With so many brands and styles of activewear out there, we sometimes forget that specific garments are used for specific activities. Here, editor Katelyn Swallow explores which pieces are best, based on activity.

From stitch to style

The sheer number of activewear brands on the market means you probably haven’t considered how bolts of fabric actually become the garment you wear from barbell to brunch. The target market of the brand, and consequently the way it is marketed and designed, is usually determined by how the customer will use the garment – whether it be sport, gym, swim or purely fashion focused.

“The brand focus will influence what is considered during the design and creation. For example, brands that focus on yoga or Pilates will take into consideration completely different elements from those designed for the outdoor sports market,” says physiotherapist and founder of joint supportive activewear line Articfit (articfit.com), Phebe Corey, who points to fabrics, stitching and colours as elements of particular importance to designers and consumers alike.

“My recommendation is to first decide what activity or sport you will mainly use the garment for, and look to brands that market specifically to those activities.”

Sporty sisters

When it comes to sports, particularly outdoor or endurance activities, durability and comfort are key to performance. Finding fabrics and seam placements that move easily with your frame, help control temperature and prevent any chaffing is important, according to Corey.

“Synthetic fabrics, such as lycra or polyester, are the best for activities where you will be sweating as they are moisture wicking (non-absorbent) and are hence quick drying. They also tend to be lightweight and minimise friction between the fabric and skin,” says Corey, although she notes they will also cost you a pretty penny.

 “The main issue with seams in general is discomfort and chaffing. But this is often only relevant for activities such as running where you are doing a repetitive action over a long period.”
Corey suggests looking for garments that have flat seams and small flat stitches, especially around your groin or underarm areas where sweat cumulates. Modern ‘seamless’ garments – utilising seamless knitting techniques – are particularly useful.

“For high impact activities such as running, consider looking at brands that incorporate joint supportive elements – especially if you’re recovering from injury or have niggling issues,” adds Corey.

Performance and recovery

When choosing activewear designed for optimal muscle and joint recovery, compression gear is a pretty safe bet. Its supposed benefits include increasing blood flow and circulation, making them a standard garment in the wardrobes of endurance athletes and heavy-lifters alike.

“The compression category can then be broken down further into whether the garment is designed to be worn during the activity or after,” says Corey.

“Typically the post-workout or ‘recovery’ garments have higher levels of graduated compression to help assist with circulation and clearance of lactic acid. These garments tend to feel too tight and restrictive to wear during the actual activity, so it really depends on what you want to use the garment for. If you’re unsure, I recommend purchasing garments designed specifically to wear during exercise, as they can still be useful for recovery – just to a lesser extent.”

While the original compression brands often opt for a ‘cut and sew’ technique – where panels of lycra/nylon are sewn together to create a graduated compression effect – newer brands are moving toward seamless technology.

“The original brands use a method know as ‘cut and sew’, where garments are tighter around the ankle than the knee to aid circulation from the lower leg. These do feature large seams, which can be problematic,” says Corey.

“Particular stitch patterns using seamless knitting machines, on the other hand, can be
used to create compression areas. This can be beneficial to target compression zones to a particular area, such as the joints, which isn’t possible using traditional cut and sew methods. Seamless technology also increases comfort due to minimal seams.”

Gym junkies & yogis

For the average gym goer or reformer Pilates addict, comfort and aesthetics are usually the key activewear concerns. Corey suggests finding fabrics that move easily with your form, but avoiding compression gear unless you feel like flashing the woman downward dogging behind you. Moisture-wicking fabrics are also a must-have if high-intensity cardio is on the agenda.

“Compression garments tend to be sheer around the bottom area in bright light, which is hard to avoid when creating the compression effect. So if you are after tights for yoga or Pilates, then opt for specific brands that cater to this,” she says.

“Garments made from wool are becoming increasingly popular due to their moisture wicking abilities and tendency to not hold odour. This can be beneficial for instances when you have limited access to washing facilities, such as while travelling or camping.”

While cotton is a very affordable option, it’s not moisture-wicking and so readily absorbs sweat – best left for brunch dates rather than the treadmill. Designer Tyrone Susman (tyronesusman.com) who created a line for renowned activewear brand Talbot Avenue, agrees, noting the importance of attention to detail.

“Material is key and design is important for flattering the figure and creating aesthetically pleasing pieces that add comfort and wearability. Most people want longevity in activewear, so consider sweat reducing, breathable and washable fabrics,” he says.

“Think about what you carry with you when working out and the elements and functionality details that are important to you. Consider the comfort factor before purchasing, and look at the fine details such as pocket sizes and placement, buttons versus zips, hoods and seams to add ease to your day.”

So how about the all-important (as much as we hate to admit it) aesthetic affect? Susman suggests opting for more subtle colours and prints to ensure you stay on-trend long-term.

“My work in the past celebrates the female figure. Working with figure hugging and form fitting silhouettes, I want the wearer to feel confident, powerful and comfortable; through flattering panelling and lines, and hues and tones that contour the body,” says Susman.

“Find that balance where your personality is expressed through your activewear fashion – but in quality items that you will get as much use out of.”

 Darker hues have added benefits for your physique lines.

“Black or dark garments are slimming and can make you appear taller, which is favourable amongst shorter women,” says Corey.

“If you have wider hips and thighs, look for garments that have their design detail around the lower leg or ankles, as this will draw attention to these areas. Same concept for long sleeve tops with detail around the forearm or wrist if you are concerned about your arms or chest. If you dislike wearing shorts, opt for a capri length garment to allow for more coverage without overheating.”

Colour use is also associated with your personality and mood: brighter colours tend to encourage playfulness and are popular among extroverted personalities, while darker colours lend for more of a sophisticated look and are more popular among introverted personalities, according to Corey. Seams and stitching can also make for an interesting design element.

“In particular, utilising vertical lines or seams will create a slimming effect, as opposed
to horizontal lines which create the opposite,” says Correy.

While higher cost doesn’t always equate to higher quality (especially when it comes to heavily fashion-focused brands), Corey suggests spending the coin on your lower body staple garments (think $100 plus for a good quality pair of leggings), as these tend to experience the most stress during physical activity.

“You can then compliment these with some more affordable upper body garments ($20 to $50) for multiple different looks depending on the activity,” she adds.

Photography: supplied by nimble activewear.

NEXT: We chat to Tully Lou founder/designer and yoga instructor, Tully Humphrey about her journey, training and fitness mantras, read all about it here.