People have differing definitions of "sportswear," ranging from clothes worn for specific sports to anything athleisure. The most common opinion, though, is that sportswear is a clothing category made up of items that you can exercise or lounge in. If that's all there is to it, though, why are cotton tees and loose-fitting sweatpants NOT considered sportswear?
The simple answer is that sportswear is designed for exercise, while other clothes, like those cotton tees and loose-fitting sweatpants we mentioned, are not. It's important to wear sportswear for exercise because it has a lot of amazing features that help keep you safe, comfortable, and focused during your workouts. Every brand of sportswear will have different features in their clothing, but some of the benefits you can expect to find pretty much everywhere include durable and moisture-wicking materials, a snug (but not suffocating) fit, and lots of physical support/compression. Let's break down these benefits and compare them to other clothes to understand all the features that make sportswear so important.
Not all clothes that are comfortable are made to work out in, but all clothes that are made to work out in should be comfortable. Part of what makes sportswear so pleasant to wear is its natural ability to wick moisture. You don't realize the value of moisture-wicking materials until you're completely drenched in sweat while wearing a cotton t-shirt. Did you know that cotton can hold around 25 times its weight in liquid? Not only are you going to feel (and smell) less than pleasant if you're not wearing proper sportswear during your next workout session, but you're also going to have a hard time focusing and finding the motivation to finish, especially if you're doing a high-intensity exercise like running or aerobics. Moisture-wicking materials, like spandex, nylon, and polyester blends, keep you cool (or warm, depending on the weather) and dry without absorbing the sweat on your body. They might be a little more expensive than cotton, but we promise you that the investment is worth it, especially since they'll last you a lot longer than cotton will anyway. (See below.)
Sportswear is made out of materials that are strong and long-lasting, like nylon. Nylon is a synthetic fabric that's been chemically manipulated to make it stronger than it already is. You can stretch it as much as you want, especially if it's been blended with spandex, and it will always snap back to its original shape! On the other hand, Cotton is made up of natural fibers that break down easily under stress, which is why shirts made of cotton tear so easily. Durability in sportswear matters for a few reasons: (1) The longer your workout clothes last, the less money you'll have to spend in the long run on replacements. (2) If your sportswear is engineered for exercise from strong and stretchy materials, you can do all of your intense workouts without worrying about whether that next squat is going to rip your pants. If you want to save money and work out with confidence, you need to invest in durable sportswear.
Part of what makes cotton tees and loose-fitting sweatpants so appealing is the way that neither hug your body, but if you want to exercise in order to take care of yourself, sportswear with a snug fit is exactly what you need. Two of the most important reasons for this are safety and, ironically, comfort. Sportswear that fits almost like a second skin will keep you safe by not getting caught in workout machines and preventing you from tripping while you're walking or running. As far as comfort goes, you might be amazed at how comfortable skin-tight exercise clothing is, especially when it's made from buttery-soft materials like the ones we mentioned above. It isn't just about the materials, though; sportswear that fits you properly won't have to be adjusted while you're jogging, dancing, lifting weights, etc. In fact, it's designed to help you forget you're wearing it at all so that you can put all your focus into crushing your next workout. We understand the appeal of those old graphic tees, especially if you're new to the gym and feeling a little shy; however, you can find workout shirts made out of better materials and form-fitting cuts that still give you all the coverage you could want, so there's no reason to not give real sportswear a try.
For women especially, solid support in your body's most sensitive areas can prevent distraction and discomfort, especially since women with bigger breasts are more likely to experience chest soreness during and after their workouts. If you are a woman, it is absolutely imperative that you only work out in sports bras. Leave your regular bras at home! Unfortunately, this category of sportswear often gets overlooked, and more women than not are wearing sports bras that aren't even the right size. Do some research and make sure that you're not only wearing the right size, but that the sports bra you're wearing is designed for the level of impact for your preferred exercise (i.e., high impact sports bras for running, low impact sports bras for yoga).
If you're interested in preventing soreness in other areas of the body, men and women alike can also easily find compression sportswear. Some of the most popular types of compression wear are socks, which work by putting a gentle pressure on your feet and ankles with less and less pressure moving up the leg in order to promote better blood circulation from your legs to your heart. Compression shirts, pants, and leggings work similarly! Even people who don't exercise regularly turn to compression wear in order to prevent soreness and swelling after a long flight, a long day of sitting at a desk, or a long 12-16 hour shift on their feet. Dedicated athletes know the value of compression wear, especially when it's time to recover. Not every sportswear brand sells compression wear, but if soreness and swelling are problems that you struggle with, you should talk to your doctor and see if compression wear is right for you.
At the end of the day, you should be wearing clothes that are designed for the activities you're doing. If you're grabbing a coffee with a friend, you should wear a casual cotton tee. If you're lying around the house, you should wear the comfiest, coziest, and loosest sweatpants you can find. But if you're working out, it's important to wear legitimate, durable, and supportive sportswear.