Fitness Fashion Disasters

What not to wear to the gym

The gym is a great place to workout, but it's also a great opportunity for people-watching. Where else will you see a woman decked out in a shiny leotard, pink leg warmers, and an Olivia Newton-John headband? The gym is also great because there's so much flexibility with what you can wear. It's the one place you can literally roll out of bed, throw on some old shorts and show up without anyone batting an eye. Still, there are some basic fashion rules when it comes to exercising at the gym and following them will help you have more comfortable workouts while avoiding any double-takes as you walk by.

Men in Tights

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When I asked friends the worst fashion disaster they see in the gym, all agreed that men dressed in spandex or Lycra tights came in at number one. Tights, while obviously comfortable and allowing for freedom of movement, tend to show things most of us don't want to know about. Bicycle shorts are an exception, provided you're actually riding a bike. Running tights also make the cut if you're running or walking outside in chilly weather. In the gym, however, most exercisers agree that looser-fitting shorts or track pants are the way to go. If you prefer tights, one option is to cover them with a pair of loose, lightweight shorts.

Exercising in Your Underwear

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Being comfortable at the gym should be a priority, but there is such a thing as being too comfortable. I witnessed this during one early morning workout when I saw a man exercising in his tighty whiteys, an unpleasant experience for me and the other exercisers around. Did he forget his pants and decide to workout anyway? We may never know. Remember that exercising in boxer shorts, bras, or anything else that looks like underwear should be avoided and is most likely against your gym's rules (at least, I hope it is). If you end up at the gym and realize you've forgotten something critical, and pants would fall into that category, it's okay to skip your workout for the day.

Exercising With No Underwear

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On the other hand, forgetting to wear underwear under your baggy shorts or short-shorts can also be uncomfortable for other gym-goers. This is especially true if you're stretching or doing yoga poses, which could give others an eye-full they may wish they hadn't gotten. Even if you're not a fan of underwear, make gym workouts an exception and make sure you're covered before heading out to the gym floor.

Similarly, you want to wear the right kind of underwear for exercise, especially for women. Wearing your regular bra during workouts may not offer enough support, which can be uncomfortable and unsightly. As Cynthia Nellis suggests, "Add an exercise bra for support instead of an everyday bra."

Stuck in the 80s

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Shiny leotards, leg warmers, fluorescent tights, fish-net tank tops...those are things that went out of fashion for a reason. Despite that, there are always a few 80s holdouts still wandering around the gym, and many exercisers I spoke to agree that this is a fashion no-no.

There isn't anything illegal about wearing fashions from another decade (even if you think it should be), and it won't necessarily stop you from getting a great workout. If you're into the 80s and enjoy that fashion, more power to you. But, if you're wearing those things because the last time you entered a gym was 1980, it may be time to update your wardrobe. You'll find the current fashions more comfortable and more attractive.

Skimpy Clothing

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No one says you have to cover yourself from head to toe at the gym, but there is such a thing as exposing too much skin. Women wearing teeny, weeny sports bras or men wearing teeny, weeny shorts can be a distraction, and may be downright offensive to some gym-goers. As Cynthia Nellis says, "Don't wear anything so short or low-cut that you spend unnecessary time tugging at it." Not only will you be able to focus more on your workout, you'll also avoid eye-popping stares while you're at it.

On the other hand, some exercisers can pull off skimpier clothing, providing they have the right figure and avoid anything too revealing. If you're proud of your body, don't be afraid to show off in an appropriate way.

Blue Jeans and Work Clothes

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Another fashion no-no is wearing everyday clothes for your workout. A number of people I spoke with mentioned seeing people in jeans, slacks, blouses, flannel pajamas, and even suits. One person mentioned seeing a woman pumping away on a treadmill wearing wedge heels while other exercisers looked on in amazement.

I have nothing but admiration for people who will workout under any circumstances, even if they've completely forgotten their gym bag. But, most gyms will probably show you the door if you're not wearing athletic clothes. Not only is it a fashion no-no, it makes for an uncomfortable, even unsafe workout. If you left your gym bag at home, now is a good time to go get it.

Flip-Flops and Other Non-Athletic Footwear

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Another fitness fashion disaster that stands out is the guy wearing flip-flops in the weight room or the woman wearing Crocs on the treadmill. Wearing non-athletic shoes isn't just a fashion faux pas, it's also dangerous and will likely get you escorted to the door. You need good support for your feet when exercising and you also want some protection from things like dropped weights or when that guy in bootcamp class plows over you while going in the wrong direction. The shoes you wear for exercise are probably the most important part of your wardrobe, so invest in a quality pair and keep an extra pair handy, just in case you forget to pack them in your gym bag.

Extra Baggage

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We've all seen that guy at the gym, the one hauling a giant gym bag from machine to machine. We may even trip over it a few times and wonder, what's in there and why doesn't he put it in his locker like the rest of us? Most gyms frown upon extra baggage lying around so, if you're afraid someone will steal your stuff from the locker room, leave your valuables at home or lock them in your car. If you're bringing gear the gym doesn't have, you may want to request they buy the equipment or just set up your own home gym so you can have what you want.

Similarly, avoid bringing layers of clothes, your jacket, your purse, or any other extraneous items. They get in other people's way, may create a hazard and take up space.

Dirty, Ripped or Smelly Clothes

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It's okay to sweat at the gym. It's even okay to be a little stinky and dirty after a workout. But showing up in clothes already emanating a disturbing stench is both a fashion (and olfactory) no-no. Similarly, wearing clothes with giant holes or suspicious stains should be avoided. You're working out, sure, but you're still in public and want to be at least semi-presentable. Wearing old tee shirts and shorts is fine, just make sure they're clean and save the ripped items for painting the house or cleaning out your garage.

Perfume, Jewelry and Other Non-Essentials

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A few weeks ago, I was in a kickboxing class and found myself ducking every time my neighbor twirled by with her kicks and punches. The reason? Her giant, dangly earrings nearly took out my head off every time she whipped by. Long, dangly jewelry isn't just a fashion no-no, it can also be dangerous, so remember to take it off before you start your workout.

Perfume and cologne are also no-nos at the gym. If you go to the gym straight from work, remind yourself not to wear too much (or any) perfume or cologne that day. When you sweat, the smell becomes much stronger and may bother other exercisers.