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My first memory of activewear was probably pink spandex and leg warmers in a Jane Fonda workout. Odd to think that although workout clothes have grown ions past that moment, you can probably rock a similar look in your next barre class and not get a second glance.
Active clothes grew as a response to fitness becoming a higher priority as part of healthy lifestyles. At first, styles for women mirrored the ones for men. They were created using a “shrink it and pink it” strategy, which is why early styles were oversized t-shirts and sweats. These days, the big fitness brands have vast collections for women. From big sneaker brands like Nike and Adidas to women-only brands like Athleta, to retailers with active lines like Old Navy, you can pretty much find cute workout clothes anywhere.
But in such a saturated market, which activewear brands are the best? Before we share them, it’s helpful to know what to look for when shopping.
In your search for the best workout clothes, it’s important to choose activewear styles suited for your activities of choice. Do you need an option for HIIT class or a 45-minute Peloton ride? Higher-impact activities will require more supportive pieces than lower-impact ones, like, say, a yoga or Tai Chi class. “I love to think about how someone wants to feel when they get ready to work out,” says Kristal Hill, Creative Director of Design for FP Movement. “I’m always considering the type of fitness different people love. If it’s more soft and graceful, it will inform more femininity with delicate details, or if it’s more intense and powerful, then that will translate through stronger materials and details.”
And when it comes to materials, no matter which activity-specific silhouette you land on, the pair should include fabrics that are durable, comfortable and not see-through. “To me, it’s all about spandex,” says Kelsey Sheahan, iFIT trainer specializing in pilates, sculpt and strength training and running. “It’s lightweight yet durable, breathable but not see-through and sweat-wicking, so you have less of a chance walking into Whole Foods post-workout showing off how hard you worked in class.” Hill also keeps to materials that “wick away sweat and dry quickly but still maintain a softness and comfort.”
Of course, fit and style are essential, too. Those are the top priorities for Taryn Brooks, Barry’s X founding instructor. “Most workout clothes are generally comfortable, so I look for pieces that feel unique and stylish and that I can pair with a jacket or blazer so I can run around town in between classes while still feeling (and looking) chic.”
Taking into account all these factors, there are a few key pieces you’ll likely want to add to your workout wardrobe from top women’s activewear brands:
- A supportive sports bra: The foundation of a good workout, this is crucial for high-intensity training, as Brooks shares, to support the variety of movements.
- A comfortable top: Perfect for those of us who choose not to work out in just a sports bra. Try a tank, tee or crop top — whatever you can easily move in.
- Bottoms to your liking: Whether you opt for workout leggings or shorts, consider where you want them to sit on your waist and their length. “I look for a high-rise waistband, so I don’t feel like I’m spilling over the top,” Sheahan says. Your bottoms should fit snugly, so they stay in place. “There’s nothing more annoying than having to pull up your leggings every few seconds when you’re in the middle of a killer workout.”
Now that you have an idea of what to look for, here is a list of the 20 best workout clothes brands for women.
One of the hottest brands on the market was founded as a yoga brand by childhood friends in 2007. It’s truly a marriage of modern, trendy designs and pieces that promote growth in your practice. “Alo Yoga’s product is stunning and functional,” says Sheahan, who usually trains head-to-toe in this brand. “It’s also the perfect studio-to-street fit.” The Alo site is a real destination, having beauty and wellness products and a streaming workout platform, which offers classes from yoga to strength training to mediation for all levels. And if all this doesn’t encourage you to purchase something, note that the brand has a pretty solid celebrity following. Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift are all fans.
While you can’t go to a workout, a walk down a street or anywhere for that matter without seeing a sea of Nike sneakers, the brand’s women’s workout clothes are just as lust-worthy. From leggings, shorts, sports bras and hoodies to jumpsuits, everything that Nike creates combines fashion-forward style with high-performance fabrics. Recently, the company has also expanded its size offerings. Perhaps the brand’s crowning glory is its technology, especially Dri-Fit, which keeps you cool and dry. No matter if you’re running miles outdoors or in a gym or love to throw an oversized fleece crew neck atop a pair of biker shorts post-workout, the brand has something for every type of athlete and occasion.
