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One of the most popular questions I am asked on Instagram is where I buy my activewear. And I haven’t written a post about it because my answer is not exciting. I am 5’3” which has me between regular and petite sizing, and I wear a 14 in pants, 12 in some jeans. This makes me usually a Large in activewear, but we’ve all learned in the Wild Wild West of women’s apparel sizing, not all Larges are created equal. On top of this, I have a large bust (36F) so I perform best with both support and coverage. My activewear collection has been cobbled together from multiple sources.
Why and Where I Wear Activewear
Almost every weekday morning I go to a gym where I weight train and occasionally go on a treadmill. A couple of times a week, I may also go to a different gym where I go on the elliptical, occasionally a bike, and sometimes more weight training. On weekends I ride my bike with my family – nothing hardcore, but enough that I do better in activewear than street clothes. Once a week I go to yoga. I look for activewear that can work for all of these occasions instead of unique products that have a single purpose. I like fun activewear, but I usually stick to black, gray, the occasional pop of color so that the pieces can be worn multiple times, through the whole year, and not be so memorable anyone realizes I often wash and rewear the same pieces more than once in a week.
Where I Buy Activewear
Zella is an in-house brand from Nordstrom that offers regular and plus size activewear at a reasonable price. I’ve tried several styles of their leggings and like the weight (no going sheer when you do a squat), the fit (no sliding down because of my booty), and the durability (I have pairs two years old that have been washed and even dried dozens of times and still look amazing). Zella is often on sale; search the brand and then go by price and you can often find their live-in leggings at 30-40% off in some last-season color or detail. Even full price, Zella is worth the price for the fit, quality, and style.
I go to activewear, narrow down by the type of item I am looking for, my size, and then I filter from cheapest to most expensive. I often find activewear, especially workout tops, on sale at Nordstrom for less than $35 and they’re good brands. I type this before going to the gym in a sleeveless gray wicking t-shirt with the Nike logo on the front that I got at Nordstrom for about $14. Many find Nordstrom expensive, but it’s all about how you shop the retailer.
I shop the same way at Macy’s. Choose activewear, then I usually choose “all activewear” and then my size. Then I filter from least to most expensive. I find Macy’s to be more hit and miss with quality than Nordstrom, but I still have a few tops and shorts from there that I scored and ridiculously low prices that have held up nicely. Their brand Ideology has cute workout tops for less than $15.
I don’t shop in brick and mortar stores often. It started due to lack of sizing, but continued because it doesn’t benefit my wallet. I go in a store and feel I should leave with a purchase to justify my drive and search and sweaty hair from the Frito-smelling fitting room session. I buy what works, but I don’t necessarily love. So 99% of my clothing purchases are from online… and that 1% is usually activewear from TJ Maxx. I stick to brands I have heard of – no need for fancy brands like Sweaty Betty or Outside Voices but names I know like Under Armour, Gaiam, Reebok. TJ Maxx is great for leggings and capris and lightweight loose tanks and sleeveless tees for under $20. I don’t try to find chic or trendy, but I have some amazing leggings in solid colors, some with sheer panels that are years old and cost about $18 at TJ Maxx. Do note, the larger your size the smaller the selection. Also, some TJ Maxxes aren’t as good about offering plus sizes. Don’t go expecting to fill a drawer with choices, but you may find one, possibly two gems.
When I want something to fit and be functional I go to Athleta. Extensive customer reviews, reasonable size range, detailed descriptions, and pieces that have style yet function. Their offerings go beyond leggings and workout tops to gear great for specific activities and outdoor excursions up to size 2X.
I have pretty much written off Old Navy for clothing. At 44, I find the quality and fit are more misses instead of hits. However, I still rock their activewear. Decent quality, consistent fit, on-trend styles, nice size range, and amazing prices. I don’t LOVE Old Navy, the fit isn’t perfect for my curves and they often seem to add weird details for interest just cheapens the piece and makes it less effective, but it’s a good place to go for a decent pair of leggings at a decent price.
