Readers Roundtable: Running Fashion

A collage of Salty getting frustrated as she attempts to put on a complicated shirt

Since we were kids, fall has always been a time to shop for clothes. Fall also happens to be the season for runners, so, naturally, running apparel companies are eager to take all our money. In catalogs and ads everywhere, we’re seeing the hottest trends. Some, like the all grey footwear or cozy cowl necks we can get behind. But others leave us saying, “Hmmm.”

Shirts that are so complicated you can’t figure out how to put them on. Puffer jackets when it’s not -20 degrees. Vests and shorts ever. A complete ensemble of sports bra and tights, capri or full-length. Who wears this stuff?

So we want to know:

  • What’s the weirdest running ensemble you’ve seen in an ad?
  • What’s the weirdest or most fashion forward article of running clothing you own?
  • What circumstance if any would you run in just a bra and tights? 
  • On what level do you care about fashion over function when it comes to your running clothes?

✪And don’t forget to tune in at 7:00 p.m. EST for #saltychat on Twitter!✪

Ultrarunner, adventurer, academic, and feminist. Running Across the USA in 2021 to raise money for Girls on the Run. Next challenge: Pinhoti FKT. I write about ultrarunning, adventuring, and the intersection of endurance athletics and life.

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  1. So … besides my “weird shirt” I bought at target for $3 on clearance (the one in the photos), I’m pretty fashion-stagnant when it comes to running clothes. Well, the structure, anyway. I love my plaid tights and the stripey ombre outfit (although that’s probably out by now). I do love good colors and patterns. Good fit and feel is a must. Maybe I’d be more adventurous if I had more disposable cash or was younger and cared more about it all. I suppose this is why most marketers target a younger demographic than me!

  2. While I am fashion forward in my “regular” life, I am not with running gear. As a poor millennial who chose to live in Europe before attending law school, I’m not in the right place to prioritize running fashion. But to be honest, I never have been and don’t think I will be. I do love buying a pair of funky tights here and there, and maybe putting together a cute race outfit, but I just run in the same (normally free) gear over and over again. I am a huge fan of athleisure, aka wearing my running tights to every event ever. I keep my purchases at a minimum. The last running-related purchase was socks and a new bra from Target in August!! (I’m deprived of Target here in Spain FYI).

  3. Oh dear. Since stocking up in my first year of running, I’ve hardly bought a thing! A few bras, because they do wear out. And a few tanks, because they never give tanks as race shirts (and, if they did, it’d be some “unisex” singlet).

    When it comes to heading out the door, I just grab whatever fits the need functionally.
    I figure “running” clothes are like the Garanimals “giraffe” – they all coordinate.

    1. A few years ago, The Woodlands Marathon (Texas) gave singlets as finishers shirts. They were in Women’s and Men’s sizes, too! They didn’t do it the next year. I don’t know why because Everybody loved them! They were even Asics brand and the same style I normally buy. All races should do singlets. Because that’s what people wear.

      1. Yes! And they’re probably cheaper or the same price as those horrible sandpapery, ill-fitting garbage technical long sleeves so many races give out!

      2. Love this idea, and to pick up on a post from last week I’ve run a few women’s races that have gone for the singlet. Not sure if men who ran those races also got singlets or a different option.

  4. In what world would hot air only be flowing on top and cold air on the bottom? That’s the only way I can justify sports bra and tights together as a combo.

    I’m madly in love with InknBurn. They have some pretty funky prints (some are outre for me to wear, but I still think they’re cool). The regular items are pretty pricey. Their one of a kind prototype designs have sold on Ebay for over a thousand dollars.

    Function over fashion any day. If it doesn’t work, then I won’t wear it, but I’m lucky that I have the expendable income to indulge in fashion.

    1. Sports bra + tights: Hot air rises, cold air sinks, doncha know? 😀 😀 😀

      Re photo illustration: that’s not a shirt with holes, that’s holes with a shirt attached.

      I’m generally in the camp that there’s no clothes-shaming in running attire – you wear what works and is comfortable, and the hell with who sells them or how long/ short/ transparent they are. But from experience, some things are patently impractical!

      On the flip side, I’d be interested in what people dismissed offhand as a fashionable splurge but discovered later really works for running. Fleece-lined tights, for instance. I still run in my 12-year-old thermal tights + shorts some winter days, but shelling out for actual, full-length, fleece-lined tights? So worth it.