Those Three Stripes have been and continue to be one of the most iconic graphics in sportswear. Adidas formed its stripes in 1949 and is still one of the strongest and best fitness companies out there. Through the years, they were known for soccer, track and tennis gear as well as streetwear, especially in the mid-’80s thanks to Run-D.M.C. These days, what sets the brand apart is its collaborations. In 2005, Adidas started its Adidas By Stella McCartney line for just women. The performance-driven brand is also very fashion-forward with a huge emphasis on being eco-friendly and sustainable, with most of their products formed from recycled materials. Another highlight of Adidas’ sustainable practices is its Parley line, a partnership with Parley of the Oceans that turns plastic collected from water into activewear. Adidas’ recent collab with Beyonce’s Ivy Park line gets much attention. Sign up for alerts and try to snag a piece before it sells out.
The cult-favorite Vancouver-based company started producing yoga pants in 1998. Stellar proprietary fabrics, like its buttery-soft Align material, make it hard to save many Lululemon pieces just for your sweat sessions. When you actually wear the brand’s leggings to workout, you get the hype. Every style has all the elements you want in activewear with high support and comfort. The seamless Swiftly Tech tees are great for running, coming with short or long sleeves and a seamless construction. The sports bras are impressive, with options in each impact category and available in all shapes, cuts and sizes. Lululemon’s activewear isn’t cheap, but it’s definitely worth splurging on.
The active line offered by bohemian brand Free People, FP Movement carries a mix of athleisure and athletic clothes. It’s is a great place to shop for separates or full workout outfits sets. Hill highlights the Running Through My Mind leggings and matching bra “because they’re a perfect working set and eco-friendly, as they’re made of an amazing Italian econyl seamless yarn.” FP Movement caters to a range of activities, from running to yoga and hiking, whether you do them every day, once a week or once a month. Recently, the brand launched a ski line full of cool, chic pieces for on and off the mountain. In addition to being a destination for activewear, FP Movement also provides tons of fitness accessories like the ever-popular Bala bangles and boxing gloves as well as beauty and wellness products, like face masks to sunscreen, to promote an overall healthy lifestyle.
Owned by Gap Inc, this women’s-only retailer is one of the best places to find activewear. While I claim to not pick favorites, this would be in my personal top five, and the label’s Salutation leggings are always on rotation. Supplying soft leggings, streamlined tops and supportive sports bras for cup sizes DD and up, the brand stands behind its message of ‘The Power of She’ to empower and uplift women. It also commits to giving back, partnering with charities, and presents an inclusive community for women of all ages, races, ethnicities, identities, sizes and abilities. The brand is beginning to offer more than just workout gear, including casual jackets, swim pieces and a newly launched cooling pajama collection. Look out for Athleta’s collaboration launching soon with Alicia Keys, featuring limited-edition styles, exclusive content and charity initiatives.
Just like its shapewear, Spanx’s activewear supports your body and creates a smoothing effect. Its most popular style, the faux leather legging, looks just like the real deal. From barre class to drinks at a bar, these will add a chic touch to your look, especially when paired with a cropped tank or long sweater. For a more active pair for super sweaty workouts, try the brand’s Booty Boost leggings. This style will not only lift your rear end but provide some extra confidence you might need to get to the gym or group fitness class. Another standout product worth noting is Spanx’s seamless thong, made with a perforated fabric that is light, breathable and lies completely flat under any legging. This is by far one of the best active thongs you can find.
The American fashion label launched a sports line in 2015. Tory Sport reflects the New York-based designer’s preppy, feminine aesthetic. It also pays homage to the vintage sports looks of the 1960 and 1970s, from tennis to skiing, while keeping the label modern and fresh. For example, the brand’s Flare Track pants are sleek but mirror the comeback of the ’90s wide-leg yoga pants. While all the pieces look super chic, they’re also equally functional, created with durable fabrics with sweat-wicking capabilities. Tory Burch has always had a robust handbag assortment, from evening clutches to work sachets to beach totes, and within Tory Sport, you can find duffles, backpacks and belt packs you’ll wear to the gym and beyond.
