Fitness Shopping in Manhattan: Weird & Wonderful

bandier

Manhattanites have a tendency to over-luxuriate and obsessively index everything. For example, the way we freak out about exotic food. If you need cheese for a dinner party, you’ll have 250+ varieties to choose from. If you want a particular wine, you can select your sauce down to the grape, the year and the type of fertilizer used on the vine (probably).

So when New Yorkers do fitness, they obsess — down to the kind of leggings they’ll wear. Fitness gear has become such a huge business, there is a store for every type of aesthetic: goth, “hot mom,” hipster, retro.

There’s boutique fitness and then there’s fitness boutiques — and I’ve toured a huge sampling of the latter. Here are some of my observations. (PS: If you want to know your workout style, here’s a quiz, although I disagreed with my “Outdoor Girl” result.)

Outdoor Voices

The monochromatic mood at Outdoor Voices.
The monochromatic mood at Outdoor Voices.

Outdoor Voices is fitness clothes for minimalists. The logo is san serif. The clothes are in calming, pacific tones of blue and blue-green. The Soho storefront is filled with vintage workout equipment, including foam pillows that look like The Liberator.

The brand itself isn’t very sporty. It bills itself as “Technical Apparel for Recreation,” which is a pretentious way of saying you can sweat in these clothes without racking up a dry cleaning bill.

When I visited the shop over the weekend, I was struck by the fact that most of the items seemed to be made from cotton, which is the last thing I want to wear during a sweaty workout. (Cotton tends to get soaked when you sweat, which turns into a freezing mess during wintertime walks back from the gym.) I prefer a little more function, personally.

ovleggings

The workout venues for an Outdoors Voices customer are deliberately non-intimidating in their marketing copy: Paths, Streets, Fields, Lakes, Beaches. I suspect that is because the average Outdoor Voices customer isn’t a gym rat — she’s a cerebral yoga fan who secretly harbors fantasies of writing the next great version of Eat Pray Love. (Sounds pretty good to me, actually.)

Some of the vintage health & wellness books available at Outdoor Voices.
Some of the vintage health & wellness books available at Outdoor Voices.

While I didn’t love any of the clothes, I admired the commitment to the brand’s aesthetic. Added bonus: There’s a table covered in vintage health books, including The Jane Fonda Workout Book! Of course, they’re selling it for nearly $50 when you can buy it on eBay for $4. (Sigh.)

Bandier

Bandier is one of my favorite stores for workout wear.
Bandier is one of my favorite stores for workout wear.

If Outdoor Voices is normcore, Bandier is Britney Spears circa 1999.

It’s neon. It’s sexy. It’s trendy and fun. It can also be expensive — some leggings (like these camo ones) run more than $200.

But there are plenty of moderately priced items, too — like these capris for less than $50. If you only could buy one item, I’d recommend pants, which often come with edgy details like mesh cut-outs and wild patterns.

These Koral Leggings are available at Bandier.
These Koral Leggings are available at Bandier for $130.

Their strongest category is bottoms, thanks to the custom patterns and fabrications they’ve commissioned from brands like Ultracor, Wear It To Heart (With) and Human Performance Engineering (HPE).

Edgy tights from Bandier.
Edgy tights from Bandier.

Bandier is where you go to get something special, fashion-forward and a little flashy. Added bonus? You’ll be guaranteed to look different from every other girl decked out in Lululemon. (Although I like Lululemon plenty, its ubiquity in the NYC gym scene is a little unsettling.)

Exhale Mind Body Spa

Exhale's Flatiron location is where I buy 90% of my workout wardrobe.
Exhale’s Flatiron location is where I buy 90% of my workout wardrobe.

I know this last section is probably cheating, since Exhale is a boutique gym, NOT a retail store. That said, I have probably bought 90% of my workout gear in the lobby of the Exhale in the Flatiron district — the stuff is just THAT good.

There are three reasons why Exhale has my favorite selection of workout gear.

  1. The buyer has crafted a thoughtful mix of performance and lifestyle clothes. Nothing is basic (think: strappy and sparkly), but almost all of it is functional in a seriously sweaty workout.
  2. There is almost always a special sale (especially on holidays, when traffic in the studio is lighter).
  3. None of it is branded with the Exhale logo. This is incredibly rare in the boutique fitness world, but it demonstrates that Exhale is serious about creating a curated retail experience. (While other gyms just want to turn you into a walking advertisement.)
This top by Spiritual Gangster is one of the items available at Exhale.
This top by Spiritual Gangster is one of the items available at Exhale.

Where do you shop for our fitness gear? Online? At the gym gift shop? I’d love to hear about your favorite stores and brands!