Growing up, I found myself caught between two worlds on financial principles. On one hand, living as the eldest child in a household with 5 other kids, my mother taught me how to be a bargain shopper. I was always taught to never pay full price for something if I can eventually get it on sale or buy the knock-off brand that was just as good whenever possible. People who bought designer brands, I learned, only did so for the benefit of status that came with wearing the label. Being able to pull off an outfit that cost no more than $30 meant my life priorities were in line, and I was not materialistic. I was always very proud of that value.
On the other hand, when I visited my father and stepmom over the summer months, I was introduced to a new concept of spending money. My father always seemed to look down on my shoes from Payless, not because he couldn’t wrap his mind around the ugly chunky-heeled Doc Maarten imposter sandals I wore with literally everything, but because he knew that I would be replacing them sooner than I expected. His idea of spending money was that you should spend a little more for a brand-name, quality good that will last a lot longer, and then take care of it so that you’re not caught in a cycle of replacing things all the time. He was right: after three summers of buying cheap, plastic sandals, I finally went in for the real Doc Maartens which collectively cost almost as much, if not more, as three pairs of knock-offs from Payless.
As an adult, I volley back and forth between these two principles all of the time. More often than not, the battle of the paycheck wins and my rent takes priority over wardrobe upgrades. But I also live in a city where you need every competitive edge you can get and where, unfortunately, appearance does matter. Not because you need to wear a designer label, but because you need to look put together and sometimes cheaper clothing doesn’t accomplish that.
I’ve also learned that buying nicer clothes can be an investment if you take care of them properly and maybe even tailor them to fit you exactly. For my work wardrobe, I typically factor in a cost-per-wear ratio when it comes to buying clothing: if it’s a staple that I will wear frequently or for a long time, I will usually spend more on it to make sure it is built to last longer. If it’s a piece I may only wear a few times or if it is too on-trend, I try to maintain a reasonable spend. I rarely splurge on things that are only for special occasions.
I have found the same principles of spending to be true when it comes to my running wardrobe. I factor in a cost-per-wear ratio on certain things, and on others, I spend a little more. If I can get a quality name-brand on sale or for a lesser price, even better for me! It might seem counter-intuitive to some: why would you spend money on clothes that you’re just going to get “gross” in? It’s a fair question.
The Endless Dilemma of Inner and Outer Beauty
Every woman has insecurities about her physical appearance that follow her through her lifetime, and sometimes they just don’t really go away. Growing up through awkward middle school gym classes, my 7th period P.E. garb typically consisted of old cotton t-shirts that were way too big and cutoff sweat shorts that were once sweatpants. I have no recollection of what I wore as a sports bra, or if I even wore one, my socks were probably the same ones I’d been wearing all day up until that point, and my shoes were whatever my mom could get for the cheapest price, probably at Kmart. Lining up with my Adidas Samba-clad, Nike-swooshed classmates to run drills and shoot basketballs, I felt like I was wearing my insecurities for the world to see. I was aware that my family couldn’t afford nice name-brand clothes, not just for gym class but for any occasion, and that is a hard realization to come by when you’re a teenager and desperate to fit in, to look and feel like you belong.
I admit that feeling sort of followed me into adulthood when I started exploring my athletic side, but instead of buying separate clothes for the gym, I would just wear what I had on hand that didn’t make me feel so dorky. In high school practicing with my high school marching band and Colorguard, I kept wearing old t-shirts and cotton boxer shorts or cheer camp shorts. When I started working out in college, I could be seen in the campus gym or in my dorm room in front of a Denise Austin DVD wearing my cotton t-shirt jersey material yoga pants with my sorority letters appliqued on the butt. Can you imagine working out in cotton yoga pants?? SHUDDER. Eventually, I think I stopped working out as much because I was ruining my cotton t-shirts and yoga pants that just made me feel gross.
You can only resolve so many inner beauty-outer beauty tugs-of-war in your head before you realize you can’t feel good when you don’t like how you look on the outside. There is an everlasting truth that beauty is in a person’s heart and not their outward appearance, but there is a truth that is just as sound: if you look good, you will feel good, and you will do well. That’s just the way it is. It shouldn’t be the most important thing, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important at all.
