Athletic women want cute clothes and shoes too!


I woke up this morning to see that about half of my Facebook friends list had fallen into near-religious reverie over a Kickstarter launched by Barbell Denim, a functional clothing line by and for athletes. From the Kickstarter page:

Designed for athletes, these jeans are made to fit comfortably over muscular legs by accommodating your quads and butt without forcing you to buy larger sizes for the small waist you work so hard for.

I was among those in ecstasy.  My quads and glutes are not quite so developed that I require special jeans to accommodate them, but my calves are another story.  I have to tug on my favorite skinny jeans to get them around my calves, and then once they are on, I spend most of the day feeling as though my calves are sausages in a denim casing.  When I bought them everything about them fit perfectly, but now…not so much.  They still look great and I wear them regularly, but it would just be nice if my calves didn’t feel like they were being swallowed by a denim boa constrictor every time I put them on.  I imagine this situation will only continue to intensify the bigger my quads get (which I hope they do).

So when I heard about the Kickstarter, my response was *throws money at computer screen*  Fortunately, it appears as though a lot of other people have also thrown their money at their computer screens, as the Kickstarter raised more than ten times the amount of money the company initially aimed for, which hopefully means these “anti-thigh gap” jeans will be a reality some day soon.

Barbell Denim is stepping in to fill in a gap (no pun intended) that a lot of others have written about.  Sam at Fit, Feminist and Almost Fifty has a post about trying to find clothes to fit her athletic build.  Mother Fitness asked a bunch of high-profile fit ladies for their favorite picks when it comes to jeans for women with dumps like a truck.  Fit and Feminist pal Jen Sinkler posed this question to the Thrive community and community members responded en masse. It’s pretty much well-understood among Iron Ladies that the world of apparel has not quite yet figured out what to do with the fabulousness of our lower halves.

Reading about the response to Barbell Denim made me think about a shoe-shopping trip I took this weekend. Shopping for shoes is about as difficult for me as shopping for clothes of any type. I am six feet tall (which poses its own set of issues whenever I go clothes shopping, as anyone whose body puts them on the tail end of humanity’s various bell curves can attest) and as a result I’ve got some pretty honkin’ feet, which narrows my selection down considerably.

Further compounding the situation is that I’m tired of spending my money on things that don’t fit right or make me feel uncomfortable or look weird on me, which means that I maybe buy about one out of every hundred or so things I try on.  It is a journey on par with the Odyssey.

With shoes, I’ve found that the more I run, the pickier I get about what goes on my feet. (Insert “Clueless” gif here.) Heels that are over an inch in height put weird pressure on my knees and make my arches hurt, which makes it difficult for me to run later in the day.  If the shoe doesn’t have any sort of arch support, I am probably not going to buy it.

I like wearing cute, stylish clothes, but I like being able to walk without suffering even more.  Unfortunately, most shoe makers seem to believe my desire to be pain-free and comfortable means I want to shuffle around in nurse shoes, perhaps with a lovely pair of chartreuse polyester slacks with an elastic waist band that I found in the coupon section of the weekly community newspaper.

Because so few companies provide reasonably stylish shoes that don’t put me on the express train to Foot Pain, pop. me, the companies that DO prioritize comfort without assuming I have the sensibilities of a 93-year-old ALF resident are basically welcome to help themselves to the contents of my bank account.  I am so grateful for the acknowledgement that form and function are not mutually exclusive concepts when it comes to dressing my body that I reward companies that understand this with my hard-earned money.  I understand why so many people were willing to go in on the Barbell Denim Kickstarter, because I do the same thing when it comes to shoe companies.

I think it’s worth noting that the enthusiasm for something like Barbell Denim represents a flipping of the script when it comes to women’s clothing and bodies.  I’ve become quite used to hearing women say they hated their bodies because they would try on an item of clothing and not like the way they looked or felt in it. I used to feel that way too, until I realized I was judging my body according to the standards put forth by a $20 schmatte that had been mass-produced in a sweatshop somewhere in southeast Asia. That makes about as much sense as hanging the Mona Lisa in a garbage-filled alleyway, then deciding the painting is utter shit as a result of its surroundings.

If a piece of clothing doesn’t look good on me – and the truth is that even though I am tall and thin, most clothing doesn’t look good on me at all, especially when it’s cheap fast-fashion – it’s not my body’s fault. Sure, it’s aggravating and inconvenient and sometimes I would like to be able to find a pair of jeans that doesn’t flood without having to try on half the damn store, but it’s not evidence that my body sucks.  It’s just that the clothing doesn’t work for me. I’m not about to stop lifting weights or let my muscles atrophy like that woman in that sad Harper’s Bazaar article just so I can make some clothing fit a little bit better, you know?  And if a pair of shoes makes my feet bleed and gives me hammer toes, I’m not going to have my feet surgically altered so I can wear the shoes.  I’m going to wear different shoes.

It seems like more and more women are understanding that the problem isn’t their bodies but rather with the clothes available for them to put on their bodies.  That’s is what I love about Barbell Denim, as well as all of the other clothing-specific crowdfunded projects I’ve seen lately (and there are a lot of them!) It’s a rejection of the idea that we have to change the body to fit the clothes instead of changing the clothes to fit the body.

The project is not without its issues.  Someone pointed out on the blog’s Facebook page that the leather patch on the back is not vegan-friendly and the size range is still quite limited, which means a lot of athletic women whose bodies do not fit straight sizes will not be able to buy themselves a tricked-out pair of super-stretchy skinny jeans.  But despite these drawbacks, I’m still excited about the project and can’t wait to see how the finished product comes out.


