Best stylish activewear to buy now 2021: stylish activewear

Picture of Health: does dressing well for the gym make you work out better?

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Can wearing stylish activewear change one fitness-phobe’s approach to working out? 

I love the idea of working out. Really, I do. The concept of stretching my body and training its family of muscles to contort and flex on demand sounds wonderful, magical, and for me, frankly, impossible. I’ve even heard the endorphin rush post-sweat is comparable to that of a post-coital rush. What could be better than that?

But I’ve never truly been infected with the viral strain of exercise-itis, opting instead to huff and puff half-arsedly through 30-minute classes, half of which time I’ll spend trying to catch my breath again. So, when Stylist’s team of Strong Women asked this decidedly weak woman to take part in a fitness challenge of sorts, I squirmed in my seat.

The challenge in question, however, piqued my interest. All I had to do was exercise in cute workout clothes to decipher whether dressing well changed my approach and my foul attitude towards exercising. Given the fashion lens through which I see my job, this was an exercise flex I could get on board with.  

First up was Reformation’s new printed activewear collection, which features a whole lot of cheetah-infused goodness. Surely an upgrade from my ratty, aged black set could fire something within while completing my Peloton class of the day?  

Best stylish activewear to buy now 2021: Reformation eco-conscious activewear
Does stylish activewear improve performance? Writer Naomi wearing a cheetah-print two-piece courtesy of Reformation.

As I powered my way through the class in my cheetah-print two-piece, I genuinely felt more incentivised to achieve a better result that I usually do. I have a mirror opposite the spin bike in my flat and, the more glimpses of my activewear set I caught, the more endorphins I’m convinced began to flood my body. I burned 30 more calories in the same 30-minute class wearing my Ref Active duo than I did wearing my raggedy set.

For my next workout, I tried another leopard (are you spotting a theme here?) two-piece, this time from Varley’s recent collaboration with Maje, which is an 80s-inspired collection brimming with fun and vibrant colours. For a barre class, I wore the collection’s lurex-lined sports bra and sweat shorts and, like before, pushed harder than usual. I know this for sure because when it came to working my abs, at the point when I usually collapse on the floor in a pile of sweat, I caught sight of my green leopard shorts and was encouraged to fight on, shakes and all. I’m not joking: a pair of shorts spurred me on mid-workout.   

Best stylish activewear to buy now 2021: stylish activewear
Writer Naomi wearing Varley x Maje's recent collection to complete a barre class.

Surely these two instances were just flukes, though? For the third workout of the week (an Apple Fitness pilates class), I opted for a mix and match get-up which comprised a leopard print Varley bra, which I paired with Adanola’s brown ribbed micro shorts. It is no exaggeration to say that I stretched and contorted my body like never before. In truth, maybe I did it just because I clearly fancied myself (and my outfit) while working out. Either way, it worked.

Best stylish activewear to buy now 2021: stylish activewear
Writer Naomi wearing a leopard-print Varley sports bra and Adanola brown ribbed shorts to complete a pilates class.

It’s no surprise that looking good in turn helped me to feel better. The term ‘enclothed cognition’ was coined by researchers from Northwestern University, Hajo Adam and Adam D. Galinsky, in their experiment from 2012, during which they endeavoured to discover the ways in which clothing influences a person’s psychological state and performance levels. The study essentially deciphered that wearing clothes that we feel speak best to who we are not only increases our psychological state, but also enhances our performance in tasks. In this instance, wearing activewear that I liked resulted in increased performance during my workouts. 

Best stylish activewear to buy now 2021: stylish activewear
Writer Naomi wearing a sports bra and workout skirt from Reformation's activewear range.

Exercise will never be my first love, fashion and writing will be. But combining the two forced me to work harder than ever before at actually applying myself in workouts. And what’s not to love about that, really?

In Stylist’s new digital series Picture of Health, we investigate what health looks like for women today – from redefining mental health and fitness, to examining issues around race and disability inclusivity. For investigations, first-person essays and features check back here daily.

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Images: author’s own.

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