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Put this gal in a Barry's Bootcamp hoodie and I'll look like I borrowed it from a more-fit roommate. I've found some brands that work, and some bold leggings too, but when it comes to donning shirts that have me picking studio favorites? I'm lone-wolfing it. I've had a lifelong ban on wrapping my torso in any location's logo in particular, quietly donating any gifted cardio dance tanks and barre-branded tees and tanks to charity. I want to look like I work out often because I work out often, not because I have a shelf of overpriced branded spandex in my closet to show for it.
Like how Groucho Marx and Woody Allen wouldn't want to belong to any club that would have someone like them as a member, I don't want to pledge my allegiance to one that would have me pay to be a member. Would a Pure Barre racerback tank make me feel more at home in their core-tightening class? Absolutely, but I'd rather show that commitment on my actual body — going often enough that it shows — than across my chest. Dropping coin to feel like I belong is the easy way out. I won't pay to fit in, I'll pay to do it the real way: coming back repeatedly, working my damndest and collapsing in a pool of sweat and refusal when I remember I still have to do butt toning on the other side.
The real reason it irks me is because as much as studios want you to believe it, your club is not a workout family. It's a business. The more gear you buy, the more they make off you — so of course they want to make you feel included, especially when you pony up $48 for a crop tee. Being a loyal customer means you fork over a lot of your money, and doesn't tossing more on top of that to brag about it kind of make you look like a sucker? I'll promote a perfect dance class by word-of-mouth ‘til I'm beet-red and sweaty in the face (ahem, go see Jenny Holahan at Bari, she's amazing), but I'm not paying money for the privilege to do so on my upper body.
I'm not dedicating myself to any one studio, and in a Classpass age, that's how I like it. When teachers switch so frequently, class styles change often and a new studio's swanky appeal can quickly go downhill, I'm not paying the equivalent of one, two, or even three classes in merchandise just to let you know I'm beholden to a brand. This boutique boom has allowed us to diversify, devoting ourselves to one studio one month and bouncing between ten others the next. I never want to distract myself with fashion or inclusiveness or otherwise from the main goal at hand: to be healthy and still be able to walk when I'm a zillion years old.
And studio clothing usually isn't that good, anyway. At its worst, it hits plain cotton CSPAN-levels of boring; at its best, it's just Nike or Lululemon pants with random skulls or logos slapped on them. If my favorite places made clothing I was dying over, it might be different — after all, studio boutiques can sell some of the greatest non-branded workout wear in town.
The other thing, of course, is this: studio logos are kind of fugly. Let the affiliations dissipate for a minute and think about it — the only good ones are straightforward fonts, and all the others are symbols that could double as the logo for a water purification startup. Why miss an opportunity to wear a funny tee shirt or breathable, sweat-wicking bottoms to sport an extremely-slim-fit logo tank or treadmill trucker hat? (Don't even get me started on this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle shell-like Orangetheory backpack.)
Like my regular clothes, I like my exercise outfit to be comfortable, slightly cute and uniquely mine — so naturally, I don't want to be twinning with a Botox mom across the barre who looks better in a fitted Physique57 tank than I do. And, on that tip, I'd feel so weird about buying promotional clothes and wearing them to the wrong places. Isn't it odd to visit a local spin studio in a Flywheel shirt, or sport a Barre3 tank at Pop Physique? In dating, you wouldn't want to tell both people you're seeing about each other — and potentially drop that one is more popular or successful — so why do the same with exercise exclusivity?
Against better judgement, I recently took myself to a SoulCycle sample sale and attempted to not be a complete hypocrite. (I need new workout clothes and unfortunately don't make the dough necessary to dress like a cool Lululemon employee seven days a week.) After about twenty minutes, I found myself warming to pinwheel-esque shirt designs and bedazzled golden skull tank tops and neon-lettered leggings. "It would all be so easy," that little voice in the back of my head whispered, "to be one of the crowd." All I needed to do was drop $100 on a marked-down outfit and boom, I'd fit in. I'd be confident. I'd be enough.
But I don't want that to come from a shirt. I need it to come from within. Whether you like it or not, branded gear says something about you. What you wear is an opportunity for you to be judged, for better or worse. As someone who only wears old man glasses to class because they never fall off, I know this better than anyone — and yet, I'd like to be seen as my own person, not an unpaid spokeswoman.
It's just too bad the girl in front of me who dropped a thousand bucks at the sample sale couldn't see that, too.