Before I changed sizes, Universal Standard was my JAM for activewear. The quality is stellar, the style is minimalist chic, the fit is awesome. However, at my current height and size, I find all of it too long and tall for me. But I had one top I wore twice a week, which meant I washed it twice a week, for a year. The only way you could tell it was so worn was because the printed label inside wore away a bit. The top stayed saturated, no pills, no snags, no thinning, so no change in shape or weight. The leggings are equally great quality. We often look for the lowest price, but when it comes to things like activewear that gets so beaten up with use and washings, it may prove more cost-effective to buy quality that can survive longer.
Core 10 by Amazon
I had the opportunity to try a free pair of Core 10 leggings over a year ago. They continue to be my favorite leggings in my drawer. Nice and thick, holds their shape. They have stayed saturated black, haven’t gotten fuzzy even though they aren’t washed with care, and the wrap style waist (the version I got) is flattering and stays in place even when it’s leg day and my trainer has me do nothing but squats. Amazon has several versions, I did the “build your own” yoga pant legging which let me pick length of leg and type of waistband; this specific legging is $44 with Prime shipping and returns and part of Prime Wardrobe. Core 10 goes up to size 3X and many versions come in short and tall options.
Where I Buy Sports Bras
I am always on the search for a great sports bra. So far in 2019, my favorite has been this one by Freya. I like it so much I just ordered a second one to use when the other is in the laundry. Because I have a large bust, I do not wear traditional sports bras and look for styles with more “bra details” from retailers known for designing for a large bust. Bare Necessities and Nordstrom are my two go-to retailers for decent return policies, broad range of brands, and customer reviews.
I have one fallen arch, and feet that in general fit better in a shoe box than an actual shoe. I need a shoe with arch support, a roomy toebox, and a shoe that is relatively straight. I like shopping at Zappos and Nordstrom because the return policies are good and there are plenty of reviews to know better what I am ordering. My third favorite is Dick's Sporting Goods because they have a surprisingly varied selection, good shipping and returns, and often the lowest price online. I have the most success in finding arch support and support in general from Asics and Brooks. I have stopped trying to find trendy or “cool” sneakers because foot pain is way less cool and affects my desire to exercise. My two most recent workout sneakers I've owned are:
ASICS GT-2000 6 Running Shoe: The arch support on these are amazing, so much it took some getting used to. But totally worth it. This shoe comes in a variety of colors, I chose all black thinking it would look more neutral but think fun colors may look more hip. I bought it at Nordstrom and it's now sold out but I found it on Nordstrom Rack, at Dick's Sporting Goods, and also on sale at Amazon for less than $75.
- Brooks Ricochet Running Shoe: This is my current sneaker. It doesn't have as much arch support as the ASICS but it has a lot of cushioning while also offering ankle and foot support. They offer so much cushioning treadmill days aren't as dreaded as they used to be. With these, I went with the most ridiculous color combination available. Still not trendy or going to get compliments… well actually they do because fellow fussy feet people will stop me and compliment me on my shoe choice because they too love Brooks! I got mine at Nordstrom, I also found them at Zappos.
Where I Have Not Had Luck…
I don't love sharing negative reviews because my miss can be someone else's hit. However, I know a lot of you have similar body types and this may assist with narrowing down choices:
- Fabletics: One of my absolute favorite pair of leggings is from Fabletics. They're so comfy and a cute print. That being said, every other thing I have gotten from Fabletics has fit me terribly. I have thick thighs, an ample booty, a lower belly and the leggings are just too straight and they end up sliding down while also suffocating my calves. Their sports bras, even the high impact, are no match for my chest. Their tops are really meh, also straight cut and even with all the deals I don't think worth the money. Fabletics is great if you have a smaller bust, if you're more straight or pear-shaped, and if you're looking for fun activewear that doesn't cost a kazillion dollars. Everything is way cheaper if you join, and it's relatively easy to cancel by email/chat.
- Knix: I love Knix's boyshorts and have several pairs, but everything else I have tried from them, including their Catalyst sports bra, have been a disappointment. I hate to admit that because I love the company, but I think the fabric is just too easily stretched out.