It’s okay to want to look good while you’re working out and “getting gross.” You wouldn’t show up to a job interview in your sweat pants and expect the hiring manager to believe you know what you’re doing. And even though clothing doesn’t say otherwise about our capabilities, there’s a confidence that comes from knowing you look good, and that confidence is what a lot of people rely on to even get started on something.
Functionality and Purpose
Maybe it’s as much a status symbol as it is functional, but another case can be made for buying nicer clothing because of the way it is built. Athletic wear has enjoyed a blossoming relationship with science, design, and technology to a point where we now have odor-resistant, anti-microbial, moisture-wicking fabrics and apparel with vents and thumb holes and pockets. Some of this technology is so functional that people wear their gym clothes as every day clothes, myself included. I swear, more often than not, I’m kicking it around town wearing the same things I wear on a training run.
Luckily, a lot of economy brands are starting to catch on that this is what consumers want, so it’s easier to find inexpensive pieces that come with these features. However, after testing several low-cost brands for a few years, I still found myself replacing them…a lot. After one too many “3 pairs for $10 each” sales on running shorts at Old Navy or buying $16 sports bras a little too often from Target, I realized that I was almost always coming back for more. That started to drive me absolutely crazy. Over time, I went on one too many runs where my shorts rode up uncomfortably, my shirts kept shrinking in the wash and drifting up and over my waistband that cinched my muffin top, and I would always be tugging at my clothes while running. The awkwardness was killing me, and I was always on an endless quest for clothing that actually fit and stayed in place.
What’s In My Running Closet
The truth is, you need your clothes to work with you and not against you. I have yet to meet a low-cost brand that actually does that, so a year or two ago, I started scaling up and buying quality clothes at higher prices. If I can score a quality brand-name on sale or for cheaper on Amazon, all the better.
- Running shorts: I buy Oiselle Rogas. I don’t know how they do it, but this brand actually fits women’s curvy bodies without leaving teeth marks around your hips. The best part is, they stay put when you run. No riding up and no chafing. Simply the best.
- Running shirts: Tanks and long-sleeve shirts are not so much an issue for me, but I hardly ever run in the t-shirts I get from races, simply because they are typically not the best quality. I also outfit myself in Oiselle’s tank tops, especially their lux-material Gwen tanks and O-Snap tanks. Both styles are made with their butter-soft signature fabric, and are cute enough to wear as every day clothing. The O-Snap tank in particular is an edgier, fashion-forward look. I also love their long-sleeve shirts for cooler weather runs, but I don’t have a go-to. Typically whatever is on sale. I always feel badass in Oiselle’s clothing, but also want to snuggle in them. Dual-purpose clothing!
- Cold weather tops: For cold weather running, I like Under Armour Cold Gear half-zips and mock necks because this is the only brand I have met whose micro-fleece lined clothing actually keeps me warm while running in bitter cold winter winds, especially in damp East Coast winters. I also like how high their neckline goes, so I feel kind of badass.
- Leggings: I own literally one pair– yes, one– from the now-closed City Sports store that is lined with heavier fleece, and I haven’t been able to find a good replacement brand yet. It’s been a pretty mild winter thus far, so I may not need to replace them for awhile, but they are seeing their age. If I wear tights to run, I’m usually wearing Nike leggings because they are thicker than some brands. I also can’t get enough of Oiselle’s tights and knickers. They come in funky colors and they stay up. I have also run in them and I wear them sometimes to lift weights, and the best part about them is the hip pocket in the back. No more fumbling around for your iPhone or keys in your running belt. And the extra weight doesn’t drag your tights down, so no webbing going on. Love them.
- Sports bras: Even if you have a smaller bust like I do, support for the girls is crucial. And even with a smaller chest, my tolerance for bounce is non-existent. I discovered Brooks Moving Comfort sports bras on accident: when I had a 10-mile training run after work and had forgotten a sports bra at home, I slipped into City Sports and found one on clearance. Over time, I bought a bra for every day of the week.
- Footwear: As for socks, if you can afford a pair of Feetures, I recommend them unequivocally. I’ve found them to be light enough for summer and warm enough for winter. As for compression socks, ProCompression or CWX Compression, or Zensah if you prefer the calf sleeve option. I have several pairs of off-brand compression gear, and they’ve lost their compression quality.
