On I went, out of the wood, passing the man leading without knowing I was going to do so. Flip-flap, flip-flap, jog-trot, jog-trot, curnchslap-crunchslap, across the middle of a broad field again, rhythmically running in my greyhound effortless fashion, knowing I had won the race though it wasn't half over, won it if I wanted it, could go on for ten or fifteen or twenty miles if I had to and drop dead at the finish of it, which would be the same, in the end, as living an honest life like the governor wanted me to. -Alan Sillitoe, "Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner"

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

In defense of the running skirt: it's not about looking good

I'm about to use some bold in a post, so you know I'm serious.

As you know if you've ever seen a picture of me running, I wear running skirts when it's warm out.  Exclusively.  For colder weather I wear tights, but for in-between weather I have a skapri (skirt + capri combo).

It seems to me that quite often I come across the following frequently made argument about the running skirt: "Running is not about looking cute.  Serious runners don't wear running skirts. Running shouldn't be about how you look at all." (For instance, please read this diatribe written by my imaginary internet friend the Angry Runner. Or this piece by Megan from Runner's Kitchen.)
Respectfully, I think this argument is offensive and misses the point.

I don't wear running skirts to look cute.  I wear running skirts because, after years of trying, they are the only thing I can wear in which I will be comfortable. And, as you can read on ESPNW, runners perform better when comfortable. (I do have some problems with that article, beginning with the fact that it's on "ESPNW.")

Running is not about looking cute. Not even maybe. But it has to be about being comfortable.

Let me tell you something: anyone who has made the argument that wearing a running skirt is for the "cuteness factor" is super skinny. Anyone who thinks that running skirts are about vanity hasn't had the experience of buying several pairs of shorts (and, as we know, running shorts can get expensive) only to find that they ride up the minute you start running - and that minute that you start running is also known as "the minute you can't return the shorts anymore." Anyone who has made this argument has never gone on a 5 mile run, only to spend 45 minutes with their hand up their crotch trying to pull down their running shorts as they consistently ride up.

And seriously?  I'm not even that heavy.  I'm just not super skinny.

Yes - a running skirt is ultimately compression shorts with extra fabric on top. Yes, the extra fabric is redundant. But you know what? I like it. I like the way it goes swish swish swish as I run and makes me aware of my speed. I like the fact that I'm not spending a single second thinking about my shorts creeping up or about jackass kids calling me fat, like I fear they would if I wore just compression shorts. My skirts make me feel comfortable. And when I'm comfortable, when I'm not thinking about my clothing, and I can think about things like, you know, running. Tempo runs and strides and long runs and lactate thresholds and other things that are not chafing or "chubrub" or Body Glide.*

Short skirts on construction sites
Maybe, like my blog friend M has argued, this comes down to whether or not you associate skirts with cuteness. I don't. I wear skirts about 95% of the time in my daily life - it's not a Thing, I just prefer them. Wearing a skirt feels comfortable and natural to me. Pants and jeans and shorts feel weird and awkward. Having running shorts bunched up between my legs? Also awkward.

long skirts in Cairo
I may bitch and moan about other runners. I may complain about resolutionists at the gym or about people using my treadmills and hogging my running path or using my pace to time their run/walks during a race, but anyone who chooses to snark out skirt-wearers rather than to encourage people to get out there and run makes me sad. Don't be that guy.**

I don't need to look good when I run.  I run to feel good about myself.  It doesn't make me feel good about myself to judge others for their running attire.

*I've always wondered how many people have accidentally bought Body Glide expecting a personal lubricant.
**But if you run in pants with a zipper or inappropriate shoes or sometimes even yoga pants and if I'm in a bad mood, I will probably snark.

Follow up posts: August 2011 Runner's World, and I (begrudgingly) reconsider even makeup


  1. I was a late skirt convert. I've been wearing spandex shorts for ages, but they weren't always the most comfortable, the only ones I found that would not ride up were from Brazil, at this one place in downtown that sells lycra stuff, and not the best quality (after a few wears, there would always be a hole on the seam and I'd be too lazy to sew it back). Anyway... Then I tried Skirts Sports. OMG! They really DON'T ride up. And they have TWO generous pockets on the legs! My shorts had NONE.

