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- The right workout clothing helps keep inconveniences like overheating, wet patches, and chafing at bay.
- The best workout apparel offers a combination of high-performance materials, smart design, and versatile style.
- We recommend Nike‘s workout gear for women overall, as it’s the best blend of price, performance, and variety.
Working out often forces us to feel discomfort. We’re hot, sweaty, tired, and, though we’re not exactly sure, we think we’re beginning to feel the onset of shin splints.
But the right activewear gear makes all the difference. It inhibits nuisances like chafing, wet spots, heat-trapping, blisters, and sometimes injuries. At a baseline, it reduces the number of unnecessary challenges so we can focus on the task at hand. Ideally, it helps us push ourselves a little further, and perform a little better. But, in general, it should simply make the act of moving a more enjoyable experience.
Below, we’ve ranked the best workout brands to shop based on Insider Reviews’ own testing. Each one excels in gear that’s functional, stylish, and performs well. The individual brands offer a variety of strengths: eco-friendly practices, comfortable athleisure, styles that can transition from yoga to the office, greater size ranges, and more inclusive options to name a few.
Here are the best workout clothes for women in 2020:
- Best workout clothes overall: Nike
- Best budget-friendly workout clothes: Athleta
- Best athleisure workout clothes: Patagonia
- Best size-inclusive workout clothes: Universal Standard
- Best durable workout clothes: Lululemon
- Best eco-friendly workout clothes: Girlfriend Collective
Nike caters to pretty much every sport with a variety of inclusive styles, making it our top pick for high-performance workout gear.
Nike has the best balance of price, performance, and variety in its workout gear. A pair of leggings can go for upwards of $70, but you can find plenty of $40-$60 options, and the site semi-frequently offers discounts. Nike items also have a good price-per-wear breakdown thanks to an expert handle on performance engineering and technical materials across categories.
There’s something for athletes of pretty much every sport: running, golf, soccer, training, tennis, basketball, softball, skateboarding, swim, and lacrosse — and all different types of gear, from women’s running shoes to swimwear and compression layers. And they’ve expanded their activewear to have more inclusive sizes (from XS to 3X) and styles (for example, high-performance hijab options).
What to buy:
Read more about Nike:
- Nike’s new running shoes that have more bounce than ever totally exceeded my expectations — here’s what working out in them is like
The best budget-friendly
While performance pieces have a reputation for being expensive, Athleta provides quality styles at more wallet-friendly price points.
Gap’s Athleta is a great combination of affordability, style, and functionality. Plus, we liked the company’s leggings quite a bit during testing. It also has a wide variety of activewear. Currently, it stocks gear for the following activities: yoga/studio, hike, commute/travel, and run/train. And you may get lucky with frequent discounts, so it’s always worth checking the sale section first.
However, head-to-head, Nike’s products have a slight edge when it comes to performance and comfort in our experience. But, it’s worth noting that they’re both excellent options we shop at frequently. Athleta is a B-Corp, so if a business’s ethics and practices are factored into your decision, Athleta may win out over Nike.
What to buy:
Read more about Athleta:
The best athleisure gear
For pieces that perform and are stylish enough to wear anywhere, you’ll want to check out Patagonia.
Aside from creating one of the best pairs of athleisure leggings we’ve ever tested, Patagonia makes one of the mainstream culture’s crown jewels of comfort: the Synchilla Snap-T Fleece Pullover. And whether you’re a fan of the label and what it stands for or you couldn’t care less, the brand’s quality and comfort speak for itself.
We trust Patagonia as much for form as we do for function. And while its prices aren’t the least (or most) expensive on the market, you’ll get a wide variety of items, a product that’s built to last, and the security of a generous return policy without a tight time limit. It’s also a big perk that the company is a B Corp, has donated 1% of its profit to environmental organizations since the ’80s, and won the UN’s Champions of the Earth award for entrepreneurial vision.
You may get lucky with a seasonal Patagonia sale, but you’ll probably only see discounts on its bestsellers — like the Synchilla Snap-T Fleece Pullover — in select colorways.
What to buy:
Read more about Patagonia:
The best size-inclusive
With sizes ranging from 00-40, Universal Standard has set the, well, standard for inclusive sizing in workout clothing.
Universal Standard is the place to go for cool, high-quality closet staples available in sizes 00-40. They also tend to offer items in regular, tall, and petite lengths. We love the company’s clothes because they’re comfortable and high-performing — but we’re equally invested in its commitment to making clothes for more people than the industry currently serves, especially since the average American woman is between size 16 to 18.
If you buy a piece from the core collection and, in the future, it no longer fits due to size fluctuation, the company has a Universal Fit Liberty policy that lets you replace it with your new size, within a year of purchase, free of charge.
