Whether you’re taking a HIIT, spin or running class, the material and unique design of your workout clothes should do much more than just make you stand out in a room of Sweaty Bettys. Thankfully these days, you have a plethora of activewear choices that aim to boost your performance, right along with your style game. With the right gear, you can jump, pedal, sprint and twirl comfortably, without having to fuss over your outfit.
That’s thanks to improved fabric technology, which includes everything from microscopic jade to gold and silver particles to wood pulp. These special materials not only keep you cool (in temperature and look), they also provide antimicrobial benefits and help protect your skin from outdoor elements and annoyances (hello chafing). Activewear brands are also getting smarter about their stitching, using softer threads and knits to allow for better airflow.
As the weather (and your body) heats up, you’ll want to keep things light. So opt for these materials the next time you treat yo’self to a new workout outfit.
RELATED: 11 Leggings Under $50 You’ll Want to Live In
5 Fabrics That Upgrade Your Workout Clothes
1. Gold and Silver
When it comes to workout clothes that last through sweat fests, you’ll want the gold standard. That is, gear that’s infused with gold and silver particles. Rhone’s latest fabric includes these metals within the threads, which help fight off odor and sweat stains better than the average anti-stink treatment. Kyle McClure, Rhone’s creative director, says, “The marriage of gold and silver creates a force field of sorts, locking the technology into the fabric and keeping odor out.” In addition to their stench-squashing benefits, gold and silver have some antimicrobial properties. Studies have shown that silver nanoparticles in clothing can help prevent harmful bacteria from reaching your body. Hard pass on those.
You might be familiar with jade in jewelry. The green-hued gemstone represents luck in Chinese culture and is often associated with positive vibes. But the popular rock isn’t just for peace of mind. Jamie Hunt, founder of 2XU, says the brand embeds microscopic jade into fabric to dissipate heat and cool your skin. This allows it to help lower your body temperature. “Jade has very low thermal conductivity, meaning it absorbs heat very slowly and would take a long time to warm up even in hot conditions,” Hunt explains. So fabric featuring jade can remain cool, relative to your body, for an extended period of time.
2XU isn’t the only brand that has cashed in on jade. Duluth’s Armachillo performance knit shirts are built with microscopic jade and spandex knit fabric to help fight odor and provide breathability. Their long-sleeve performance shirts are perfect for hiking, camping and other outdoor activity.
RELATED: Our Favorite Running Gear Under $40
3. Pima Cotton
Wearing a cotton shirt to your spin class might sound like a bad idea, but the pima kind has a longer fiber length, is more durable and feels more luxurious (and lighter!) than the regular strands, McClure says. (Think Egyptian cotton bed sheets, but softer and more absorbent.) “Its strength and uniformity combined with a fineness creates a stronger, more durable and softer fabric. For a person looking for a natural fiber workout shirt of the cotton variety, nothing is better,” McClure adds.
Brands like Rhone and Lululemon use pima in their workout clothing because it’s known to absorb more odor-causing bacteria than polyester. Lululemon also has a lightweight pima blend, made with Lycra, that’s ideal for hot yoga. The super soft, moisture-wicking material makes downward dogging in 100-degree temps much more comfy.
File this under things you definitely wouldn’t expect in your gym clothes. Tencel is made from wood pulp, which has tiny fibers that give it its sweat-wicking abilities. But unlike other brands, Nau infuses its Tencel Sun fabrics with pulp from sustainably grown eucalyptus trees. Courtney Merritt, Nau’s materials manager, says, “The process for making the eucalyptus into fiber is a closed loop, meaning solvents are almost 100 percent recycled in the process, reducing harmful waste.”
Aside from its eco-friendly benefits, what makes Tencel a unique performance fabric is its ability to help regulate your body temperature by controlling how much moisture you absorb. “The hairs [in Tencel] create channels between the fibrils that are perfect for moisture to travel through and spread out over more surface area. This in turn regulates the absorption of moisture, making it super-quick to dry,” Merritt explains.
Working out outdoors? A study shows that fabrics treated with Tencel provide an added layer of sunscreen. So sport Nau’s new UPF 30-50 Tencel Sun and you’ll get a shield from harmful rays. Sun burns, be damned.
RELATED: The 9 Best Sports Bras to Withstand Any Workout
When your clothes start to smell, it’s usually a sign bacteria is present. Sweat is naturally odorless, but when it’s mixed with the fibers in fabric, it can create a stench. Polygiene prevents this from happening, thanks to the silver chloride’s natural antimicrobial properties, which are only active in the actual fabric. (Translation: It won’t affect the natural bacterial flora of the skin.) Brands like Athleta, Adidas and RYU apparel use polygiene in their performance fabrics so you stay smelling fresh for longer — even after several wears and washes.