6 Things to Look for When Buying Exercise Apparel

A cool wind whipped around me as I crested the final hill along my running route. “Ah, relief!” I thought, pulling my dripping T-shirt away from my skin. This will cool me off. But instead of making me feel refreshed, the wind chilled me to the bone. “So much for a great workout,” I mumbled as I shivered the rest of the way home. I thought I had dressed properly for my run, but apparently I had missed something before heading out the door that morning.

Wearing the right clothing can make the difference between an enjoyable workout and an hour of misery. And investing in some stylish yet comfortable workout clothing is the perfect motivation to get you moving, whether you’re hitting the gym, heading for the hills or exercising in the comfort of your own home. I already had enough excuses not to exercise—my workout clothing didn’t need to be one more of them.

The big mistake I had made was wearing a cotton T-shirt for my workout. Instead, I should have worn a shirt designed to draw sweat away from the body and move it to the outer surface. These “wicking” clothes (also called technical or performance fabrics) are usually made of polyester and/or Lycra blends. They may cost more than your average cotton T-shirt, but they’ll also last longer and keep you comfortable.

Cotton is comfortable, but the more you sweat during exercise, the more perspiration it traps, weighing down your garment and clinging to your skin. In summer, that can prevent your body from cooling properly. In winter, wearing those damp clothes for a workout keeps you cold. Add a cold wind to the equation, and you’ll be chilled to the bone, just as I was.

Proper workout attire doesn’t stop with your shirt. Cotton socks can also trap moisture and cause blisters, while a polyester-blend sock may help prevent them. Shorts, gloves, hats, running tights, sports bras, workout pants—even underwear—are also available in performance fabrics.

I was ready to cross “discomfort due to clothing” off my exercise excuse list, so I went shopping. Here is what I looked for when purchasing my new exercise clothing.

Comfort
Avoid any rough fabrics that could chafe or irritate your skin during repetitive movement. Choose materials that let you move and don’t constrict you. Pay closer attention to fit than size, as some workout clothes tend to be smaller and more form fitting than regular clothes. Look for items that have a small percentage of spandex listed on the label. This allows for a greater range of motion during exercise and can provide a very comfortable fit without being skin-tight.

Wicking ability
If you’re going to be perspiring a lot, make sure your base layer will keep you dry and comfortable. Look for a polyester/ Lycra blend or another synthetic material. These materials keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer—even when wet—and dry quickly. If you prefer natural materials, wool and bamboo exercise shirts naturally wick away moisture, too.

Perfect fit
While you might be tempted to hide beneath baggy layers, you will feel more confident and sure of yourself if you wear an outfit that looks good on you and plays up your assets. If you feel good about yourself, you’ll be inclined to exercise more often. Clothing trends change for workout wear too, but the basics never go out of style. Add one or two more trendy pieces to your wardrobe (such as a performance T-shirt in this season’s “hot” color) but keep your classic black yoga pants that are timeless.

Layerable 
Your workout wardrobe should be versatile, carrying you from the hottest months to the coldest months (if you’ll be exercising outdoors). To avoid overspending during the changes of the seasons, keep this in mind when shopping, looking for items that can easily layer during cold months. Start with a moisture-wicking dry layer, such as a wicking T-shirt or tank top, then add a warmer layer such as a fleece pullover. Finish with a protective outer layer (for waterproofing and wind proofing) such as a windbreaker or a nylon shell. Shop during the off-season for the best deals.

Technologically advanced
Many new workout pieces feature anti-microbial treatments to combat odor, while others have built-in ultra-violet protection to fight the sun’s harmful rays. You can also buy glow-in-the-dark or luminescent jackets and running pants to help keep you visible if you exercise after dark. If you are a hiker concerned about Lyme disease, look for clothing that contains permethrin, a synthetic version of the natural insect repellent found in chrysanthemums.

Activity appropriate
Baggy pants aren’t feasible for cycling or Spinning, and flowing tops won’t keep you covered when you do downward dog in yoga class. Consider the activities you do most, and make sure the clothes you buy are comfortable and appropriate for that activity. Most people can’t go wrong with fitted workout Capri pants and a fitted performance top, but always try on clothes before you buy—and try a few of your signature workout moves in the dressing room to be sure.

The more frequently you exercise, the more important it is to wear the right kind of clothes. Aside from keeping you comfortable, dry and cool, the right outfit also makes you feel like a million bucks, so find pieces that flatter your figure so you can hit the gym in style.

