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Unraveling the Mysteries of Activewear’s Most Confusing Garment, the Workout Skirt

Can you actually, you know, work out in it?

Welcome to Fitness Week! All week long we'll be posting stories about fitness, with a distinctly Fashionista spin. 

I exercise pretty much every day (#freelancelife), so I have a fair amount of workout gear. But there is one perplexing item that’s been sitting in my drawer, tags still on, for weeks now: the workout skirt. This garment consists of a skirt attached to a pair of modesty-preserving compression shorts underneath. Unlike the traditional tennis, golf, or pleated plaid lacrosse skirts, these skirty skorts have a little more flair, if you will. A look through the big fitness brand sites shows that it’s a robust category. I’ve seen skirts boasting ruffles, zippers, prints, color-blocking, flounce hems and fit-and-flare silhouettes. Huh.

Added skirting gives the impression that we’re all getting a peek under a girl’s skirt (like mid-downward dog or pilates open leg rocker) when, in essence, the piece is basically a pair of shorts with more material on it, which I assume provides an added level of thigh coverage that some women desire. I contemplated giving my virgin workout skirt a debut in my weekly kettlebell class at the Armory Y in Park Slope, Brooklyn, but chickened out. I was afraid of getting all snarled up in fluttery skirting during those two-handed, between-the-knees swing-squats and, well, everything would start flying about during burpees. So how exactly do I wear a skirt made for exercising?

I decided to ask around to see who was wearing these things. While my instructor, Juan Lopez, was also skeptical about the swing-squats-meets-skirting situation, he’s actually been seeing a good number of workout skirt-wearing boot campers at both of the yuppie-filled Park Slope locations. He observes that “it’s always moms, never single girls” who favor the shorts-skirt hybrid. Palo Alto-based Pilates instructor Judy Liu has never had one of her students come to reformer training in a skirt yet (“ I think it would be weird if someone has their legs in the air”), but she has spotted the trend in Bay Area cardio dance classes.

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Cate Barton, a personal trainer at the Sports Center at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan, is a bit skeptical of this garment. “I personally wouldn't wear a workout skirt during sprint workouts, running or heavy lifting. I would think the skirt material may hinder performance during sprinting." But Lululemon brand stylist Elim Chu pointed out that a skirt for non-tennis/golf/lacrosse workouts isn’t necessarily a new thing; the brand has been making running skirts since 2007. Barton has observed, however, that fashion-forward European and South American crowds were the early adopters of the trend. “Recently, I've seen—in person, as well as, on social media—a few Brazilian girls wearing workout skirts while training clients, lifting weights and doing some higher intensity plyometrics,” she says (see below).

But it’s worth pointing out that the modern fashion-forward fitness skirt has to have functionality. According to Athleta’s fitness and yoga expert, Hannah Franco, that brand makes sure its skirts have features like nighttime visibility, leg grippers to prevent riding up and a higher rise in the back for spin class. The more style-conscious skirt silhouette also comes in handy for those running-errands-straight-from-the-gym situations. “[Our customer] is someone who’s very committed to leading a healthy lifestyle and staying active while still spending time with their families,” Anne Christensen, senior specialist for C9 by Champion, explains. “So the skirt is something they can quickly throw on for their workout and then also go about their day.” Personally, I can say I’ve experienced some side eye in the aisles of Union Market while still clad in my sweaty compression shorty-shorts, so it makes sense. I’m also predicting that the skirt will soon be a popular option for the crowd that likes wearing yoga pants for non-yoga-related activities, like brunch.

Then there’s the question of how to style and wear a workout skirt. “For running, a loose fitting technical singlet will help you catch the breeze you need when you're in that third mile. Off the track or court, consider pairing your skirt with a wardrobe classic like a denim or bomber style jacket.” says Lululemon stylist Chu. Or be a little more adventurous and bare some skin. “If the skort is a little more flirty or girly, then keep the top simple and fitted,” Athleta’s Franco suggests. “Cropped tops and bralettes are great with this type of skort.”

So in the name of research, I ripped the tags off my workout skirt for a run through Prospect Park, although I wore it with a stomach-covering tank over a sports bra. I felt a little self-conscious at first, but no one looked twice at me. Plus, as I ran, the flapping skirt (and perforated side vents) created a nice, cooling breeze. It’s all starting to make sense now.