On proper gym attire and fitness snobbery


The other morning, I was training a client in the gym and I overhead a couple of women discussing the workout attire of another gym member. A gym member who was not dressed in brand new, body hugging spandex. A middle-aged woman (as were the two having the conversation), wearing baggy, thread-bare sweat pants, a coffee stained t-shirt, dirty old tennis shoes and very flamboyant socks.

The conversation went something like this;

“Can you believe what she’s wearing? I’d be embarrassed to leave my house dressed like that, let alone be seen in the gym.”

“Obviously, she’s not very serious about exercise.”

“I wish she’d hurry up and get off the bench; there are regulars waiting to use the equipment.”

“Oh, and be sure to wipe off those weights she was using before you pick them up.”

Since when is gym attire an indicator of a person’s fitness? Does it inform us about their dedication to exercise? Does dressing a certain way give one priority access to equipment? Do dirty gym clothes indicate poor personal hygiene?

To say I was shocked would be an understatement.

Yes, the gym that I work at happens to be in a fairly affluent neighbourhood. Participants are more likely to be seen wearing Lululemon than tennis shorts and t-shirts. I myself, like to come to the gym in form-flattering athletic wear (you would too, if you had to wear it 6 days of the week; for me, Lululemon is ‘business attire’).

To suggest that someone not conforming to the ‘dress code’ has less right to be there than those wearing the ‘uniform’ is ludicrous. Perhaps she’s new to exercise. Maybe she had a rough morning with the kids and didn’t have time to change into something else. Maybe she or her husband are out of work and they can only afford a gym membership OR the fancy clothes. Kudos to her for choosing fitness over fashion.

I would hate to think that lack of stylish exercise clothing was keeping someone from going to the gym. In fact, the only rules about dress that we enforce at my gym are those related to safety and health; you can’t wear open-toed shoes and you must wear a shirt.

While I didn’t say anything to the women having this particular conversation (I mean really, what would you say?), I did notice that their workout was a bit ‘light’ when compared to that of the woman whose dress so offended them. Perhaps they should spend a bit less time criticizing the appearance of others and a little more time getting their fancy exercise clothes sweaty!

P.S. I live in Vancouver, home of Lululemon and laid back attire. Ironically, we have been recently tagged as the third worst dressed city in the world, primarily because everyone wears exercise clothes most of the time (and many of those sporting Lulu’s heftily priced clothes clearly don’t spend any time in the gym!).

Do you ‘dress’ for exercise or are you ambivalent about your appearance at the gym?

What’s your favorite brand of exercise clothes?

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  1. Honestly this is one of the reasons I avoid the gym and workout at home or outside (there are other reasons as well, but this is one of them)! I feel like it’s more a fashion show and not about getting a good workout. I’d rather be out in the elements or sweating it out in my living room!

    • I had never really given a lot of thought to this issue until I overhead that conversation. Wondering how widespread it is and am glad that you’ve found other ways to keep yourself fit and healthy!
      Have a great Tuesday.

  2. I am in my mid 50s and go to the gym six times a week. I live in Colorado where we too wear exercise gear all the time. I do not “dress” for my workouts but have some simple but tried and true pants and tops that work for me. Gap and Eddie Bauer, on clearance. I would hate to think people are judging the outfits or workouts of others. Anyone that is making an effort should be applauded, don’t you think?

    • I absolutely agree. I really don’t care what people wear (as long as it’s not too revealing or portrays an offensive point of view; don’t get me started about what types of images and sayings some guys seem to think are appropriate to feature on t-shirts…), as long as they’re getting their sweat on!
      Of course, moisture-wicking technical fabric is more comfortable than baggy cotton, but to each his or her own!
      Thanks for your comments!

  3. I love my lulu clothes, and have been very lucky to get some pieces at good prices. I find them comfortable and that is what I wear to the gym. Having said that, one of the reasons I like to work out really early in the morning is that the people in the gym at that hour don’t seem to be the type that would judge what someone is wearing, and there are very few of us there at the crack of dawn! Honestly, I am too focused on my workout to care what someone else is wearing.

    • Maybe I should switch to early morning workouts Anna! I am sooo not an early riser. Just ask hubby, who delivers my coffee to me in bed every morning as an enticement to get up!

  4. That woman was probably me!
    no really, I live in my workout clothes, which is typically yoga pants (and not lulumon…probably Target) and a stretchy form fitting but not tight (hate that ) shirt, and a cardigan, and an apron (cuz I’m never far from a batch of something in the oven) and hand warmers and socks.

    in the summer it’s almost the same except for I might be wearing a sun dress and flip flops.

    think if Holly Hobby and you’ve got me!

    THAT kinda stuff woman do makes me cringe to the core. I get that at work from time to time and it’s so immature.
    Like…Oh my god!
    Humans are weird!
    I bet that lady was COMFY!

    • Yes, comfort is what it’s all about! I practically live in my gym clothes. While they may be fashionable (in these parts at least), they are usually sweaty and wrinkly, and when paired with the dirty ponytail and baseball cap probably don’t make much of a fashion statement!
      I’m soooo past caring what anyone else thinks!
      P.S. If that woman was you, you’d say hi, right?

  5. that sounds like the gym near me too! the women come decked out in their matching outfits and full makeup, it’s crazy! for me, I love the organic bamboo workout clothes and usually wear them 24/7. I agree, it’s all about comfort! Thats terrible they were making fun of someone just because of what she was wearing—that is so high school! 🙁

    • I could never wear full on makeup when exercising; I sweat so much it would run down my face!
      Just a bit of tinted SPF moisturizer (I love Mary Kay’s) and a hint of mascara (otherwise it looks like I don’t have eyes).
      Actually, I probably only wear ‘the works’ once or twice a month! Just a natural kind of girl, I guess!

  6. Part of the fun of working out or running for me is the clothes so yes I dress in my favorites (no make-up). I don’t think I even notice what other people are wearing much less have such a strong opinion about. What I do notice and have an opinion about is that they are there and they’re trying.

  7. Great post Tamara … there is a chance that some have even read it and recognized a bit about themselves. Those ladies comments were very mean spirited. Full make-up and a work-out with you would be a nasty combination …. Have a good weekend!

  8. I love this post, Tamara. You hit on a really important topic. I think that people not feeling like they have the appropriate body or clothes is a huge reason many people either don’t dare wander into a gym, or if they do, are scared away soon after. People pick up on others’ uninviting attitudes. The energy is actually palpable.

    • You are so right Julie. I really think that this topic merits another post of it’s own. It’s not a coincidence that most of the people in my gym are in the ‘need to lose less than 20 lbs’ category.

      • I’d love to see you continue to write on this topic, Tamara. I have often thought about how to get people who are inactive and more overweight into the gym — and keep them there. My personal answer always boils down to love. When we make people feel loved and accepted and stimulated to feel alive and cared for, I’m thinking the chances of coming back and telling their friends about their experiences greatly increase. I know that when I do not feel loved and accepted and respected in a gym or any other environment, I don’t stick around. Looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts on this really important but little-addressed topic.