- SHEFIT: I had several readers ask me to review the SHEFIT bra. I purchased the SHEFIT Ultimate Sports Bra. I think it's awful. It's heavy and such a cumbersome contraption. The velcro catches on my workout tops. The bra does support, but it gives an awful weird bust shape, it's lumpy under workout tops, there's no way I'll wear it without a shirt over it because it looks like a posture support product or part of a Kevlar vest. You can do better.
Now I’d like to hear from you! Where do you shop for activewear? What are great resources for your specific needs? Your suggestion may be exactly what another woman needs to feel great during her next workout!
I workout daily and prefer to wear 7/8 leggings. My favorites are the Old Navy Elevate “Built In Sculpt” 7/8 leggings. They are AMAZING. I prefer tight compression for smoothing the bumps. I feel so confident in these and have them in every beautiful color. I reach for these above all my other dozens of leggings. I’m less picky about tops, only wear tanks, and just pick up styles I like as I see them. My current favorites are from Saucony from the Running Warehouse, and Athleta.
I have weak arches and a foot that needs extra support after bunion surgery. My surgeon recommended Brooks Adrenaline and I love them so much. I work in a casual office but I never wore sneakers until this surgery and I now have three pairs to rotate. I also have Brooks Ghost, but wear those on fewer steps days. I bought my husband and two adult kids Brooks Adrenaline from Zappos to wear to a 4-day trip to WDW. All were true to size and worn all day with no one having hurt feet.
This is so helpful! Thank you for posts like this! I will try out a bunch of these, especially the shoes for my super picky feet.
I’ve actually had good luck with Costco for workout wear. You can never predict what they will have in stock on a given day, but the quality has always been great for crazy good prices.
The only bra I’ve been successful with is the Panache high impact underwire. It stops the bounce and has allowed me to love running for the first time in my life!
I pretty much workout every weekday as well. One place that I like that you didn’t mention is Title 9. The have stores on the west coast, but I shop on line. They have a good variety of styles and sizes. They can be expensive but also have great sales!
E E Faris says
I have very narrow feet, with a narrow heel. New Balance athletic shoes are the ones that work for me. I would love to know of other brands that have worked for other people.
I’ve also had good luck with hiking boots from Ariat, they are known for cowboy boots (not my thing) but also make nice hiking boots.
I love Knix boyshorts, bought on your recommendation, but the bras have been a disappointment for me too. Zella leggings are great. I like Athleta and find that the tops and some of the pants (not leggings) work great for travel also.
For waterPROOF not water resistant outerwear I find that Marmot athletic jackets and pants are excellent. I recently stayed dry all day long in the rain wearing the Marmot gear.
My first pair of Brooks shoes was the Ghost 8. Loved them, best ever for me. I wanted another pair, but couldn’t find them so went with the Ghost 11. They are good too, but not quite as much arch support as the 8, IMHO. I am wanting a sports bra so I will check out the Freya.
I love Kohls’ Tek Gear brand. I have tops that are at least 5 years old, get washed weekly or more often and still look bright and don’t pill. You can get Kohl’s coupons and half the store is 40-50% off every week so it’s easy to find tops under $15 or even under $10 and bottoms under $25. The yoga pants I have from there wear great too. I’m size 16 pear shaped.
https://amzn.to/2lkHwP9 I stumbled upon these leggings on Amazon WITH POCKETS. I absolutely adore them. They aren’t see through; they have a nice wide waistband; they are limited in sizing – they only go up to XXL, which I bought because I’m always afraid of clothing on Amazon being too small (I usually wear an 18W, but it depends on the maker/fabric. I liked these so much that I bought their longer length shorts, also with pocket. I’ve even worn those under a floofy skirt, and was able to keep my car keys and cell phone on me.
Thanks for the link. I’ve been looking for those unicorn pockets!
Kathryn Fenner says
I have a stock of Danskin black cotton and spandex longer inseam shorts that I bought years ago. I don’t know what I will do when they wear out finally. I am tall with thicker thighs and I like something with 7-9″ inseam, and those are harder to find.
I have no need for a special workout bra, not being very gifted in the bust, so I buy Wacoal bras in my usual size but without any contour padding, in fun colors because they are cheaper (Amazon or eBay).