    Do I look cuter while wearing them vs spandex? But of course! But there's also nothing wrong with that: we all buy running shirts on colors we like, no?

    But would I wear them if they weren't the most comfortable thing ever? Heck no! The same way that my cute running shirts that ride up to show my stomach end up getting donated or hanging at the back of my closet... (And the same reason why my super-cute Running Skirts skirt has not left my closet since I wore it the first time and had to reach for my crotch every two minutes.)

  2. You wear skirts because they work for you -- but I know a lot of women who wear them to look cute. One can tell the difference between the functionalists and the fashionistas pretty easily -- hm, guess which one is wearing pink leopard print headbands, makeup and tutus for races? I applaud the former and deride the latter...we can do both, can't we?

    I don't think it means you're not a serious runner, cause you're putting in the work, but it detracts from your performance when people say "oh, a cute-runner." Based on the other aspects of your appearance, I don't know how someone could describe you that way, so F 'em if you think they are.

  3. Yes, Carla, yes, exactly! Of course, I found the Skirt Sports (and you!) through your blog...

    And Kate, are you saying that people can tell looking at me that I'm NOT cute? ;)

    But yeah: a full face of makeup? I'm NOT into that.

  4. I've worked for years in the local running store and learned ages ago that I don't give a sh*t what other people are wearing/doing/eating/drinking/whatever on their runs. While I generally have opinions on these things, as long as they stay out of my way I don't care.

  5. Well, you KNOW I'm with you on this one! And yes, I do wear baggy shorts for shorter runs. It just depends on my mood: as you said: it's all about feeling comfy. And those running skirts, with their handy pockets, make me feel comfortable. Plus, I wear the ones with the bikini brief underneath: it's like running in your undies actually, and I like that. And nope, I'm not going to convert to bike shorts because that's 'what I'm supposed to wear'. Is it that hard for 'the haters' to let us wear whatever we want to wear? For goodness sake (I'm trying not to curse here ;) - see ;)), a marathon hurts enough as it is, please don't make me wear something that's not comfy!

    And: ' I like the way it goes swish swish swish as I run...'; yep, that might have something to do with my skirt crush too. ;)

    +1 on skirthood!


    um, wanna run Thursday at like 6:30? AM?

  7. I just may go try one on this weekend :p I use to have horrible issues with ride up on my shorts until I found Umbros at the thrift store. Eventually, running shorts just started working for me. If anything, I think it's been the makeup + tutu + skirt thing that has me going "Really??" It's not so much that I'm against the actual skirt - maybe just the attitudes that many skirtwearers seem to carry? I dunno. This really is a true existential dilemma :-)

  8. Point taken, but I'd still drink bleach or buy an iphone before ever being caught dead in one of those ugly things. <3

  9. I never understood why some people hate running skirts. If people find them comfortable (or even cute), fine.

    Um, I won't ask why you were climbing on a cannon in Cairo...

  10. re: the cannon. because it was there?

  11. Okay, I'll give the skirts a try. You had me at swish swish swish.

  12. PHOTOS NEEDED. I can loan you a skirt.

  13. all very valid points, my friend! I've never tried a running skirt because it just looks like the extra fabric would be annoying.

    Also, I love that last photo of you!

  14. I love this post. When I woke up this morning and remembered that I have a race tonight, I laid out my race gear. Naturally, building the outfit started with the skirt, specifically a floral Running Skirts skirt with a chocolate brown background. Trust me, chocolate brown floral prints can be cute. And comfortable.

    The real question of course is "Will this cute chocolate brown floral skirt make me fast?". Only time will tell my friend, but I'm biased to "yes indeed".

  15. So the shorts in running skirts don't ride up? After having trouble finding a skirt that fit, I ended up sewing my own over a pair of short tights. It works, but it's the only one I have and it is starting to fall apart.

    I've bought and returned a couple of skirts that didn't seem to fit - I didn't run in them. Does anyone have any specific skirt recommendations?

