How to be comfortable running in public: part 3

Running clothes

On a Saturday morning run, I passed two ladies running together.  They were both wearing three-quarter-length tights and brightly-colored long-sleeved tech tees.  This, if you want to know, is practically the official uniform for women out running in weather under 45 degrees.

It’s not what I was wearing, mind you.  Not even close.  I don’t dress that well for a runner, so maybe it seems as if I shouldn’t be giving advice.  But.  I don’t fail to wear the “right” things because I don’t know what they are.  It’s because I’m cheap and I don’t care.  But I am observant, and I know what clothes would be right to buy, if I were thinking of buying any.  So I’m just going to forge ahead and give my advice.

I may have already made it clear that I don’t consider it important to wear stylish running clothes, but I think that if I were a beginner, and I felt self-conscious, having the right clothes might make me feel better.  It might be worth spending a little bit of money to get clothes I felt comfortable in, physically and mentally.

Leaving aside the whole question of shoes, here’s what you need.  In the summer, you need shorts and a shirt.  In cooler weather, you will want tights or capris, gloves, a hat, and a jacket, as well as a long-sleeved shirt.  Socks under all circumstances.

Short-sleeved shirts

Until two years ago, I always ran in cotton t-shirts.  Sometimes I still do, and I really think it’s fine.  One of the major benefits is that it lowers expectations.  No one expects you to be fast if you’re wearing an old souvenir t-shirt.  On the other hand, if you want to look a little nicer, you may want to try a shirt made of moisture-wicking, “technical” fabric.

Tech tees are widely considered more comfortable than cotton because they wick sweat away from your body.  (This is especially important in cold weather; if you sweat while you’re cold, and you can’t stay dry because your cotton shirt is stuck all over you, you may develop hypothermia.  If you wear a long-sleeved shirt in the winter, it or any shirt you wear underneath it should be a tech tee.)  It took me a while to get used to my first short-sleeved tech tee, but now I find it more comfortable than my cotton shirts, and it is significantly prettier, which I was sure I didn’t care about, but of course I really do.

Tech tees are more expensive upfront, but they last a lot longer than cotton.  In fact, although they are indeed much more comfortable than cotton shirts, I consider longevity their primary advantage.  They are typically made of polyester, or polyester and spandex, but I have also seen special “moisture-wicking” cotton, which sounds weird to me, but they are cheaper, so if they work, that might be a good option.  A polyester tech tee can be worn multiple times before you wash it, and you have to wash it in cold water and let it air dry, so it lasts a long time.  Cotton must be laundered more frequently and aggressively, so it gets worn out sooner.  If you want to wash your tech tee after each run, you may, and it will be dry by the time you need it.  These shirts are very durable.  My tech tee is two years old, I wear it on nearly every run, and it is still in very good condition.

If you have the money to try a technical fabric shirt, only buy one at first (or, one long-sleeved and one short-sleeved, if you like).  You will probably love it, but you don’t really need more than one.  If you plan to begin racing, you may not need to buy a tech shirt at all.  Many races are now giving them away as part of your race fees.  They used to give out cotton shirts, but fewer runners wear those now.  My tech tee was a birthday gift.


You definitely don’t want to wear cotton shorts.  Cotton shorts will get soaked and become clingy.  And then they’ll chafe.  And it will hurt.  If you can’t afford to try a technical shirt, definitely try the shorts as soon as you can.  All the same advantages (comfortable, quick-drying, long-lasting, better looking) apply.

The shorts can be of whatever length makes you comfortable.  There is no need to wear super short shorts.  I prefer mine a little longer.  There are also running skirts, which I’ve never tried.  I suspect I would feel conspicuous in a running skirt.

Pants, Tights, Capris, Jackets, Gloves, Hats, and Socks

Obviously, there’s a lot more I could say about running gear.  I may address these last items another time.  In general, the same principle applies to all your running gear: technical fabrics and nice but not necessary; focus first on your health and safety (so, don’t forgo socks just because you don’t have the “right” ones, and don’t allow yourself to get wet in the winter), and then take whatever measures you must to make yourself mentally and physically comfortable, as long as you can afford it.

If you feel really uneasy about your appearance, and you think wearing some of these “technical” clothes would make you feel better, it’s not totally frivolous to buy an item or two.  They have real advantages beyond just looking good.  On the other hand, if you’re comfortable in cotton, keep wearing it and don’t worry — you’re not the only one.

Leave a comment


  1. Kimberly

     /  6 November, 2011

    The problem is, it’s not the clothes, or even what (I imagine) other people are thinking of me that hold me back (not that this series isn’t interesting, because I do enjoy it)…it’s the running. The unpleasantness of running. And the running. Got anything for that?

  1. But what if I hate running? | Repetition Is Key

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