I have troubled feet–I walk 15000 steps a day, and have long toes, one of which is hammered. I had a Morton’s neuroma a couple of years ago. After much experimentation (Brooks, specialized shoe store shoes), I adore New Balance Fuel Core Coast 4, with Spenco Total Support insoles plus arch bar pads. They are super cheap, so I replace them as needed, and I machine wash them after removing the insoles. My husband also has eliminated most of his foot issues wearing them, too.
I have two pairs of Danskin leggings that I bought at least 10 years ago, and they are still going strong! Got a few pairs of their newer leggings this year, and they are great, too.
I’m echoing a few others, but I buy most of my workout tops at Target (Champion line) and REI (REI co-op line and other random brands), and they have held up really well. I love Gap for leggings and shorts, particularly their 5″ compression shorts for rowing, since they offer good coverage and don’t move. And at a 34FF, I am a hardcore Panache sports bra fan.
Loving Zella high waist leggings. They are thick, comfortable and don’t fall down. I buy them in basic black at the Nordstom Sale. I recommend Brooks shoes. They are great for walking or running. I am most thankful for any pair of leggings that has a pocket for my phone though. I have had great luck with Zella and Athleta. I miss not being able to buy Lucy in the store but I am reading on line that it’s part of North Face now so I will probably have to start checking that out also.
Leggings for barre: Zella
Leggings for running: Athleta
Tops: Gap, Athleta, Road Runner Sports
Running bras (32G / 34F): Brooks Juno. It is racer back, but also has an adjustable band. I buy them from Zappos. Worried that the Brooks site no longer has anything in F cup… Tried something from LuLu Lemon (at a ridiculously high price), but the fit wasn’t right for me and not supportive enough for running.
Bras for low impact (barre, walking): Athleta makes some cute DD tops that are sufficient for very low impact.
Running socks: Road Runner Sports
Studio socks: Zella
Cycling shorts: Garneau and Terry.
Still looking for running shorts that don’t give me muffin top, don’t ride up between my legs, and don’t look like a diaper on me (true apple with skinny legs). Athleta discontinued my favorite running skort (the only one I could find without silicone grippers!)
Try Hoka for sneakers. They check all your boxes. The Bondi is like walking on a cloud.
Alison Gary says
My husband swears by Hoka, I’m going to try them next!
I love the Tek short sleeve T from Kohl’s. I hate paying a lot for shirts I am going to sweat in and these have a nice line. http://bit.ly/2lgHBTR
Most of my favorite leggings come from Senita Athletics. They go up to an XL for now, but seem to be working on a broader size range. For reference, I wear a size 10-12 and typically buy a large there, though could occasionally size down to a medium. https://www.senitaathletics.com/
I still struggle a lot with sports bras at a 32G. The Panache Sport underwire fits me best, but the metal loops on the straps irritates my skin and I have yet to find anything else that gives a decent shape and appropriate support without causing the same issue.
I also don’t have a lot of tops a truly love. My ideal is a long crop (high hip, but not tummy baring), but most I’ve seen have a very high neckline, which I find uncomfortable.
Since I primarily lift, I wear either Vans or Adidas lifting shoes (flat with a slightly raised heel).
Sharon Verrall says
I am a big fan of Marks and Spencer yoga pants. They call them joggers. I use them even for weight training and squats and they don’t fall down. I’ve never cared for leggings and these are straight legged. At 5 feet tall I don’t even have to hem them even though they aren’t labelled petite.
In Canada, probably the US also, I get free trackable shipping if I spend over $50. I get them in 2-3 days.
I have 2 of every colour and they have lasted forever. I also travel in them.
I have these pants from Title 9 and I love them dearly–zippered pocket for the win. I love Title 9, but they desperately need to revisit their sizing, as their bottoms, especially, often only go up to a L, and a very small L at that.
I have two sports bras from Natori that I picked up when I couldn’t wear my Title 9 sports bras. Overall, I like them, but the adjustable strap feature is a love/hate relationship, since the little metal clip will often slide out.