      1. Fleece-lined tights might need to go on my Christmas list!

        And also, yes this shirt is ridiculous! Although, on a hot day it was rather refreshing to have a giant gaping hole in the back and the color is lovely. And it was 3 bucks! I’ll look like a tool for $3!

        1. I love the gaping hole in the back. I wish all my tanks had one. I’m not kidding. I’ve rejected buying tanks because I thought there was too much material. In the summer I want as little on me as possible. I can’t stand exposing my belly (has nothing to do with body issue, I never liked having an exposed belly), so I can’t do the sports bra only in the summer.

    2. It’s like the outfit equivalent of those mattresses that you can adjust the firmness on either side. Anyone other than those who didn’t check the weather before heading out (ha) and runs in that are either an exhibitionists, a fashion victim, confused, posing for a catalogue shoot …

  5. A bra and tights…only if I had GROSSLY miscalculated the weather and was about to die of heat stroke, or if maybe I got dive-bombed by a bird that landed a really smelly poo on my shirt. I saw a girl in tights and a bra in hot yoga last week and it didn’t make sense there, either.

    Of course, I buy my shorts at Old Navy when they’re on sale for $4, and everything else is either from Target or a shirt from a race, so I am not at all a fashion-forward runner.

    And man, wouldn’t fitted race tanks be nice! I have one – that fits me like a potato sack and it’s neon green.

  6. I had to laugh yesterday. I met a few friends for a beautiful fall afternoon run. I had shorts and a tshirt on, but my friend who is a bit of a freeze baby had tights and long sleeves on. About 4 miles in she was really over heating. Despite her protest, I convinced her to run in just her sports bra and tights. That my friend is the only time it’s ok.

  7. I do own a cute open-back top that I wear as a gym cover-up … it’s actually way too big so it just looks weird and boxy, not cute. Go figure. I’ve got a couple of strappy tanks with built-in bras that are good for teaching Pilates because it’s one fewer piece of clothing to forget at home — but one night I was in a hurry and legit got it all tangled around my head.

    Weirdest thing I’ve seen lately are lace-up tights. (Example:

    1. YES. I forgot about those lace-up tights. I mean, what if they came untied! I would be eating pavement in like two seconds.

  8. Steep discounts at the running store I’m employed and through the team I run for is the ONLY reason I’m not wearing running clothes from the 90s. Also, Marshals is amazing for discounted running clothes.
    I saw some weird fashion suggestions through the 90s in Runner’s World. There was this Nike add with neon puffy running pants and matching puffy jackets and matching head warmers. I was the proud owner of a couple of coordinated winter running pants/jacket outfits in the early 2000s, one of which was a bright red Reebok ensemble that I still have. I still wear the coat sometimes and it’s going on 20 years old.
    I hate tights in general and would never run in a sports bra and tights. I’ve moved towards looser running pants. So much more comfortable.
    I own quite a bit of Oiselle that I’ve bought at a discount. Stay away from their sports bras but their shorts are the best of any brand I’ve worn.

    1. I’m basically the same. But I do have some pieces I bought when I first started running in the mid-2000s that still look good. I think finding pieces that are functional, basic, and flattering will remain timeless. I kinda hate all the trendy strappy bras and such because I feel like they, like other obvious fads, will look as dated as ruffled tuxedo shirts in a few years. Flattering black shorts, a well fitting tank and a good rain jacket will never go out of style 🙂 I’ve heard great things about oiselle shorts but strangely done own any. would definitely invest in high quality shorts over just about anything else!

      1. All the straps are not my thing. I think they look good on the models but not on me and are very uncomfortable. The really good quality running gear doesn’t die. Think how many times you’ve worn those items from 10 years ago. It’s amazing. No wonder they have to re-invent running styles. They’d go out of business otherwise!

    2. TJ Maxx has good stuff cheap, too!

      Ditto on the running store employee discount. Worked at one for 5 years and got so much free stuff, too. Finally gave up on some gear that dated back to 2008 or so.

      1. Yes I think it is the same company so similar last season styles. For sure a different level of quality but when I get a pair of rights for 15 bucks I don’t care if it lasts me 3 yrs instead of 8.

    3. I agree about Oiselle’s bras! I don’t love the strappy look; I just bought one and I have very small boobs (lets be honest) and I think I bought a size 4 and it barely fits! I’m a little disappointed. Luckily I get it on a steep discount.

