The issue of female sports apparel has been one that we’ve discussed before in our recurring “Why Would I Wear This?” series, but mostly in the context of apparel that supports specific teams. What we haven’t addressed as much is actual clothing that women wear while playing sports, which can be just as gendered. Caitlin at Fit and Feminist has discussed this in the past, noting that she had decided against running any more all-female races partially due to the herd mentality and the seas of pink. “And of course, the pink. Oh my god, the pink! A friend of mine did a women-only triathlon and she reported finding pink toilet seats inside the Port-a-lets!” But pink is really just the beginning of the issue.
I’ve recently started running, and I usually wear some combination of leggings and a dry-wick shirt in an effort to remain comfortable. There’s basically no fashion equation that goes into this decision. Frankly, if I was concerned about the way I looked, I wouldn’t be running in the first place – I look so pained (and red in the face) when I run that I bet people assume I’m coming off of a 10 mile run instead of the truth (I ran a mile without stopping, go me!)
I understand, however, that some women want to look good when they exercise. (They probably also sweat a lot less than I do.) I don’t have a problem with that: I think you should wear whatever makes you feel good when you exercise. But I do have a problem with the way some female sports apparel is marketed, appealing to what they term the “sexy, feminine side” of women athletes.
A company called “Nuu-Muu” (what an awful name, who would want to associate your brand with a clothing item known for being ugly?) has released a line of “athletic dresses” for women.
There are a lot of positive things about this new athletic apparel: the dresses are flattering to a lot of body-types, the fabric is lightweight and fast-drying, there are no built-in undergarments (meaning that well-endowed women can choose the right sports bra instead of navigating those awful shelf bras that do absolutely nothing for them), and I think that these would be especially good for Muslim women who have to cover up – they could easily wear long sleeves and pants under this dress and still have flexibility. Those are all very, very good things, and again – if you want to wear a dress while playing sports, you should go right ahead.
My problem is that the website verges on that overbearing, unnecessary “girl power!” element that I referred to above – the herd mentality of being girly while playing sports bothers me. One of the dresses is described as follows: “Just what constitutes a perfect storm in Nuu-Muu terms? The dress that is perfectly sexy and perfectly sporty and subtle enough to be your ‘go to’ garment for any season.” I can’t just wear a dress and play sports? I have to be sexy, too? Kirsten Armstrong, a professional cyclist, is quoted on their website as saying “it’s great to finally find a product that lets you be sporty and girly at the same time.” I’d really rather that she just said “I feel great while cycling in this dress.” Why do we have to bring gender into the equation?
I recently saw that some members of the varsity running team from my alma mater have started a new line of running apparel called Janji, which means promise in Malay. Proceeds from the sales of their running apparel go to providing clean water and nutritious food/medicine in Kenya and Haiti, and the shirts and shorts are designed with those countries’ colors.
In their FAQ, the website says “[w]hile we know there are many, many worthy causes, we chose the food and water crisis for two reasons. First, 2 billion people suffer from a lack of clean and water and proper nutrition. That’s unacceptable . . . [s]econd, we runners are very conscious of what we eat and what we drink. More so than almost everyone else, we know the importance of being well nourished and well hydrated. That’s why it’s up to runners to make a difference in the food and water crisis.”
In addition to the fact that I think their cause is well-chosen, Janji does one other thing right: they offer eight items for sale: two men’s shirts, two women’s shirts, two men’s shorts, and two women’s shorts. The men’s and women’s items are almost identical in terms of design, and are exactly identical in terms of item price ($30 for the shirts, $38 for the shorts.) And finally, in a subtle move that I appreciated, the women’s apparel was listed first on the navigation bar of the website. (That never happens.)
What I mean to say by all of this is that you have options. Want to run in a dress? Go ahead. Want to run in socially-conscious apparel? By all means, please do so. But please don’t gender my apparel, and please don’t make me think that I have to look sexy while playing sports. I’m too busy trying not to fall while running a mile to worry about that.