Pet peeve now when athleticwear shopping–I wish sites would let you search on if something has pockets or not! I don’t want to carry everything in my hand when I’m doing weights.
– +1 for the Anita Women’s Plus Size Extreme Control Sport Bra. It holds my boobs in and up. http://bit.ly/2llaYEB
– I’ve asked my alterations lady to turn a t-shirt into a muscle tee. She removed the sleeves and opened up the neckline. I’d do this again, it was worth it because the shirt is of good quality and I like the graphic. Otherwise that shirt would just sit.
– For Pilates, I like a form-fitting top, and I use the ribbed tanks you can get at Costco, 2 to a box.
– I shop for tops online and on sale at Sierra Trading Post, Steep and Cheap, REI, and Backcountry.
– Athleta leggings can be great but sizing can be inconsistent. I have a Large size legging that is awesome. When I ordered the same thing, same color, the stitching at the waistband was much tighter, which made pulling them up uncomfortable. YMMV.
I think I have very similar feet to you, and also have great luck with Brooks sneakers. I had never really heard of the brand, but when my feet were hurting so much on my work days (I easily log 8k steps daily) I went to the Baltimore Running Store, where they test your gait and find the right brand for you. I was so glad I did, because I would probably still be struggling with narrow nikes and reeboks if not.
I have actually had good luck with fabletics. I wonder if it’s maybe because I’m still in the plus sizes? I had gotten a couple of leggings and liked them a lot…great fabric and comfortable fit, although I had to size down. I tried two bras and a top in my last order, and was pleasantly surprised. The one is super cute for wearing on weekends or under my scrubs at work (I’ve decided recently to forego underwires for a while, and see how that goes, but that’s another discussion), and the other is actually very supportive for my walk/jog treadmill activity. I am a solid 1x on both top and bottom (usually I wear a 2x in leggings).
Another suggestion for leggings for your plus size readers are the leggings from roamans/woman within. They are excellent fit and fabric, hold up like iron, and look good enough for the gym and athleisure. I have two pairs of full length and two pairs of capri, and they have held up for several years. Make sure to read the size charts. I am a medium in this brand, and usually wear a 2x. http://bit.ly/2ljlsnW
For those who are budget conscious, the danskin leggings at walmart are actually a great value. They fit well, are cute and on trend, and hold up well. I have a few pairs of these that I have also had for at least two years. http://bit.ly/2ljmhgw
I also really like the panache sports bra. It’s so supportive I actually had to size up in it. I also found a knock off off it on amazon, and it works just as well at a third of the price. https://amzn.to/2jRR4AN
I love love love Calia by Carrie Underwood for leggings. I never have to worry about the “see through” factor with these leggings and they come in regular and plus sizes. They can be pricey but I usually find select styles and prints on sale during Dick’s Sporting Goods flash sales. http://bit.ly/2lgkwRc
Linda B says
Thanks for this guide. I recently bought some leggings from Athleta on your recommendation and really am loving them. The other place I find great leggings (and sports bras) is Girlfriend Collective (already mentioned by Vivian.) They are not the cheapest, but the fabric is sturdy and wears like iron–and is made totally from recycled plastic bottles, so it is a winner all the way around. http://bit.ly/2lgkLf4
My other contribution is for cycling gear. Recently I started buying things from Terry, a company totally geared towards women. A bit pricey but I really have liked the two pairs of cycling shorts I got from them. Look for the sales. . . (Note that I am a semi-serious cyclist, riding anywhere between 15 and 60 miles at a go. So comfortable shorts are a MUST.) http://www.terrybicycles.com/
I love my leggings from Girlfriend. I also love that they are made from recycled water products and the dying process is environmentally safe. My only complaint is that I’m not that big of a fan of shiny leggings but these aren’t too bad. I have to admit that I tried a pair of Zella’s and they are not my favorites. You should try going to a running store and have them fit you for shoes.
I have a oppanache sports bra that I like. It’s definitely not perfect, but it works!
I think it’s this one: http://bit.ly/2ljq25C
Otherwise, I have leggings from Target, Girlfiend Collective, Old Navy and Marika and like them all, more or less.