- Accessories: While I don’t spend the bulk of my clothing budget on running accessories, I have found that owning some key pieces cuts down on some of the misery that comes with running in the elements. When I am not certain what the weather will feel like when I am out on a run, I prefer wearing arm warmers with a tank. And I feel badass like Supergirl and graceful like a ballerina when I wear arm warmers. My preference is Asics Thermopolis arm warmers because they are soft, and slightly thicker with a pocket at the mitt which is great for tissues when you can’t snot rocket easily (sorry). I also don’t usually enjoy running with a hat on my head, but when it’s even slightly near 55-60 degrees, I cover my ears with a headband. My favorite this season has been this Target Champion Knit headband, which adds a dash of cozy snow bunny to any winter running outfit. For a lighter option, almost anything will do. In the rain, I prefer to wear my favorite Marine Corps Marathon 2011 Brooks mesh cap, a token I found through a random Amazon search nearly 5 years after I ran my first marathon. My parents also bought me these Saucony Swift Gloves for Christmas, and they are light enough to not overheat my hands but not so warm that I am ripping them off mid-run.
- Shoes: Runners go through shoes so fast that I almost don’t really care what brand or style they are, as long as I get a good deal on them. However, during the Rio 2016 summer Olympic games, I lusted so hard after these Nike Colorway shoes that I ordered two pairs of them. I swear, they really do make me runner harder, faster, stronger, and longer. Writing about what kind of shoes to buy could literally be another blog, but all I will say is that utility matters over anything else here.
How To Take Care Of Your Investments
The decision to spend more on your running clothes, for me, is more than about style or feeling good. They are investment pieces. Just like I spend a little more on the basics of my normal day and work wear, I also take care of what I buy because I hate replacing things. There comes to be a difference between replacing things and updating your wardrobe, and I find that I don’t mind wearing things for a long, long time as long as they make me feel great, function well, and don’t fall apart in the wash.
Not until last year did I realize that there is a wrong and a right way to launder your running clothes. I think that was probably part of my problem in having to replace things so often. I used to just toss my sports bras, clothing, and whatever name-brand pieces I owned in the washer with fabric softener and detergent, then toss it all in the dryer. Not anymore. Harsh detergents and extreme heat can break down the technology that not only structures your athletic gear, but breaks down the fabrics to eventually render them ineffective. No better way to replace things than to break them!
Typically, after a run, I hang up my sweat-soaked clothing to air-dry. To keep my sports bras from stretching out, I also hang them up or lay them flat. Doing so will also help cut back on the rank smell…whew. Then, using cold water and not warm or hot water, I wash most of my running tops, shorts, and leggings in the normal wash, avoiding fabric softener (yikes!!) and using Tide Purclean, which is equally to minimize my personal harm to the environment as much as it is to clean my clothes without harsh chemicals. Make sure the soap you use doesn’t leave a residue either. It may also be useful to consider washing athletic clothing separately from other pieces on the gentle cycle.
Once the wash cycle is over, I hang my tops, shorts, and leggings to air dry. Yup– no dryer cycle for me! As for my sports bras and other accessories like arm warmers, I use a lingerie bag on the delicates cycle and air dry them. Arm warmers typically have an elastic band at the top of the arm to keep them in place, so you don’t want that to stretch out, or lose it altogether. Be sure to always check the labels of any piece of running clothing you buy. Some pieces may say “lay flat to dry,” so buying a drying rack may be a good investment, too. I also air-dry my compression socks to make sure they don’t overstretch, but regular socks are fine for the dryer. As for shoes, you’re on your own there. I rarely if ever wash my shoes, except if I lose a toenail and don’t want them blood-soaked.
In conclusion, it has taken me years to overcome the way I felt when I was first introduced to athletics. I firmly believe that the clothing does not make someone a runner, and it’s not about what you look like on the outside. One of the many blessings of being a runner is that you can run in whatever you have. You truly don’t need to splurge on every new piece of athletic wear to make you feel like you belong to the sport. But I personally don’t think I could have come to feel the way I do about running now unless I felt as though I looked the part, felt comfortable in clothes that fit me and let me focus on my run, and owned pieces of clothing that worked as hard as I do.