      1. YES on the weird sizing with Oiselle bras!! Same with Lulu Lemon! Not that I can afford to buy a bunch of either of these brands, but once did have to exchange a pair of lulu shorts because apparently the “right” size in this brand is 3-5 sizes larger than what you would normally wear. What gives?! If they’re trying to make sizes that fit elementary schoolers, you’d think they would just start a kids line. And I won’t even get started on the body image implications.

        1. This is going to make the oiselle sports bra debacle even more confusing: I find them oversized in the cup and tight in the underarm area. I wear size 2 in all of the oiselle stuff I have but it’s just the sports bras that are weird. I think it is the cut.

        2. They should just copy nike pro original. Can’t get a more perfect cut than that for moderate support sports bra. #nikeproforlife

  9. I have some cute tops with open back spots or extra strappy shoulders but usually I reserve those for the gym and lifting or just wearing around the house- they aren’t always realistic for runs. There are some exceptions though of tops that manage to pull off the fashion and functionality.

    When buying things, I definitely go for function/price before fashion. BUT I also won’t buy something that I won’t FEEL good in even if it’s cheap/functional. If you don’t feel like you look good, I don’t think you’ll run as well. That doesn’t mean buying everything top of the line and such but maybe having SOME boundaries high and low to find some balance with price/function/looking good.

  10. I am strangely intrigued by the all grey shoes – NB has them too. Seems a clever antidote to the crazy neon happening most of the time! As for the puffy coats/vests – I run where it does go to minus a million (hello, Canada!) but can’t imagine wearing them.

    The one that always puzzles me is the 7/8 length tights. If it’s cold enough that I’m wearing tights, you can be darn sure I want my ankle skin covered too!

    1. Mizuno has a pair too, so it’s definitely a “thing”! Yeah, I wouldn’t run in a puffy jacket except maybe one day a year when the windchills are -25 or something. I do like my puffy jackets, just not for running! Also, yes on ankle skin. Also, I hate tights that sit too low in the waist because then my little bit of tummy chub freezes!

  11. As a short person, the 7/8 tights are actually full-length for me, so I love them 🙂 I did recently purge my running gear of my 90’s cotton clothes in favor of wicking, thigh-friendly shorts, and I consciously chose bright colors. I probably look like a fashion misfit most days, but really, who can run unhappy in several shades of pink? Ah, the joy of being a happily married mom of two who really only cares about her own sense of fashion….

    1. I bet! I’m not even that short and regular tights bunch up at my ankles because they’re too long. Also, since i had kids I find myself caring about how I look while running less and less. I’m just happy to squeeze something in and find some clean clothes to do it in 🙂

  12. I exclusively run in tights or capris, even in the middle of a Texas summer. I like the compression feeling, and I hate chub rub and shaving my legs. So I’m pretty much the target audience for that sports bra/tights combo.

    1. I can see that if you prefer longer spandex, then bra and capris makes sense when it’s hotter than ___. Capris aren’t all that different than bike length spandex shorts and more flattering and comfortable (to me), so this makes sense! Thanks for schooling us skeptics on the functionality of the bra/pants combo 🙂

  13. I’ve actually seen people run in the sports bra and tights combo. My only guess is that they don’t want their legs to chafe but want to stay cool? I’m a function over fashion person when it comes to running and I stick with the same few pieces each season. The only running fashion trend that I don’t understand is tutus – so.much.chafing!

  14. I don’t own any fashion forward running clothes! Sometimes I buy things because I like the color. That is the extent of my fashion interest with running.

  15. my favorite color is high-vis neon. The only running garment I bought for fashion is race briefs. You have to look like an elite if you are going to try to race with the elites. Ha!

    p.s. My favorite arm warmers are a pair of socks from Costco. My running jacket is at least ten years old. I wear old Nike pro-shorts with broken zipper pulls because I like the three pockets.

    p.p.s. Cycling gear is another story. Who doesn’t need a new school jersey every year — even when you only wear them through airports.

  16. My running wardrobe consists almost entirely of race t-shirts and the capris my friend got me for free when she worked for Adidas. What can I say; I am cheap and also I hate shopping! The capris are all wearing out now, though, and my friends changed jobs, so I guess I’m going to have to suck it up. 🙁

  17. When we were vacationing in France, we saw runners wearing winter scarves – like, fancy fashion scarves!
    Normally, I wear race tshirts and shorts; in summer, I opt for a jog bra.