Six Tips for Buying Maternity Clothes

When it comes to buying maternity clothes, take the following information to heart in order to ensure you get the best look, feel and value for your pregnancy and postpartum needs. Whether you’re buying maternity clothes online or in stores — or simply going through the closets of formerly pregnant friends — knowing what to look for, why to look for it, and considering your changing needs will enable you to create the right wardrobe for flattering you throughout pregnancy.

TIP 1: Size Matters

Women are often told to choose maternity clothes in the same size they wore pre-pregnancy, but it’s not as simple as that. First, not all maternity clothes are designed for pre-pregnancy sizes. Most, but not all, of them are, so it pays to do a little research on the brand or to try on the items. If you can, read the labels on maternity clothes to find out if they’re pre-shrunk and how they base their sizing.

Keep in mind that as your pregnancy progresses, your weight may, too. Consider the following three women:

My friend’s wife, let’s call her Girlfriend #1, went through her whole pregnancy without gaining any weight but she was 30 pounds overweight to begin with.

Another girlfriend, let’s say Girlfriend #2, who was at her ideal weight when she got pregnant, had already gained 20 pounds in her first trimester. She’s in her second trimester now and not gaining weight as rapidly.

During my pregnancy, on the other hand, I put on over 50 pounds.

Each of us women will have different needs for buying maternity clothes.

Girlfriend #1, for example, was able to buy maternity clothes based on her pre-pregnancy size, and didn’t have to make any maternity purchases until later in her pregnancy when her belly “popped.”

Girlfriend #2, on the other hand, had to find maternity pants and bottoms in her first trimester. She’s also able to buy maternity clothes based on her pre-pregnancy size, because her weight gain is mostly in her belly.

I was a size 8 when I got pregnant, but went up to a 10 and then a 12 by the time my daughter was born. I have an hourglass body type, so I have full breasts and wide hips. During pregnancy, they both got much larger, and I simply couldn’t fit into size 8 maternity clothes. Where my body changed and filled out required me to size up.

TIP 2: The Fit Can Flatter — or Fail

In an effort to minimize buying maternity clothes, and worrying that what fits them now won’t fit them later in pregnancy, many women will make the mistake of buying sizes that are too large, or buying men’s clothes or plus-size clothing. Avoid this because you’ll end up with maternity clothes that are too loose and baggy and don’t have “give” in the right places. Unless you’re buying a maxi dress or A-line sheath, loose, baggy maternity clothes are unflattering. Even if you’re plus-size before pregnancy, you still want to invest in buying maternity clothes, as opposed to larger plus-sizes, so you can enjoy the specific support, comfort and fit of clothing made for pregnancy.

Choose high-quality, well-made maternity clothes with any of the following features that ensure a flexible, stylish fit:

  • Ruching (gathers): on the side for maternity tops; on the waist for maternity bottoms
  • Patterns or all-solid colors that create a slimming effect
  • Extra length in the torso for shirts, tops and dresses
  • Adjustable waist bands, such as drawstring
  • Extra-long torso to provide complete coverage as your body grows
  • Empire waist tops and dresses

TIP 3: Fabric is Important

When buying maternity clothes that you hope will last through several pregnancy stages, choose high-quality, well-made items. Ideal maternity clothes will be made with strong, stretchy material that will grow with you, so they’ll stay snug, flattering and supportive as your body changes.

Look for: Breathability, softness, durability and stretch are the things to look for in high-quality, comfortable maternity clothes. Natural fabrics such as cotton, modal, and bamboo will be soft and breathable — helping you with those pregnancy hot flashes and itchiness that are so common. Blended jersey made from those natural materials together with Spandex or lycra deliver the stretchiness, support and shape retention you need to accommodate your body as it changes.

Avoid: Maternity clothes should NOT be “permanent press” or “wrinkle-free.” Recent articles have shown that such fabrics are treated with chemicals like formaldehyde that are dangerous to pregnant women and their babies. You should also avoid synthetics like polyester that hold heat to the skin and any clothing with dyes that rub off when you hold them. These fabrics can make you very uncomfortable and what’s the use in buying maternity clothes that are too hot or itchy to wear?

TIP 4: Essentials Are Worth the Investment

A common complaint about buying maternity clothes is price. When you shop to save, you generally encounter lower quality collections. Poorly made maternity clothes fall apart quickly in the wash, shrink or don’t retain shape after laundering, pill and fray, slip down over your belly, ride up, make you too hot, and itch. Instead of shopping for quantity, shop for quality.

Determine your budget for buying maternity clothes, then set aside at least 75% of it for acquiring new, high-quality, essential pieces that will be the foundation of your daily wear. Some everyday favorites worth your investment are:

  • Basic maternity tank tops, camisoles and t-shirts
  • Maternity jeans
  • At least one maternity dress
  • A pair of black, dressy slacks
  • Maternity leggings

Combined with items from your regular wardrobe, these maternity essentials will take you through the seasons and stages of your pregnancy in comfort. Change layers as needed by simply adding sweaters, wraps, jackets, scarves and accessories from your regular wardrobe.

