Workout attire has evolved from the standard shorts-and-a-tee-shirt uniform to encompass an entire fashion category of stylish, stretchy options that can take us from cycle class to a drinks date. For advice on how these versatile, high-performance pieces can go the sartorial distance, we turned to Alexandra George, owner of Cincinnati, Ohio-based Outfit Active, for tips on how to keep our activewear in top form. Here are her recommendations for what to consider when shopping for workout gear, how to care for your pieces, and ways to work them into your post-gym wardrobe.
Look for fabrics that will provide function, support, and coverage. According to George, the material says so much about the quality of the activewear you’re buying. While everyone has a personal preference for the feeling and thickness of the fabrics they wear, she recommends looking for keywords like sweat-wicking, dry-fit, quick-dry, compression, or four-way stretch to identify a quality product that will stand up to multiple wears and workouts. She also says to keep in mind the type of exercise you’ll be doing. “Sport-specific activewear is designed to take into account the types of movements that will be done and what type of fabric you will need to stay comfortable and dry,” George says.
Hold off on the hamper. Post-workout, George recommends resisting the urge to throw your items straight into your dirty clothes bin. “Tossing wadded-up, damp gear into the hamper leads to musty smells that are hard to get rid of,” she explains. “Since most people don’t wash their clothes immediately after each workout, I recommend laying your sweaty pieces out or hanging them up on a hook or hanger to air dry.”
Take care when cleaning your pieces. When it comes to cleaning your activewear, there are a few tricks that will help keep your pieces looking great and functioning well far into the future. Here’s what you need to know:
- Treat your activewear like delicates. “I like to think of my pieces as fragile, even though they are worn for some of the toughest activities,” George shares. “I always wash them separate from everyday clothes.” Since most activewear is made of fabrics with advanced technology, you don’t want them rubbing against other harsh materials like denim, or fluffy fabrics like towels that can transfer lint. Always use cold water on a gentle cycle to prevent shrinkage and the breakdown of material, and place smaller items like bras or pieces with special details in lingerie bags.
- Pick your cleaning products with care. While George doesn’t have a favorite product, she appreciates the performance of The Laundress Sport Detergent. “This brand makes great, clean products that extend the life of clothing,” she says. She also recommends Rockin’ Green Platinum Series Activewear Detergent and Hex Performance Detergent. And while they can be friendly to other clothing, fabric softeners are the number-one enemy of activewear. “These products will damage anything that is stretchy—basically all leggings,” George says. “Fabric softeners will also leave a residue that inhibits moisture-wicking and breathability.”
- Do a deep clean when necessary.Since most bacteria is on the inside of the material, George advises turning clothes inside out, which not only gives your pieces the best clean possible, but also protects the color and other details in your gear. And though it’s not always necessary, if your clothes are very sweaty and soiled, you can remove the bacteria that causes odor by pre-soaking them in white vinegar.
- Ditch the dryer. The heat of the dryer is really damaging on the technical materials in activewear, altering their fit, elasticity, and performance. George suggests you follow the care instructions on the label and opt to air dry; her preferred method is to lay clothing out on a dryer rack, which is space-efficient and also helps clothes to keep their shape. If you must toss your clothes in the dryer, be sure to tumble them dry on a low heat setting.
Take your gym wear to the streets. Thanks to the continued rise of the active fashion category, it’s now easier than ever to make activewear look appropriate—and even chic—just about anywhere. The key to pulling off the “athleisure” look without looking sloppy, George says, is to make sure everything you are wearing is streamlined, polished, and clean. “Think white sneakers, make sure everything fits correctly, and get rid of anything that is ratty-looking or see-through.” Here are her favorite ways to transfer activewear to other activities:
- Add a leather jacket or bomber to a pair of leggings.
- Trade your technical gym shoes for a cool, stylish pair of sneakers or even booties when it’s cooler outside.
- Sweatshirts and hoodies can easily be dressed up by pairing them with more feminine pieces like skirts or floral dresses and a pair of heels or booties.
- Track pants and sweats look great matched with a cashmere sweater or a blazer.