When it comes to keeping a wardrobe filled with a modest collection of only the most loved, most useful, and most flattering articles of clothing, activewear is a category that often gets left out of the equation entirely. It’s rarely included into capsule wardrobe counts. (Mine isn’t a capsule wardrobe—just a small one— but I didn’t count my activewear into my grand total of 52 clothing items, either.) Activewear tends to be seen more as a necessary evil than anything to get excited about.
It’s a category of clothing that’s always been easy for me to keep pared down. My modest activewear collection currently includes two pairs of leggings, three pairs of shorts, and a too-small sports bra (see also). I wish I could say that it’s because of my preternatural ability to keep a streamlined wardrobe. Really it has more to do with my preternatural ability to avoid traditional exercise at all costs. I’ll huff it up and down these four flights five times a day and walk four miles in an afternoon with a baby strapped to me, but ask me to lace up my sneakers and go for a run, and, well, no.
The last time I actively shopped for activewear (heh) was right before our trip out west two summers ago. Despite the fact that I knew there would be plenty of hiking and rock scrambling, I put off the shopping until the last minute and rushed into Paragon Sports scooping up sneakers and shorts in a frenzy of Pacific Northwest-induced outdoorsy panic.
Here’s the thing with activewear: there’s a lot of it that I just don’t like very much. The appeal of the many-patterned, many-colored, high-performance gear is a little lost on me. Combine that with my general ambivalence about being sporty in general and, well, it’s hard for me to work up a lot of excitement over mesh shorts and breathable tank tops.
But if having an intentional wardrobe is the end that we’re after, a little digging unearths the fact that there’s actually a lot that’s happening in the activewear world that’s pretty lovely. Lovely activewear: not an oxymoron.
With summertime upon us and ambitions for planning a little family adventure vacation at an all-time high, I’ve been looking into activewear that wouldn’t feel like a compromise of form for function.
In case you’re in the market, here’s a list for consulting the next time you’re thinking about making a new addition to your activewear collection that you actually want to be excited about. As ever, the theme here is activewear that’s doing things right design-wise, but also ethics- and sustainability wise. Some of it is made in the USA. Some of it is organic. Much of it also comes in colors and shapes that are slightly flashier, but it’s me you’re talking to, so I’ll be showing you pretty blues and greys.
It goes without saying that this is a list of things that I find especially nice or practical or otherwise worth sharing. If you know of anyone else doing the activewear game right—or, right for you—let me know in the comments. (You guys were swimsuit geniuses.)
Forest Bound: Long May They Run: If ever there was motivation for being a little bit more deliberately active, this is it. Here’s the full story. (100 percent of profits go to The New Hampshire ACLU.)
Janji: An activewear company that gives back. A portion of each purchase helps fund organizations across the globe committed to alleviating water shortages. I especially like the Women’s Haiti Perfect Short, the purchase of which supplies clean drinking water to a person in Haiti for a year through a partnership with water.org.*
Outdoor Voices: They had me at tonal sets. (Oatmeals!) I love the Steeplechase Sports Bra in Oatmeal and the Athena Crop in Mint and the Warmup Leggings in Slate. And maybe everything else. (Including sneakers!) (Made in the USA.)
Solow Sport: Self-described as fashion meeting function, this design-y activewear is also Bluesign certified. Some of it’s a little more…sexy?…than I’d typically go for, but I like the more subtle High Impact Crop Leggings and Mesh Contrast Sports Bra. (Made in the USA.)
Tracksmith: A brand-new-to-me New England activewear company. They make classic running wear that’s “technical without screaming it.” The entire line looks terrific. I especially love their Silk Merino Tank and mesh Van Cortlandt Shorts. (Made in the USA.)*
* Thanks to thoughtful readers for writing in with these recommendations!
** Bluesign Technologies is an independent company that works to evaluate each step of the textile supply chain to evaluate practices and processes in the textile industry for the safety of the environment, workers, and customers. That’s something that’s especially important when it comes to all of those high-performance fabrics that do the heavy lifting in activewear.
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