Aug 15, 2023

Choose your fitness wear by what feels good and fits well

Invest in good base layers, and exercise will feel like a pleasure, not a chore

I once read about a restaurateur who chooses cutlery for his establishment wearing a blindfold. Which sounds crazy, but is sort of brilliant. The logic being that no one looks at their knife and fork while they are eating, but the feel and function of cutlery in your hand – the weight, the balance, the sharpness – are what matter. To pick cutlery that will most enhance your dinner, it is best not to be distracted by what it looks like. The knife-and-fork method is also the best way to choose your fitness clothes. How leggings, a sports bra or a pair of trainers feel is a more useful metric than how nice they look on some pert, ponytailed influencer. While you are exercising (whether that means pilates or parkour or pickleball) you are hyperaware of your physical self, so clothes are central to your experience.

An itchy inside leg seam, badly fitting shorts that wriggle up your backside, fabric that is too warm or not warm enough, sport socks that disappear into trainers: these can make the difference between fitness that feels like a positive habit and fitness that feels like a dreaded chore.

Obviously they need to look nice, too. I exercise for my mental and physical health but I’d be lying if I pretended vanity doesn’t come into it too. At the Frame fitness studios where I do pilates, the instructors – who I am endlessly girlcrushing on – have twice recently complimented me on my favourite leggings and sports bra set, by Vuori, and I was thrilled.

Vuori (an American brand that started out making gym stuff for men, which I suspect is why it uses such great non-comfort-compromising fabric) is my favourite because it feels good: fleece-soft without being heavy, matt rather than shiny, supple rather than skintight. It is not cheap – about £100 for a pair of leggings – but made to last, and the 75% recycled polyamide fabric comes in chic colours (terracotta, slate blue) that stay true through endless washes.

Leggings with a matching stretch crop top is a perfect pilates-or-yoga formula, because it allows me to fold a class into my day at whatever time suits my schedule. I put them on first thing, then add an oversized cotton shirt (plain white, or a stripe) over the top. With leggings and a blazer, loafers and small hoop earrings – hoops are more comfy when you are on a mat – I can be public-facing one minute and downward-facing dog the next.

For high-impact exercise, comfort starts with the right sports bra and the right trainers. Whether you need ankle support, waterproofing for outdoors, or a lightweight version to keep you cool, there is a trainer out there to make your workout more pleasant, so don’t choose on looks alone.

Oh, and don’t overlook M&S for sports bras: it knows its way around a knicker drawer, does Marks, and its Goodmove sports bra range is reliably sized, which makes online shopping so much easier. It is a good source of zip-fronted sports bras, easier and more dignified to wrestle into on a cold morning at home, or in a busy gym changing room.

Base layers are what matter, so invest in those and ignore aggressively marketed coordinating tank tops and hoodies. The top layer category is a good retirement home for loveworn clothes from your regular wardrobe – a washed-out cotton jumper with a neckline gone loose is perfect while you warm up, for instance. It might not look perfect. But if it feels good, you feel good.

Hair and make up: Sophie Higginson using GhD and Charlotte Tilbury. Model: Priyanka at Milk Management. Workoutwear: Crop top, leggings and yoga mat, all Vuori Clothing