TIP 5: Build on a Strong Foundation

Before pregnancy you wouldn’t dream of going out of the house with a poor-fitting bra, so don’t do it now! Maternity lingerie is an important foundation for looking and feeling your best. Without the right bra, your tops and dresses aren’t going to look as great as they could and you’re going to be quite uncomfortable. Because breasts grow and change throughout pregnancy, women are often confused about how and when to buy a maternity bra — sometimes so much so that they skip it or put it off as long as they can.

Don’t.

Instead, get yourself one or two really well-made maternity bras as soon as you need them — say a t-shirt bra and a dressier bra, or a t-shirt bra and sleep bra. High-quality bras can be underwire or soft-cup (if underwire, look for a really flexible underwire that’s been approved by lactation consultants). They’ll be made from a very stretchy but shape-retaining material that allows for the extra cup-room you need as your pregnancy progresses. As for your rib cage expanding and needing a larger band, you can get bra extenders to solve this problem if it arises for you.

High-quality maternity bras aren’t cheap. But these are your breasts, ladies. Treat them with care throughout pregnancy (and breastfeeding) and you’ll avoid suffering more pain, aching, and problems than are necessary and you’ll be looking and feeling your best.

TIP 6: Experiment with Maternity Accessories

I’m not talking scarves, jewelry and bags, I’m talking about abdominal support belts, maternity belts, belly wraps, “BellaBands” and support hose.

After buying maternity clothes and wearing them for a little bit, women complain about:

  • Belly panels that fall down
  • Maternity pants that fall down
  • Maternity pants or panels that irritate their belly buttons
  • Maternity tops that don’t provide enough coverage or ride up

Because other women have faced these maternity clothes challenges, there are now a plethora of mom-invented maternity accessories to help you. “BellaBands,” for example, are supportive, stretchy abdominal bands that you can wear over your unbuttoned pre-pregnancy pants to make them last longer, or over maternity pants to help hold the belly panel in place and provide extra abdominal support. BellaBands also help cover your abdomen if you’re wearing tops that are too short to cover your pregnant belly.

• The Invisibelt helps keep pants up while retaining a seamless look (so you can wear t-shirts and snug tops without a belly panel outline glaring through).
• Abdominal support belts can provide relief for an aching lower abdomen, back or pelvis.
• Maternity support hose helps prevent swelling and hides leg veins that often appear during pregnancy.
• Belly wraps are worn under maternity clothes to help lock in moisture from your belly creams or oils (making their application more effective at preventing stretch marks) and protect your maternity clothes from staining.

Cold Weather Clothing Tips

Think About Your Activity Level

A backcountry hike or cross-country ski trek is going to turn your body into a convection oven through constant activity, while riding a lift will be more of hot bursts with cold intervals. Think about whether your activity is aerobic or stop-and-go before you get dressed.

Layer Your Clothing

If you layer correctly, you can enjoy your activity longer and not have to concern yourself with feeling cold or even hot. Regardless of your budget there are ways to accomplish this. More on layering below.

Choosing A Base Layer

Sometimes the “warmest” long underwear isn’t what you need. If you are engaged in a high-energy, all-out cardio sport, go for a lightweight wickable base layer that will keep you dry. Otherwise, a midweight base layer is great for most purposes. Only in really cold weather or when you’re fairly inactive (e.g., camping expedition) do you need a heavyweight base layer.

Add A Mid-Layer For Warmth

Mid-layers add insulation to help retain heat that your body creates, and are worn between the base layer and outer jacket if needed. Examples of insulating mid-layers include a fleece vest, a down sweater, or a synthetic insulation jacket..

Wear An Outer Shell

Wear an outer shell jacket (over your mid-layer) to shed water and snow. Layering will give you more versatility in your activities without being reliant on the weather. Outerwear that is waterproof with increased breathability will be more adaptable and can help transfer moisture away from your body to keep you dry and protected from the elements.

Ventilation

When you perspire from high-energy activity, moisture builds up inside your outerwear. Jackets and pants do not insulate well when wet. Look for core vents on jackets or thigh vents on pants. Regulating your interior temperature will help you stay dry and comfortable.

Connect Your Outerwear Pants To Your Jacket

A jacket-to-pant connect system keeps out snow and cold, especially on those heavy powder days. As well as sealing out wetness, a connect system will prevent the snowskirt on your jacket from riding up. This is a great feature for snowboarding or skiing. All EMS Jackets with snowskirts feature a jacket-to-pant connection. Another great option is a snow bib.