However, Universal Standard doesn’t have the most expansive selection, and sometimes stock can be limited in certain bestsellers.
What to buy:
Read more about Universal Standard:
- 7 women tried Universal Standard’s size-inclusive line of jeans that goes from 00 to 40 — here’s the verdict
- Women’s clothing company Universal Standard has launched an inclusive line of basics offered in sizes 00 to 40
The best for durability
You won’t have to justify splurging when you buy your workout gear from Lululemon. Its styles are created with longevity in mind, which means you’ll save in the long run.
Lululemon is home to some of the best gear for yoga, running, training, and sweating. Its gear is pricey — a pair of plain black leggings can go for nearly $100 — but the comfort, utility, longevity, and style give it an edge that makes a higher upfront cost justifiable if you can comfortably make the splurge.
We’ve found ourselves wearing every piece on repeat, bringing the cost per wear down to something far more manageable.
What to buy:
Read more about Lululemon:
- This lightweight down jacket is my go-to for winter workouts — plus it’s just tailored enough to wear casually
The best eco-friendly
With its size-inclusive styles and priority toward sustainability, Girlfriend Collective provides workout gear you can feel good about wearing.
Girlfriend Collective has some of the best leggings we’ve ever worn, and we appreciate the brand’s color variety, relatively low price points, and inclusive size range. We also like that Girlfriend Collective currently offers versatility in its colors — 14 total (five essential, and nine limited-edition) — and sizing (it’s available in three inseam lengths and sizes XXS-6XL) in its bestselling leggings. However, we wouldn’t recommend wearing these leggings to a hot yoga class or HIIT given their thickness.
Another perk is that the company prioritizes sustainability in its materials and processes. Its packaging is 100% recyclable, its compression leggings are made of 79% recycled polyester from 25 post-consumer water bottles, and its Cupro tees are made from 100% cupro, a fiber made from the waste of the cotton industry. And, while cupro saves a reported 682 gallons of water compared to cotton, the company also pledged to donate 10% of its net profits to Charity Water to offset any water usage that may occur during production.
However, slow fashion that’s also in high demand can lead to stock outages, and Girlfriend Collective doesn’t always have what we want available. We also wish it had a larger selection.
What to buy:
Read more about Girlfriend Collective:
- The internet can’t stop talking about these leggings made of recycled water bottles — and now I understand why
- The athleisure startup that once gave away free leggings over the internet is now making the most comfortable workout shirts — they breathe like cotton but feel like silk
Brands we also recommend
We also considered the following brands for this guide but, for the reasons listed below, didn’t rank them officially. We still recommend them.
OutdoorVoices makes a few of our favorite athleisure items, and they’re another example of a company that does a great job of balancing form and function. Its gear transitions seamlessly from lounging on the couch to rushing through the airport.
But, we’ve had a few misses in the past with OV products (we’re not super fans of the popular Spring Leggings), and its prices are comparable to Patagonia, with a less generous — but pretty standard — return policy.
Tracksmith makes exceptional and versatile running gear — including some of the best temperature-regulating leggings and layers that I’ve tested. But, they tend to be pretty expensive (its Singlet is $65, and Turnover Half Zip are $128), and their running-focused inventory isn’t as diverse as other options on this list.
I count 2XU as the creator of the best and most breathable compressive running tights that I’ve ever found, but its prices are high across categories (the tights go for $120 on Amazon) with few sales, and the company has fewer categories and offerings than other generalist brands.
Janji also makes some of the best workout gear I’ve ever tested — in particular, its short-sleeve T-shirts and windbreaker running jacket. And while the company is running-specific, its gear transitions well to other activities.
But this also means the company doesn’t have a very diverse range of products (though, it’s line continues to expand with new gear every season). Still, I highly recommend shopping here. The company also has a social mission, and while prices on average are a little high, the price-per-wear has been great in our experience.
We loved Alo’s Airlift Leggings in our testing, but we can’t confidently say all of its pieces warrant their relatively high prices — though we’ve already found a handful of standouts. And the company carries less diverse inventory than most of the brands mentioned here.
With just four styles, Everlane’s activewear selection is on the smaller side — so we didn’t give them a top spot on this list. That said, the brand’s Perform Leggings rank as some of the most comfortable leggings we’ve ever worn. They’re on the thinner side, which means they aren’t sturdy enough for high-intensity workouts, but the Perform Leggings are great for yoga and pilates.
ADAY used to be our pick for “best workout clothes you can wear all day.” And while we love the brand’s stylish leggings and tops, the lack of performance styles it offers made it tough to keep on this list. We still highly recommend ADAY, though, especially if you’re looking for the best leggings you can buy.