton t-shirt from your favorite band in college!  

Riale recommends: Look for technical fabrics like Supplex and Coolmax. 

When to Wash: Bacteria like MRSA, a potentially deadly strain of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that leads to skin infections, are easily spread in a germy gym environment. One area bacteria thrive in? Damp, warm, and cramped places—namely your gym bag. Which means that washing your workout clothes after every use is the only way to prevent the spread of potential skin diseases and nasty bacteria. "All performance apparel should be washed inside out and line or air dried," Riale says. "The dryer slowly damages the elasticity in the fabric, breaking it down." 

Riale recommends: Wash all items, from your tanks to your sports bras, after each use in warm water with your preferred detergent on a gentle cycle.   

Feature to Look for: Riale suggests looking for clothes with flat, soft seaming on the inside of the garment. "Rough seaming will irritate skin and be very uncomfortable," she says. Riale recommends:Start your fitness clothes collection with a well-built sports bra, making sure you have the right size to avoid chafing and provide comfortable support. Wear a fitted tank or tee on top, and a tight-leg long legging or capri pant on bottom. For men: Look for a workout short with a lining if you want a little more support and coverage.   

How to Layer: Unless you're working out in the cold outdoor weather, no extra layering is necessary. Less is better to avoid overheating and potential chafing. Riale recommends:When going to and from the gym in cold weather, a jacket and pants over your workout clothes are perfect. "Once you're inside, no extra layering is necessary," Riale says.   

Heading to the gym for the first time? Don't forget to accessorize! Bring a hair tie and your music player along for fun! 

Talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.

Working up a sweat has never been so fashionable. Nor so affordable. Thanks to the athleisure boom, more and more stores offer budget fitness lines that will keep you looking on point while you’re getting toned. From gym leggings with bold prints to T-shirts with sassy slogans to brightly colored sneakers, these five inexpensive sportswear brands will have you running to the gym.


If you visit Gap only to stock up on basics, then it’s time to revisit. GapFit, Gap’s dedicated fitness line, offers up something for every age and shape. Shop by sports activity or size. 


Old faithful H&M has a good but small range of sports gear. The focus is mainly on sweats, T-shirts, and sports bras, which are perfect for low-impact sports like yoga, Pilates, and tai chi.

Old Navy

For cheap and cheerful activewear, you really can’t go wrong with Old Navy. Their range is designed for an array of activities, and they do have an extensive plus-size selection.  With everything from on-trend colors and prints to simple basic tops and comfy sweatshirts, Old Navy has you covered.  


Make Target your one-stop shop and pick up a bargain piece of exercise gear as well as your groceries. With prices starting at under $12, and with sizes up to a 4X offered, there’s something in their range to suit all shapes and tastes. 

TJ Maxx

Shrewd shoppers will know that if you’re looking for a bargain, TJ Maxx is the place to go. Expect to find a range of designer activewear at deeply discounted prices.