For tops, I wear t-shirts with inspirational sayings. Shoes are an oldish pair of Nikes. I’m not very fashionable at the gym, it’s more about what works!
sorry that should be PANACHE sports bra.
Kati LeTourneau says
This is totally my bra of choice- both for sport and for daily wear. I have 2 that I rotate for sport (my sports: powerlifting and Highland Games). I have 4 that I rotate for daily wear- it gives a nice enough shape for my 32FFs that I wear it under almost everything. I have some non-sports bras for extra cleavage things and dressy things, but on the daily? You’ll find me in a Panache Sportbra. LOVE this one.
Louise Davies says
The PANACHE high impact underwire sports bra is awesome if you are blessed with a large bust (34 DDD). http://bit.ly/2ljq25C I use it for running and for Orange Theory and everything is supported like it should be.
I’m deeply in love with the workout leggings I’ve gotten at Old Navy. I like some of their tops, but prefer the performance knits rather than the fitted tops. I’m bustier than you, and even the XXL fits me weird there.
I also really love the Joylab brand at Target. Cute, they stay up on my size 16 booty, and many have pockets! http://bit.ly/2lhyvpT
As for sports bras – I wear Panache, they have a cute bra that I’d be willing to wear solo, it’s got underwires and doesn’t mash everything into weird shapes. In fact, on a recent Girl Scout camping trip, I wore it alone while we were getting ready to go rafting and later wore as a swim top. I tried the SheFit bra as well, and it was, simply put, awful.
Re Althleta’s size 2x: I like my shirts roomy, so I usually wear a 3x. But Athleta’s 2x tops (I have 2 different styles) are cut to be roomy, not skin tight, so I’m able to wear them.
Oh, and Duluth Trading Women goes up to a 20. Misses, not women (which I usually wear), but I have a pair of their dry on the fly shorts & crops from a couple of years ago that I like. They were one of the 1st places where I found shorts in my size that were longer. Although I see this year that they’ve added extra pockets to the shorts. While I know that their clothing is meant to be practical & has pockets for stuff you need while working in the garden, garage, etc, there’s a point where women don’t need more bulk on their thighs! https://www.duluthtrading.com/
Ann DD says
I’m always in search of a good RACERBACK sports bra, and at 38DD, I haven’t found anything that I love yet. I had high hopes for SHEFIT but agree that the Ultimate creates a weird, lumpy outline, and for me, it’s awkward to get into. They do have another style without the seaming down the front that I may try to see if the silhouette is any better. Why is it so difficult?
I hear you on the racerback issue! I have the Yogi bra from Natori (got it at Nordstrom) that can be converted into a cross back which is close enough to a racerback for me. It isn’t impossible to get into and is supportive enough for my 34F! Not perfect, but it will do while I continue my search. http://bit.ly/2lljfIF
Ann DD says
I agree that crossback is close enough to racerback! The Natori looks good, I’ll have to check it out.
Mary W says
My friend swears by athletic clothing from Lands End. She does look amazing in their line of work out clothing. The catch is that she is tall and slender. Worth a look especially when they have a big sale to see what might be in their petite line. http://bit.ly/2lhB4s1
Anita sports bras are pretty awesome for a large bust. The url won’t copy over, but this one has held up well and gets good reviews: “Anita Women’s Plus Size Extreme Control Sport Bra” http://bit.ly/2lgPDvZ It is the only non-underwire bra I own. It does lean in the uni-boob direction but it is comfy and gives good support. I reach for them if I have a long day of low impact yardwork ahead of me because of how it fits during a full range of reaching, bending, and stretching while sweating.
For workout tops I have started asking for oversized sizes of tshirts at any conference or tradeshow I go to. My logic is that I am not wearing canary yellow with a giant logo while running errands, but I will happily turn that into a free workout shirt.
Target…C9, the leggings fit me like a dream and wash well and i think are a great value. http://bit.ly/2lhBcaZ also love Athleta, but as you say its pricey. Dick’s Sporting Goods – especially on the clearance racks/clearance section on line. i have yet to find a sport bra that i think is worth the price…