Make Sure It Fits For Your Lifestyle

When you try on layers, a jacket or pants, do yourself a favor and move in it – raise up your hands, bend over and touch your toes, squat as if you are fixing your boots. Think about what you want the outerwear to do – cover every inch of your skin in freezing weather; let you bend your knees to ollie or reach out to grab a hand hold while still offering total coverage and protection.

Respect The Sun

We all wear hats and gloves, but don’t forget about your eyes. It’s not uncommon for skiers without protective eyewear to burn their eyes. Sun damage can be just as strong on cloudy days. Always wear sunglasses or goggles with UV protection, and wear sunscreen and lip balm. Your headgear will also help protect you from the sun.

Keep Your Feet Warm

How many times have your feet been way too cold? Wool or wool blend socks are great natural insulators, even when wet. For most cold-weather sports, wear wicking liner socks and midweight synthetic socks. Make sure you fit footwear with heavier socks for more warmth. Footwear that constricts your foot will constrict your blood flow and cause your feet to be cold. You may also want to consider gaiters to keep snow/water from coming over the tops of your boots.

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Why smart clothes, not watches, are the future of wearables

Why are we so fixated on watches and bands? The wearable tech market is full of fitness-obsessed products for workout-loving people with thick wrists and deep pockets. No one in the industry wants to admit it, but the wrist is probably not the best place to stick a bunch of sensors, and activity tracking may not even be the best use for all those sensors. If we want wearables to become truly wearable, companies need to start looking at the clothes we wear every day of our lives. And if we want those wearables to be truly useful, we need to think beyond step counting and create tech that gives actionable suggestions to improve our well-being.

Forget bands, make more smart clothes

Although the idea of smart clothing has floated around for a few years, little has come of it, until now. Big-name companies like Samsung, Google, OMSignal, Hexo Skin, and Under Armour have begun thinking about ways to make the clothes on your back as smart as the phone in your pocket. Since most wearables are fitness-focused, most smart clothing so far has followed in those footsteps with incredibly accurate fitness metrics and detailed analysis of workouts. Thankfully, many companies are beginning to think beyond gym rats, and the smart clothes they are working on may be the future of wearable tech.

No matter your age, gender, or fitness level, you have one choice every day: wear clothes or get arrested for indecent exposure. This is why smart clothes are wearables for everyone. Slipping on a smart t-shirt or hooking on a smart bra in the morning doesn’t require any extra effort. You don’t have to change your behavior to suit the tech.

The main problem with current fitness bands and smartwatches is that they’re so conspicuous. Yes, they’ve improved lightyears from the bulky monstrosities we tried to wear a year or two ago, but they’re still something you have to take off, charge, think about, and put on each day. Imagine if your coat, pants, socks, or shoes just did all this for you. You wouldn’t have to work out to take advantage of the benefits of wearable tech. Since you wear clothing all the time, making the fabric that covers your body smarter would make it easier than ever to keep tabs on your overall wellness without forcing you to go to the gym, or wear anything that you wouldn’t normally wear.

Wearable tech is at its best when it isn’t obvious. That’s why smart jewelry that’s not overly futuristic, gaudy, or bulky — and smartwatches that look like actual watches — have such incredibly strong appeal to your average person.

Endless varieties of smart clothes

Smart clothes are even more normal looking, and they’re much more easily customizable than other wearables. After you’ve got the sensors down, you can easily incorporate them into any type of clothing without a hitch. It doesn’t take much effort to create 20 different color options and styles for a smart shirt, but manufacturing more than one finish for a smartwatch is a huge operation. Already, smart clothes are available in more styles, colors, and varieties than other wearables.

Just look at OMSignal’s many fun smart sports bra patterns and color options or Samsung’s recent wearable prototypes, which include a belt that lets you know when you’re packing on the pounds, a very stylish business suit with NFC buttons hidden in the cuffs, a golf shirt that tracks swings, and smart workout clothes. All of these devices are brilliant wearables, not because they share the same tech as your average fitness tracker, but because they don’t look like tech.

It’s a dream shared by many, including the founder of Google Project Jacquard, Ivan Poupyrev. During Google I/O 2015, Poupyrev showed off a new way to weave touch panels to into conventional fabrics, using old-fashioned textile manufacturing processes. Google’s yarn has a conductive metal core that’s mixed with conventional fibers and can be dyed any color. Google is working with Levi’s and other companies to make its dream of high-tech clothing come true using traditional techniques.

