To help you find workout gear that's as functional as it is stylish, we're trying out the latest products and letting you know how they fare when we put them to the test.
The thought of working out in a dress brings up a lot of questions. What if you flash someone? What kind of sports bra do you wear? Is it the year 1890? Why not just wear leggings?
Despite its oxymoronic nature, last month Outdoor Voices launched a workout dress because "it's fun and powerful," says Ty Haney, CEO of Outdoor Voices. "We wanted to create a silhouette that functions equally to leggings, but represents a strong female alternative."
This isn't the first dress-like piece that Outdoor Voices has created; they also carry a tennis skort and another for running that are surprisingly functional and trendy. But The Exercise Dress isn't meant for one specific sport, it's just meant to be worked out in, Haney says. "Because it’s a dress, it's especially great for sweaty, aerobics-based exercises, dance classes, or circuit training — anything upright where you’re moving around," she says. Why upright, you might ask? Although there is a built-in leotard liner, it's still a dress.
I decided to wear the dress on a three-mile run with my dog, but was troubled by the lack of built-in support features. Haney described the leotard liner as "doing things-ready on its own," but it's very thin and stretchy, plus it's high-cut. I probably wouldn't have survived a run without a bra on (working out braless is also not great for you), so I wore a sports bra under. After about a mile and a half, I regretted not wearing shorts as well, because my thighs were chafed AF. I kind of felt like everyone was staring at me because I looked unprepared for a run — although perhaps they were just ogling my adorable athletic dog?
Sara Coughlin, health and spirit writer at Refinery29, had a similar feeling when she wore the dress rock climbing. She wore bike shorts under the dress, but told me "it looked undeniably silly and out of place in the climbing gym." Rebecca Adams, health director at Refinery29, lifted weights in the dress and said the lack of shorts made it just plain impractical for dynamic movements. And that's not to say that all workout dresses are lame and will make you self-conscious and out of place — plenty of people work out in dresses and skirts for various reasons. It's just that this particular workout dress isn't built for high-impact activities.
I think we were hoping that The Exercise Dress would wow us with some surprising technical features, but it's pretty standard. The outer fabric is swishy, so it repels water, and it's lightweight so it moves well and you barely notice it's on. The inner leotard is silky smooth, but keep in mind that this is where all your sweat will end up. Sara said she felt like the built-in leotard made her sweat more, because it kind of inhibits airflow.
In terms of fit, The Exercise Dress is all over the map. On the website, they recommend sizing up. I'm usually a medium, and found that the body of the dress fit well, but the top was a little on the big sides. Sara said that the top was too tight, and disliked that the straps weren't adjustable. Rebecca sized down, and said the tightness made it hard to wear a sports bra. (Also, at the moment The Exercise Dress is only available up to size XL.)
So, should you buy this?
If you want to reclaim the workout dress, more power to you, but you may want to consider a more practical option with built-in support. At $98, you could use those pennies to buy yourself a functional, trendy pair of Outdoor Voices leggings that can actually withstand an intense workout. If you simply like the way the dress looks, and want something sporty to wear while walking your dog, running errands, or traveling this summer, The Exercise Dress will do just fine.
*Outdoor Voices provided Refinery29 with the product for testing purposes.
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