Sweat, fashion and exercise inequality
Who's saying what
So I’ve been trying out this new thing lately where I wear exercise gear in normal situations. It hasn’t really been going very well. People at coffee shops look at me sort of strangely when it’s clear that I didn’t just scoot past to pick up a takeaway and that I’m going to be sitting my sweaty ass there for real. When I meet mates for lunch, or hell, even to go for a walk, which is a form of exercise anyway, they unconsciously do that thing where their nose wrinkles slightly and their face says ‘Seriously, mate, what is wrong with you?’ I have crossed the divide between personal or group fitness and the outside world, and this, I have been informed in not so many words, is completely and utterly unacceptable. And the worst part is, I got the idea from most of the women I see in the street every day.
If you live in the ‘burbs, where everyone is always in a rush all the time, you’ll have noticed the same phenomenon I have. It’s something Nadine already picked up on a while ago with her Do’s and Don’t of Exercise Attire, but somehow over the last five or ten years, ladies have surreptitiously managed to turn gym gear into everyday wear and completely get away with it. The high priestesses at Lulu Lemon, Lorna Jane and Running Bare have turned the art of a brisk jog into a catwalk that has no endpoint. At almost any point other than Saturday night on a weekend, it’s possible to meet a woman in cute little Nike Frees and matching yoga pants and you’re going to have to treat it like it’s completely normal. Nobody says to a lady “That is freaking gross, as if you didn’t go home to change!” And yet that’s what I’ve been copping, even at the times when I didn’t even go to the gym at all.
Nobody likes double standards less than I, which is why I embarked on this new plan of spending the whole of Saturday and Sunday dressed like a total schlock to see what people would say. As the strange looks kept coming over the course of the afternoon, I realised that the primary reason women get away with wearing jogging clothes in public is that they spend significant amounts of money to make sure they actually make them look better than regular duds. Seriously, there’s not one pair of pants at Lulu Lemon under $109. I don’t think God pays that much to do yoga.
Forgive me if I’m wrong, but the whole point of exercise gear - unless you do this kind of thing for a living - is that you sweat through it and eventually destroy it, so it’s meant to be those embarrassing slogan T-shirts, old shorts and Balinese beer singlets all the way. The idea of spending more money than I would on a pair of jeans on trackpants seems just a bit ridiculous, even if they were designed by Jeremy Scott and managed to offend three different racial minorities just by existing. If you have three pairs of sneakers to match your colour-coded shorts and tanks and you only really work out properly twice a week, there are some charities in Africa you should be talking to.
Part of this, I feel, has to do with the dramatic increase in public forms of exercise and our subsequent obsession with appearing healthy. I’ve lived in the same area my entire life and never have I seen so many packs of runners on the street, boxers by the beach in the morning and cyclists pulling over en masse to stop for a coffee as I have in the last five years. We’re not stupidly buying Ab-Dominators and getting fit in the privacy of our own homes or small local gyms anymore (have you been to a Fitness First lately? It’s like the boys wax their hair especially before they go in). Rather, physical health has become a visible part of existence, and with it comes the inevitable need to look better when shvitzing than that other skank from down the road. This includes when you have no intention of doing anything but walking down said road with a latte to your car parked twenty metres away.
After being belittled one time too many, I asked a friend of mine who was heading down to Bondi for a jog in exactly the get-up I just described what the deal was. “The reason girls love to wear this stuff is it gives them an excuse to be casual,” Jodi explained. “When you have trackies and runners on, you don’t have to worry about putting on make-up or doing your hair. You can just roll out of bed and do whatever you want.” She confided that she and her friends often wore their Exercise Uniforms without having any intention of actually exercising at all, just so they didn’t have to think about what to wear. I told her that I had tried for the exact same philosophy, and nosedived spectacularly.
“But of course you did!” she laughed, “You’re a boy!”
(Images via Shutterstock)