Noble Biomaterials makes CircuiteX technology, which creates the conductive components in smart garments. These threads “ultimately allow for the ‘detection, transmission and protection of electrical signals’ within smart clothing.” explains General Manager Bennett Fisher. “Once the sensor is inside the clothing, what you’re wearing becomes a sensor.”

Clothing+ is a Finnish company working on integrating technology like this into clothes for sports and medical applications. “People are more and more interested in understanding their bodies and making choices based on data,” Mikko Malmivaara, one of the founders of Clothing+, told us. And as this interest grows, Malmivaara noted, Clothing+ determined that the “clothes we wear are the best way for any device or data system to interface the human body.”
Although it may be a while before Fruit of the Loom starts selling smart boxers at K-Mart and Victoria Secret kicks off a marketing campaign for the Dream Angels smart bra, tech is slowly making its way into our clothes, albeit in small ways. Ralph Lauren sells a smart tennis shirt by OMSignal, Tommy Hilfiger has a solar-powered jacket, and Joe’s Jeans recently made a pair of skinny jeans for women that have a special pocket for charging up your iPhone 6 on the go. High-tech accessories like purses and backpacks that charge your gadgets on the go are already popular among the tech-savvy populous.

Smart underwear is the way to go

Funny enough, the gateway drug of the smart clothes world was fitness clothes, but a more logical choice is perhaps the most intimate one of all: underwear. Most people wear underwear every day — unless you like to go commando — and it’d be an easy way to get people started with smart clothing. In fact, if you didn’t want to wear tons of smart clothing or spend the money on techy clothes, you could get along just fine with a collection of smart socks and underwear.

Your underwear is also the most logical place to wear sensors that monitor your vitals, as it’s the clothing that’s in closest contact with your skin. A smart bra can measure breathing, heart rate, and muscle tension to determine a number of health and wellness metrics like stress level, activity, anxiety, and so on. Same goes for a pair of smart boxers, socks, or an undershirt.

Current fitness bands try to get all that data from your wrist, which is a tricky spot for certain metrics, especially muscle tension and breathing rate. Activity tracking at the wrist isn’t always the most accurate, either. Even popular fitness trackers like Fitbit exaggerate step count and can misread enthusiastic hand gestures for dozens of steps. Right now, the accuracy of fitness bands is at the mercy of each company’s algorithms and companion app. That doesn’t have to be the case. Most researchers agree that placing trackers on your hip or foot would offer more accurate measurements than wrist-based fitness trackers and smartwatches, so why not stick all those sensors in your socks or underwear?

Fitness companies who make smart clothes are already jumping all over that idea. OMSignal and Sensoria have smart bras and smart workout shirts that can be worn under regular clothes or at the gym, Sensoria makes a pair of smart socks with an attachable sensor and conductive thread, and Hexo Skin offers several smart shirts that are similar to those from OMSignal and Sensoria.

The next logical step is to put this tech into normal underwear and clothes to track wellness metrics instead of just fitness. After all, not everyone is a gym rat, but most people would like to know how they’re doing, if they’re stressed, and how much exercise they’ve gotten.

Taking wearables out of the gym

OMSignal’s cofounder and CEO Stephane Marceau paints an incredible picture of a future in which everyone wears smart clothes that give them actionable feedback when they need it most. The company currently has a series of smart sports shirts for men and it just launched a smart sports bra for women, both of which track your typical fitness metrics of steps, distance, calorie burn, and heart rate, as well as many other unique measurements like breathing efficiency, fatigue levels, and how much effort your body is putting into your workout.

The most exciting thing about OMSignal’s tech is that the data it garners from all the sensors in its clothes can be used for more than just workout analysis. Its next big project is tracking users’ emotional wellness with biometric data like breathing, heart rate, and muscle tension. When you’re stressed out, your breathing becomes shallow, your heart rate increases, and your body tenses up. OMSignal’s smart bra or shirt can recognize all these physical changes in your body and alert you via a push notification to stop, breathe, tune into yourself, and be mindful of your emotional state, thus improving your mental and physical well-being.

The company also hopes to enter the medical side of wearable tech with its smart clothes. In the future, pregnant women might be able to share their baby’s heartbeat with OMSignal’s app via the data captured by the sensors in its smart shirts. People with heart conditions or other medical issues could be alerted to physiological changes and warning signs before an emergency strikes. Smart clothing could notify you, your loved ones, and even medical personnel that you’re in need of help.

The possibilities are endless. Smart clothing has the potential to break wearables out of their fitness funk and make them go mainstream. If wearables are ever going to take off, they have to be fashionable, look like normal clothes and accessories, and do more than tell you your step count.