Working Out

How To Dress for the Gym (Without Looking Like You're Dressing for the Gym)

Rick Owens, Rogan Gregory, and Jesse Palmer (a k a the best-dressed dude on ESPN) weigh in on sweating with style.
Photo: Everett Collection

It's about dignity.

As designer and dedicated gym rat Rick Owens once put it, “changing your body is so much more hardcore than changing your clothes.” But doing one requires doing the other, and this creates a host of stylistic dilemmas. After all, the only thing worse than looking bad at the gym is looking bad at the gym while thinking you look good. To help sort through this stylistic minefield, we queried a few experts for their tips on how to sweat in effortless (-seeming) style.

Form after function.
You are going to the gym, not climbing K2, so your high-performance gear shouldn’t be (or appear to be) too high performance: stick to reasonable cuts and shapes. “Guys go to the gym for a reason: to get better, bigger, stronger, faster. It’s important to wear workout gear that will facilitate different types of exercise,” says ESPN analyst and former Giants QB Jesse Palmer. “Relaxed ‘dry fit’ shirts work great, as opposed to the skin-tight version, and looser-fitting athletic shorts or track pants make it easy to do any sort of exercise, whether it be running, plyometrics or weight training.” Wisely, Palmer counsels against headbands and wristbands, which “scream spinning class.

Lose the logos.
As you (hopefully) already know, outside of officially sanctioned athletic competitions and nostalgic ‘90s-style rap videos, jerseys (throwback or otherwise) are strictly off-limits. Same goes for embossed, emblazoned, bedazzled, and/or otherwise Christian Audigier-ed items of clothing (if, for some reason, you’re not avoiding those already).

It’s not a fashion show.
Palmer may be the best dressed guy on ESPN, he’s firmly anti-fashion on the fitness floor. “Some guys wear designer shoes to the gym, with patent leather and Velcro straps—those won’t provide an edge for them on the treadmill.” Bianca Kosoy, creative director at the upscale New York chain Equinox, says, “I’ve definitely seen my share of people you have to stop and take a look at and chuckle. At another gym you might see someone who just rolled out of bed, or has shorts on that are way too short and you can see hair coming out of their back. At Equinox you see people who are ready to walk down a runway, which is equally comical. They have the latte in one hand and their cell phone in the other, the sunglasses on and they’ll sit on the machine and do one rep. It’s really about being seen. And that’s not conducive to working out. The gym is not the venue for that.”

Adds Palmer: “And there’s no need for designer sunglasses in the gym. Or anywhere inside for that matter.” Of course, he adds, there are some guys who can get away with unusual workout gear. “I used to work out at Gold’s Gym in Venice Beach,and some of the pro body builders would wear combat boots to the gym. Obviously, those guys can wear whatever they want…”

Find your uniform and stick to it.
For years, Rick Owens’ day-to-day outfit was black sweatpants, black baggy shorts over them, a black or white cotton T-shirt, and a black cashmere T-shirt over that. “I don’t want to change outfits every day,” he says, “or even to change for the gym.” Owens’ one recent concession to wardrobe variety is to “throw on a mink coat” over his uniform when heading out for dinner. Oh, and “the bottom half of my uniform has changed a little,” he says. “It’s become sweatpants with an attached kilt in a shape worn by Egyptian slaves that I’ve been proposing for a few seasons now.”

Whether or not you follow Rick’s rules while out to dinner, they’re wise practice at the gym. So find what works for you, and buy it many times over (remember, gym means laundry). Owens cites an inspiration of his, the great designer Jean-Michel Frank, who supposedly had a closet full of identical gray flannel suits, as the ideal. “An example of a man who knew himself,” he adds.

Be yourself.
Just because you’re working up a lather doesn’t mean you throw out everything you’ve learned about your own personal style and what works best for you. Designer Rogan Gregory, whose eponymous line is an effortless expression of his own working-man-cum-surfer lifestyle, explains that keeping your mojo might mean simply keeping your kit on. “I don’t change my clothes for different activities besides surfing,” he says. “Sometimes I go running early in the morning, but I really don’t change out of what I normally wear (flat front Rogan Narkeeta trouser, the Yank T-shirt, and slip-on Vans).” The downside of this practice is more comical than dangerous. “One time a friend of mine saw me running and asked who I was running away from, because I didn’t have a traditional jogging getup on.”

While we’re not suggesting you hit the treadmill in chinos, Rogan or otherwise, you should make sure that your gym gear comprises things that reflect the way you dress when you’re not pumping iron. As Lynsey Vokey, designer of activewear line MPG Sport, says, “I think men ought to be looking at activewear as an entire new section of their wardrobe. The bottom line is, if there’s no way you’d wear your gym gear outside of the gym then you should not be wearing it at all.”

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