  16. Skirt sports gym girl ultra. Love it. Swear by it - no ride up. Just bought two on sale from rei this morning!

  17. Hm... According to their size chart I'm a size M at the waits and an XXL at the hip. Which size do I buy? Does it have a drawstring?

  18. Huh. I doubt you're an xxl! I get an l, but I'm fairly even waist to hip. If their exchanges aren't easy, you're welcome to try one of mine on. No drawstring.

  19. Thank you, Tracy! I bought the Gym Girl Ultra from Zappos last August - probably on your recommendation. I got a size L and returned it. Didn't keep track of why exactly it didn't fit.

    I should be getting one from Ella Sports at some point this week. I have high hopes. Can't wear regular shorts and I'm not completely comfortable in tight shorts.

  20. Do people really argue about this? Is it more women or men? I could see men not liking being passed by a girl, but it being worse if the girl was dressed in a skirt (whether it's "cutesy" or not).

    I haven't found a skirt that me right, but I have run in some of the Nike shorts with the briefs (like one person mentioned a skirt with briefs) and I think it rocks for my body and leg shape/size. I could see that if a skirt fit me right, it would feel just as awesome.

    Totally disagree on the "running isn't about looking cute" answer. Don't all of us go and find running clothes that best flatter our bodies? Who really goes out and says "I want to look like crap today"?

    You totally rock the skirt, don't let the haters get you down!! lol ;)

  21. That's a very good point you make, Karen. I guess what I mean is that I don't make it a goal to look cute, per se. But you're definitely right in that cuteness and comfort are intertwined. Like, if I had an amazing shirt/shorts/skirt whatever that felt good on but looked absolutely terrible, I would feel so self-conscious that it wouldn't be comfortable. Still, my appearance threshold is much lower for running clothes than it is for my normal clothes. The "cutest" patterned running skirts that I own I bought solely because they were on sale for cheap.

  22. If the Ella Sports one doesn't work, I might take you up on that offer, Tracy. No drawstring makes me think it probably was too tight around the hips, too big on the waist (story of my bottoms shopping - which is why I learned to do my own alterations) BUT maybe it was not that bad and I was just too upset about having tried the three best ones (as per a Runner's World article) and not having found a single one.

  23. I am afraid my thighs will rub together if I wear one... does that ever happen? I have a Nike one but have only worn it once for a slow short run.

    I found some bermuda length shorts that I wear all summer long because they don't ride up! You see them on me in almost every race. I look like a dork.

    I try to coordinate when I run (meaning, not wear two colors that don't match) but that is about it. It's mostly about comfort for me too.

  24. Kim, I know EXACTLY what you mean. The key is to find one that has compression shorts that are long enough that they don't ride up. The ones I mentioned above (Skirt Sports Gym Girl Ultra) are the ones that Carla and I both swear by. The compression shorts are long enough that they don't ride up on almost anyone.

    I actually like the shorts you wear!

  25. I admit to having the skirt in the picture on Runner's and love it and part of it is the cuteness factor. It happens to match my hot pink Bikiala's I figure I am going to get noticed with those shoes anyway and my husband will put a post race pic on facebook so a cute outfit can't hurt.

  26. Super-late comment here but, um...I run in skirts both because it's comfortable and because I think they're cute. So, I like to look nice. Looking nice makes me comfortable, and it makes me feel good. When I feel good, I run faster. No reason to say people who wear skirts to be cute (in addition to being comfortable, for me) are any less 'right' than you are! In fact, I create outfits when I go running. So sue me. I'm still training to qualify for Boston (so close!), and I can still run a half marathon in 1:39. I'm not slow because I'm cute.

  27. I love your comment, and I agree. For me it's not about looking cute, but if looking cute makes you feel better/run faster, power to you and no judgment here. This whole debate has really made me rethink my feelings on the intersection of fitness and appearance and I think ultimately for me what it comes down to is, in the immortal words of Jersey Shore, "You do you." Thank you.

  28. I too run in skirts and I am a man. The skirts are cool
    and comfortable.

    1. That's AWESOME. Hope to see you at a race sometime!