I'm not a gym bunny. Up until recently, my Lululemon sweats were my "eating ice cream and watching TV" outfits, not for yogic flying or striding around Yorkville wearing mirrored sunglasses and looking scrawny. My running shoes were pristine, practically out of the box, and my hand weights gathered dust next to my TV. I despaired, as the lazy often to, about my expanding waistline and inability to touch my toes, but did I do anything about this? I did not.
With my new two-week free membership to the West End YMCA, however, I've stepped on a new treadmill. As an added bonus, the gym is a great place to get over things like the desire, or even ability, to dress stylishly.
Work-out gear is not, by any definition, en vogue. It might be flattering, or comfortable, or stretchy. It might breathe well. It might have little pockets for earphones, or a built-in pedometer, but it is not designed to be worn outside the gym with any degree of style. All the companies that market fashionable gym wear are lying to you: no such thing exists. If you've spent enough time at the gym to confidently pour yourself into leggings, you are well aware that most people exercise in ratty tee-shirts with the necks stretched out, basketball shorts from 1996, and fleecy jackets. That's because most people at the gym, including myself, are shlubby messes who are just trying to look and feel a little better. The idea that everyone there is wearing sleek black Matrix-inspired getups while they sweatlessly tone is a lie perpetuated by prime-time dramedies. I myself wear electric-yellow running shorts.
There is "designer" gym clothes, but that costs hundreds of dollars and was never designed for actual movement in an actual gym. That was made for wearing with expensive complicated sneakers and sitting in uncomfortable chairs on small patios, drinking coffee out of comically small/large cups and talking about how training your dog is going. It's for wearing home from the Botox clinic. It's for day-walking through Machu Piccu on your 18th wedding anniversary trip. It's not for wearing while you slog on the treadmill for 35 minutes. It is for lattes and picking your stepkids up from circus camp. Do not be fooled. The women who wear these outfits are the same people who own driving shoes and expensive single-use detergent. Do not be like them.
Once we've dressed ourselves horribly and warmed up with some half-hearted stretching, we can enter the actual gym. Not being a person who wears running shoes every day, I always feel especially bouncy when I step into the exercise area, but that soon passes. I use my time on the machines to do the following: obsessively monitor my pulse for evidence that my heart is going to explode; stare vacantly at the name of the company that makes the machine ("Fitness Forever!"); count calories burned, strides, time, and distance traveled; and silently judge others based on clothes and hairdo.
Ladies who get really into the gym thing freak me out. I know they're getting older and maybe aren't as taut as they once were, but frankly, that's kind of a good thing. It's cool to gain some weight as you age. Not a ton - I'm not saying y'all should make friends with a bucket of fried chicken - but too-skinny is freaky on the young and unflattering on the old. But it is cool to be a gym lady. Get some muscles! Lift some weights! Get your stretch on! Understand that you will be wearing a technical fabric that will make you look like a background extra in a training montage! Accept your fate! Young women who use the gym awe me with their early-life dedication to health, plus they always seem to have voluptuous bodies and shiny hair. They're also likely to dress in black and wear eyeliner, which intimidates me and my yellow shorts and grade-school french braids.
The whole point of wearing the gym clothes, and putting yourself through the pain of the gym (and the hideousness of the outfits) is so that when you put on your civilian clothes, you feel and look better. Muscles are a great feeling, losing weight is a great feeling, setting goals and reaching them is a great feeling. The gym clothes aren't so much a great feeling, but, like with the exploding heart, they're a rung on the ladder to feeling good. So, in one way, my electric yellow shorts will never go out of style.