Old Navy Active
The Gap-owned retailer expanded into activewear in 2011 and became a great resource for affordable workout clothes. Its fitness pieces, like an on-trend floral longline bra and smooth light compression tank tops, reflect the look of the brand’s regular garments with bright and neon colors and also come in all shapes and styles. I’ve tried many of their items throughout the years and found them to be impressive, truly proving that you don’t have to spend big bucks for well-made workout gear that will support you. Size inclusivity is a priority all around for Old Navy, and its activewear comes in sizes XS to 4X. The company also offers maternity activewear and styles for men, teens and kids.
Year of Ours
You might be familiar with Year of Ours’ Football leggings. Not only is the ribbed fabric breathable and moisture-wicking, but the lace-up waist also sits high and won’t budge even during the toughest drills. After feeling like all the legging options were ill-fitting or unflattering, the founders started Years of Ours in 2016. The brains behind the brand — Elanor Haycock, who played sports her entire life, her colleague Lily Shin and celebrity stylist Alejandra Hernandez — aimed to create women’s athleticwear that looks good on the body but empowers you no matter your size. And because they knew you’ll most likely be running somewhere else before or after your workout, the designs are suitable for out of the gym. Whether worn for errands, coffee dates or brunch, these pieces look as good as they feel. For this reason, you’ll often see trainers like Brooks sporting Year of Ours.
Australia has been providing the world with some cool, contemporary brands for a while now. Not just ready-to-wear but active options, too, like P.E Nation that has had huge popularity since its launch in 2016. With plenty of nods to ’90s street style, P.E Nation’s offerings are fashion-forward and designed to work both in and out of the gym. From ski pieces to accessories to denim, they are performance-ready for your busy everyday life. Standout pieces include the Run short, featuring a boxing-inspired, thick elastic waistband, and colorful sports bras. Comfortable and stylish from your sofa to Soul Cycle class, P.E nation’s pieces are ones you’ll feel good in.
This British retailer was founded in 2012 by school friends while studying at University. Gymshark was one of the first brands to grow and gain popularity due to influencer marketing partners. Originally, it only carried men’s styles, but now women’s silhouettes are key products for the brand. What sets Gymshark apart from the rest is its seamless constructions and sweat-wicking material that contours the body for a supportive and flattering fit. Gymshark also prioritizes sustainability, producing its offerings in a way that uses less water, energy and chemicals to help support the environment. While its leggings are always popular, its long-sleeved crop tops will have you looking chic during weight training.
Another female-founded active brand with a street style aesthetic is Koral. According to the brand’s website, producing “sophisticated hues and slimming designs that elevate the female form and can be worn all day long” was the plan at inception in 2014. The brand is known for its shiny leather-like fabric that also seems fitting for a night out, found in sexy, sleek pieces you will want to be seen in but are made for intense workouts. The fit is snug without being ultra-tight. Compressive and moisture-wicking, these are the pieces that you can wear to pilates, spin or anywhere else. This asymmetrical top with a glossy liquid-like look works for medium to light intensity workouts. Also, check out Koral’s jackets, which are the chicest layers to wear to and from classes.
This brand is probably beloved for two reasons: its commitment to sustainability and size inclusivity. Made using recycled plastic water bottles and fishing nets (and adhering to a full transparency policy), Girlfriend Collective’s styles are some of the most eco-friendly activewear pieces around. Sizes range from XS up to 6XL, making this one of the best places to purchase leggings, sports bras and all sorts of workout clothes for plus-size women. Another reason why this brand has a huge following is because of the look and feel of its pieces. Streamlined and simple cuts are easy to mix and match or wear as a complete set.
