I’m working through a whole series of pieces on this topic as I work through it in my own life, to be honest. Being stylish while still wearing athletic gear most of the time and identifying as someone who’s outdoorsy and athletic is really, really hard. Especially when you shy away from bright colors and prefer a neutral (ahem, black and gray) palette that dates back to your edgier, fashion-y punk rock days. I find that I have a hard time feeling comfortable in ‘adult clothing,’ because I feel like I look like I’m playing dress-up (this was a major issue wedding dress shopping, to be honest).
But I’m starting to get it. And as I do, I figured I’d share because I think (hope) some of you have run into the same issue, and you have some ideas to share too! And follow along on Instagram as I work it out and try to figure out how to style an athletic life.
I wanted to start with fabrics. It’s been the biggest change to the overall appearance and longevity of my clothing, and I think swapping fabric is really a huge way to improve the quality of your wardrobe while maintaining your general style. It’s a little pricey, but considering how long these fabric upgrades last, it’s actually a money-saver in the long run if you stick to classics that you can re-wear over and over.
Upgrading (Athletic) Fabric to Wool
Let’s be honest: spandex will always be king when it comes to workout wear. (And for that, I have a few recommendations over here.) But in recent years, I started collecting more and more cycling and casual clothes made with Merino wool. I’m big on coffee shop rides and runs, and we walk a lot of our errands, so finding something that looks normal sipping espresso and working in a cafe but also functions on a run was key. Not only does Merino hold up better to travel and frequent washing (and sweat, let’s be honest), it has a bit more style to it than similarly performing synthetics.
A few favorites:
- You can wear a Rapha (men’s) baselayer to go for a run, or you can wear it to hang out. I personally prefer the men’s version for a more casual fit, I find the women’s is best suited for under my bike jersey. (Bonus: Peter and I wear the same size in this since I wear it loose and he wears it tight, so we can actually share these.)
- I love Giro’s women’s sleeveless baselayers for summer runs. They hide sweat pretty well thanks to the light heathered gray, and they’re wicked comfy and cut in a really flattering way. (They aren’t available right now but by winter, they likely will be again.)
- On the cheaper side, Performance Bike’s CHCB line has a great women’s hoodie in a Merino wool blend—the Suzzi jacket—so the aesthetic is still ‘casual wool’ but the price point it lower. It’s still comfy, and it performs well (though needs to be washed more frequently).
Note: Obviously, wool isn’t vegan-friendly, and I find some brands (like Icebreaker) actually irritate my skin, so it’s a bit of trial and error.
Upgrading Daywear to Silk
I am a big fan of leggings+longer top is an outfit. I am, in short, lazy as hell. I just swapped out some of my older tank tops to silk versions, though, and it made a huge difference to how I felt and how my outfits looked. (Plus, it holds up to daily wear way better than synthetic versions.)
I’ve been so stoked on Grana’s options: they’re reasonably priced, and the customer service is really excellent. I got a couple of their silk camisoles and this button-down, and I’ve been so happy with them. Going out to dinner in a silk camisole with normal jean shorts was actually fashionable while still being my normal ‘go to’ tank tops or high-school spaghetti strap tops. (Yikes.) Plus, they’re all available in pretty low-key neutral colors, and with a chunky watch and black pants, I felt sufficiently badass.
Cotton Over Polyester
This largely comes from saying NO to fast fashion, but I’ve swapped a lot of my old shirts for better quality cotton. This was a big switch as I started wearing more and more button-down tops. Finding ones that weren’t see-through meant going to slightly thicker, nicer (pricier) fabrics, but it was worth it. Again, chunky watch plus black shorts and I feel like an upgraded version of what I used to wear in high school, but age-appropriate.
Recently, I realized that with so much travel, I needed to shift to a more ‘capsule wardrobe’ setup. This weirdly involved my underwear drawer more than my other drawers because I have a lot of stuff and most of it was not the best quality/falling apart. So, I got rid of a lot of the stuff I’d been hanging onto for years and made some changes. Most of my upgrades involved a switch to ‘performance fabric,’ like Lululemon’s active undies and Grana’s Italian Sensitive underpants. They hold up better under leggings for a day of walking or running, and they’re easy to handwash and fast-dry. Such an improvement! I’m also going to add leggings into this one—I swapped some of my cheaper Victoria’s Secret pairs I’ve had for a couple years (stretched, faded, just not great…) for Lululemon’s Wunder Under leggings and it’s been a world of difference, especially if you’re like me and travel a bunch and use weird washer/dryers and need to hang-dry sometimes, since they maintain shape really well compared to cheap versions. I’ve had one pair for three years now and they look as good as my new pair.
OK, let me know: any fabric upgrades I’m missing?