Fashion tips for Women Runners & Walkers

by Patti Finke

When it's time to dress for your walk or run, what do you choose? Are you looking for apparel to cover up that hated body part? If you're a typical female, that often guides your choice. Studies have shown that 80 - 90% of women are dissatisfied with their bodies and are uncomfortable displaying them to the world. Are you careful to match color from your shoes to your hat? That's a very common female way to choose workout gear. However, the best dressed and most successful athletes dress for function, not for fashion. (p. s. the colors can still match)

Remember when you heard that men sweat and women glow. The truth is that all athletes sweat because about 80% of the energy you generate from exercise is given off as heat whether you are walking or running. While women may not sweat as much as men, they still do a lot of it. When the weather is warm you need to dress to dissipate heat, not collect it. The main areas where the body rids itself of heat are the head, the armpits and the groin/leg area.

The good news is that the sports companies are recognizing that women of all shapes and sizes are exercising and giving us more options and choices in materials and clothing.

SHORTS: Start to think of shorts as it consistently gets into the 50s. Shorts are necessary when it's over 70. There are a number of options to give you adequate coverage and still keep you cool. What you choose may be based on your body's shape and size and personal preference. Those of you who are lucky enough to have independent thighs, you know, the ones that don't touch, have an easier time than the rest of us because chafe is not as much of a problem.

Runner shorts : these are the coolest and come in several styles from side splits to bun huggers to slightly longer and baggy. Choose the length that feels comfortable, look for nylon supplex which dries quickly . They work for both runners and walkers. Check out different manufacturers for variable crotch lengths, i.e. Moving Comfort - slightly longer, designed especially for women.

Cross Training : these are the lycra bike shorts without the padded bike crotch. These work well for the thighs that rub together and can reduce chafing, Great for both walkers and runners. The more lycra , the more comfortable. Look for materials such as Nike Dry F. I.T. that wick away the moisture.

Walking Shorts : these tend to be longer and looser and come with pockets. Use them for easy training runs and walking. Note that they do tend to make it hard to run fast and can ride up if they are not the proper length. Look for nylon supplex to stay the driest.

Fashion or Function Faux Pas:

  • Wearing walking shorts over cross training shorts. TOOO Hot! Choose one or the other. Wear a longer shirt if you want to cover the derriere.
  • Tights or long pants of any kind in the heat while either training or racing.

SHIRTS: Here's where the new materials have really taken over. Look for cool max and other materials that wick the moisture away from the skin and keep you cool and comfortable. They come in different length and colors to hide whatever, but still stay cool. The hottest and most uncomfortable choice is a dark colored 100% cotton T shirt.

Singlet: What some people call a tank top. Usually made from mesh to increase surface area to keep you cooler. Look for the cool max and other wicking tops to keep you really cool by exposing the arm pit area. Come in short lengths to provide extra cooling and longer ones to cover up and be comfortable under a pack.

Fashion or Function Faux Pas:

  • Trying to race in a 100% cotton shirt of any color. They collect the heat, keep in the sweat and reduce performance.
  • Wearing sweats to train or race in (especially when it rains). They soak up sweat or water and become heavier and heavier.
  • Wearing the event shirt during the event. This is one of those long time runner snob things, you don't want to be identified as a novice.

A note of best race performance clothing and temperature: shorts and singlet, 55 degrees. Seldom are runners and walkers overcome with hypothermia in temperatures over 50, often the medical stations are dealing with heat problems from over dressed athletes.


Jog Bras: For some of us, bras are a necessity not an accessory. Again the good news is that manufacturers are recognizing that athletes may have cup sizes larger than B and need more support. Look in your local department store or running store for lots of choices. Try it on and move in it before you decide to buy. Some have ratings for different sports and amount of impact. It's actually cooler to wear the mesh singlet over the jog bra and keep pouring water on it to increase the surface area for cooling.

Bandana: If the farmer's blow offends you, carry a bandana to use as a handkerchief. If it gets really hot, use the bandana around your neck to stay cool. Keep it wet or fill with ice.

Hat/Visor: You will stay cooler keeping the sun off your face. A hat can trap heat unless it has mesh inserts. A visor is often a better choice. It acts to keep the sweat from dripping into your eyes, keeps the sun off the face, and can anchor a bandana full of ice if it's really hot.

Pack: If you’re a walker or runner doing longer distances, the pack can be useful in many areas. Think of it as your exercise purse. An added extra is that adding weight close to the body increases fitness, plus having enough fluids with you keeps you exercising longer and stronger. Again the choices are getting better and better from a single bottle carrier to multiple pockets etc. Walkers and cyclists seem to like camelback varieties while runners tend to choose fanny packs. The more expensive ones tend to be more comfortable and last longer. Try it on before you buy.

Fashion or Function Faux Pas:

  • Wearing or carrying perfume, hair spray etc that smells fragrant or flowerlike. You may like the smell, but the bees love it!

Where to Shop: Try your local running store. They carry clothing of all brands and can be a good source. G.I.Joe's often has a good selection of Moving Comfort as does Nordstom's. NikeTown has all the latest Nike materials. The Portland and Seattle area have outlet stores for Nike, In Sport, Hanes and Addidas. Plus size exercise clothes are available at Target, Fred Meyer and Hanes.

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