New Balance X Staud
One of the coolest collaborations of the past few years has been between New Balance and clothing and accessory company Staud. The collection combines the fashion brand’s colorful, cool-girl vibe with the footwear and fitness apparel brand’s vintage aesthetic. The duo’s fourth collection, currently available, is filled with bright, color-blocked crop tops and sleek, fitted long shorts. While these look awesome, they are super functional and trainer-approved, and are a favorite Brooks. What’s nice is that the collection is vast, also containing puffer vests, track jackets, bags and a few sneakers. Staud’s rendition of New Balance’s iconic 574 style, originally released in 1988, is a true beauty.
For a fun brand that supports an active lifestyle, check out Sydney-based label The Upside. The founder studied yoga across the globe and observed what women were wearing. She saw bland pieces with no fashion appeal, which inspired her to create a fresh, modern and functional brand. The result is an authentic line that embodies yoga with an influence of India’s feminine and soft prints and color palette. The sleek and smooth fabrics look and feel like silk but with compression. Personally, whenever I wear my pair of The Upside leggings, I can’t help but pet my legs. Any woman who gravitates towards bolder patterns will appreciate how much the brand uses leopard print. These leggings that combine the animal print with stripes are not just good-looking but won’t budge thanks to the material and a tie at the waist that keeps them in place with every lunge and squat. The brand’s pattern pieces pair perfectly with its graphic logo tank.
The over 20-year-old British label is the master in flattering sweat-proof apparel. Its Power leggings will smooth and define your waist and sculpt your butt. (Trust me, you’ll be checking yourself out in the mirror.) Offered in 7/8, full length, cropped and tons of colors and prints, you can have a different pair for every day of the week. Another one of the brand’s top performers is its fitted seamless tank. The style is soft, stretchy and seamless with a breathable mesh panel for ventilation and a racerback that allows for full mobility for cardio and training. I’ve tested many tanks, and this style is by far one of the most comfortable. It stays in place without feeling constricting.
Beyond Yoga leggings might spend more time on your couch than your yoga mat. The women-led company manufactured in the USA aims to deliver luxe comfort in activewear for all women. With a second-skin feel that is flexible, these pieces allow you to move freely, whether you’re stretching or trying to master a new yoga move. The label’s popular Space Dye fabric has a marble look, a cozy feel and high-performance capabilities. Try a cropped tank and high-waisted leggings set featuring the fabric for ample coverage.
While Nordstrom carries a mix of fitness brands, the store’s own label, Zella, is a great place to turn for no-frills activewear at a great price. Designed with comfort and innovation, the line is a mix of the basics and of-the-moment styles and prints. Offering sweatshirts, zip-ups, joggers, leggings, sports bras and accessories, Zella can get you covered from head to toe. Even better, everything is done in the most popular color for activewear: black. Of course, print is fun and bold, but let’s be real, the dark shade is not only flattering but hides sweat. Zella is also a great place to find plus-sized active pieces.
How to wash your activewear
Activewear is constructed of different fabrics than the rest of the items in your hamper, so might need more attention. Drew Westervelt, founder and CEO of HEX Performance laundry detergent made for activewear, provides some helpful tips. “Most activewear is made of tightly-woven modern fabrics, including nylon and spandex. Regular detergent can clog fibers and ruin high-performance fabrics,” he shares. A detergent that is made especially for activewear like HEX Performance will not only clean your gear but protect the integrity and eliminate odor-causing bacteria.
To start, run your pieces in the washer on a gentle, cold wash setting and “avoid using too much detergent to try to clean better, as it actually makes things worse,” Westervelt advises. Next, hang dry your workout clothes or place them in the dryer. If you go the latter route, keep in mind that “traditional dryer sheets are not suited for activewear, since they leave a wax coating on the fabric that damages the flexible sweat-wicking features,” Westervelt warns. To avoid damage, he recommends using HEX Performance’s Wet Dryer Sheets, which are made to clean, soften and protect without leaving any residue behind.