Should you save on your gym gear or splurge on “good” activewear? Writer Amy Beecham asked real women about how they pick their workout kit.
Over the years, I’ve collected a good amount of activewear, in as many colours, cuts and styles as you can imagine. But when it actually comes down to getting dressed for the gym, I tend to gravitate towards the same items: my trusty Girlfriend Collective compression leggings that I know won’t go see-through, a cute but functional sports bra and Nikes or Vans on my feet – depending on whether I’m weight lifting that day or not.
This go-to gym uniform makes me feel cool, confident and put together all the way through my workout. It also sets me back, in total, upwards of £150. That’s a considerable amount of money to spend on something I wear for about an hour at a time, four days a week.
As someone who was raised on the mantra “buy cheap, buy twice,” however, I’m fine with spending a little bit more on the kit that matters to me to get the quality in return.
Of course, spending money on anything (especially fancy activewear made from recycled water bottles) is an economic privilege that I’m grateful to possess. But is activewear something we should be open to spending more than we normally would on?
Our workout kits aren’t just things we put on our bodies for the aesthetic, they’re performance clothes – and they need to work as hard for us as we do in them. Whether they keep us warm, cool, covered up or compressed, I asked a few of my friends and the #fitfam on social media for their thoughts on whether to save or splurge on what we sweat in.
How much should you spend on activewear?
An Instagram poll I ran revealed that 66% of people preferred to spend £10-£30 on an individual piece of activewear, compared to 33% who said £30 to £60 was their average for just one piece of kit.
However, when asked to share their most-loved brands, things were considerably at the more expensive end of the spending scale.
Stalwarts like Lululemon, Gymshark, Sweaty Betty and my beloved Girlfriend Collective popped up alongside “fitfluencer” labels like Grace Beverely’s Tala and Krissy Cela’s Oner Active. The most popular budget options included H&M, Oysho, Aybl and Sports Direct.
So why is it that these higher end brands have such a hold on us? And are they actually worth it?
“I’ve tried cheaper brands and they’ve fit horribly and/or given me thrush,” someone on Twitter told me. “I really dislike paying £80 for one pair of leggings but I’m short and the ⅞ length from Sweaty Betty fits me so well. They’re comfortable, breathable, last for years and look really good on.”
Fitting well, not falling down or riding up, lasting a long time and sustainability were all at the top of the respondents’ lists when picking activewear – and it is clear that the pricer picks are delivering.
Should you spend more on sports bras than gym leggings?
People were also more likely to spend on some items than others. The average spend on a sports bra was just £25, compared to £40 to £50 on leggings.
A good sports bra is arguably the most important thing you could invest in for exercise, so should we be willing to go further to protect our boob health?
“Good activewear is vital when it comes to your confidence and performance,” said a spokeswoman from Sports Direct. “Recent research from Sports Direct’s Equal Play report, created in partnership with Women In Sport, revealed kit is in fact a massive barrier to women participating in sports in the first place - 26% of women and girls feel uncomfortable in kit, twice as many as men.
“When it comes to priority purchases, every individual and every sport is different. However, we recommend investing in a quality sports bra. Not only does it impact the way you feel, but your performance too.”
How important is sustainability?
Many of the people who responded to my questions were also extremely concerned about “avoiding brands with exploitative working conditions,” which made them choose companies with higher price tags that were upfront about the ethical impacts of their production.
“Fast fashion has given us a skewed perspective on how much it costs to ethically and sustainably manufacture a high-quality, innovative garment, and that’s no different in the activewear industry,” Stephanie Reynders, founder of activewear brand Lagatta tells Stylist.
“Pricing is complex and includes everything from thoughtful fabric enhancements (such as UV-protection and cool-touch effects) to how much the women who are actually constructing the garments are being paid.”
“As an up-and-coming brand, you have to make the choices that reflect your values: sustainable performance fabric, thoughtful designs, months of comfort-testing, innovative features, ethical suppliers, and much more. Then it’s about communicating those values so that consumers can find you, align with you, and make an informed decision. Ultimately, we believe that everyone deserves great activewear, whether it’s Lagatta or not.”
What are the best high quality, low price activewear options?
So, what are your options if you want ethically and environmentally conscious high-quality activewear, without paying too high a price?
“I swear by buying branded activewear secondhand off of Vinted or Depop,” my very active friend Helena shared with me. “I couldn’t recommend it more - so far it’s not been gross, and sometimes I even get pieces still with tags on.”
Chloe Howard, a marketing consultant, founded pre-loved activewear site Goodfit for exactly this reason. She tells Stylist: “I personally feel that good quality activewear should be accessible for all – which is why I started Goodfit in the first place. I wanted customers to have more choice and easier access to quality items at a lower price point.”
“I think technical and sustainable activewear is still quite expensive due to the materials used, but by reselling preloved and unwanted items we’re reducing waste and making it more affordable for all. Our customers love items from Lululemon, Girlfriend Collective and Nike. Items from these brands always come to us in good condition, even when they’ve been used, which suggests that they last a long time.”
At the end of the day, there’s no right or wrong answer to how much you spend on your activewear. It, of course, depends on your budget, priorities and indeed the kind of exercise you do.
If you’re into hiking, for example, you’re going to place much more importance on the sturdiness of your hiking boots than you’ll worry about the quality of a t-shirt, whereas those who enjoy exercise classes that make them pour will be more likely to look for shorts with sweat-wicking properties.
If it makes you feel good, gets your body moving and allows you to do a workout you love, it’s “good” activewear – regardless of its price tag.
For tips on moving well and healthy recipes to support your fitness regime, check out the Strong Women Training Club.