52 responses to “Athletic women want cute clothes and shoes too!

  1. There’s also CocaBang jeans, who make similar stuff. You’re right about the sizes – both brands only go up to a 33″ waist for women, which would be OK for me (just!) but not anyone larger. I think the term “athletic” still means “slim” or “slender”, even if it doesn’t mean skinny or thin. Athletic women can be plus-sized too! But it’s definitely a start – maybe if both brands are successful they’ll branch out into larger sizes.

    • I would love a pair of pants designed to fit the 10″+ difference between my waist and hips, and my muscular thighs! But my waist is 36″, so I guess I’ll have to stick to aggressive belting or learn to sew…

      • Hellooooo curves!

        I keep meaning to learn to sew – I have a sewing machine and everything – but it seems fairly time-consuming. It really does seem like the answer to a lot of clothing woes. Either that or a good relationship with an affordable tailor.

    • I sure hope so!

      I just checked out CocaBang jeans and they look really cool! It’s too bad they are only available in one store in Texas and online, because if I’m going to spend nearly $200 for a pair of jeans I want to make sure they actually fit my gawky ass.

  2. I’ve pretty much given up on pants and only wear skirts or leggings because of this exact issue. Big legs from biking but skinny waist. Now if only somebody could develop a running belt for people with hips and skinny waist. All that I’ve tried just ride up and flop around my torso. I trail run with a small Camelback, but a belt that works would be nice.

    • I started using a Camelback for my long runs because I just can’t bear to wear things around my waist when I run. I don’t know why it bugs me so much, but it does.

      Also my best friend pretty much lives in yoga pants because her glutes are really well developed, and so yoga pants and leggings are the only things that are all that comfortable for her anymore.

  3. But Caitlin, surely calf compression is good for recovery! Especially if you’re wearing them with aforementioned heels! It’s perfect!

  4. Your observation about not getting mad about your body when the clothes don’t fit right is brilliant! Though I’m a guy, I run into since of the same issues, and I’ve never before thought about why I feel just fine in cycling or ballet clothes, which are designed for bodies like mine, but hate myself instead of the pants when I can’t find

    • Ah, well, I wish I could take credit but I know I’ve read/heard that from someone else before! I try to remember that whenever I am particularly frustrated with an item of clothing. I once actually started crying when I tried on a dress and it looked TERRIBLE on me, mainly because it couldn’t really handle my upper body, and later when I told my best friend, she was like, “Dude, it’s a cheap dress that can’t handle your muscles, please do not cry over such things.”

      I try to keep that in mind because it really can be sooo frustrating in the moment.

  5. Sorry, hit “send” by mistake. The rest was:

    … when I can’t find pants for office or other non – athletic purposes that fit. Here’s hoping Barbell thrives and expands its offerings!

  6. I have the same issue with jeans – I have mostly given up on them. I hope this company is successful! As far as shoes, the only heels I will wear are Anyi Lu – $$ but worth it since they last and last, although the styles aren’t for everyone. The designer is an engineer and ballroom dancer, so she takes shoe comfort and design way seriously.

    • I checked out the shoes after reading your comment, and there are some cute pairs! A bit pricey but you are right, if you can afford to pay more now for shoes that last forever, it’s a better decision than buying seventeen pairs of cheap shoes that fall apart in a week.

  7. Let’s discuss in more detail where you are finding comfortable shoes with arch support that are attractive? So far, only my Eccos and Merrell Evera heels really fit the bill. I’m also really prone to blistering and I never want to blister because it means that I have trouble running later.

    • agreed. I get weird foot cramping when I wear heels that are over 1″ but I still strongly desire to not dress like someone who is 50 years older than i actually am.

      • Is it weird cramping in your arch? I get that too and the only thing that makes it go away is either going barefoot or rolling my foot on a golf ball.

      • Yes, it is just as you’ve described. I usually have to press my bare foot down on a flat floor to try and “stretch” the cramp out.

    • So far it’s been Merrells and Naturalizers but I am always on the lookout. I only really started prioritizing my foot health in the last year so I’m a n00b to all of this. I am also considering the possibility of wearing insoles, just to give my arches a break.

      I just bought a pair of Hi-Tec walking sandals that are kinda cute but so hella comfortable that they become cuter just by virtue of making my feet feel good.

    • I was thrilled to find Cobb Hill. They are made by New Balance, the only running shoes that I will wear, and they are comfortable and feminine looking. There aren’t any 6″ stliletos in the collection (which is fine with me), but there are some really cute pumps and sandals. They also come in more than one width. Love them!

  8. Am I just reading this wrong, but on the sizing, they say “order your waist measurement” but then they say that the jeans sit on your hips? So…. do I measure my hips or my waist? That confusion aside, I WANT THESE. At least, given that I can fit my hips into them.

    • Hmmmm…good observation. Maybe they mean the jeans are low-rise so they sit on your hips? Maybe once they actually launch they can clarify this further.

    • Ugh, that must be so frustrating! I like a slim silhouette with my clothes, and when the bottoms are that big around my hips or my thighs it really ruins the effect I’m going for.

  9. Oh, and I’m super psyched about the pants. I have a 32″ waist and 43″ hips, and have always carried more weight in my legs. I was worried that the Realm of Pants would close forever once I started squatting. There’s still hope!

    • Another commenter also mentioned CocaBang jeans! They are pricey but American-made and they might work for you if you can spare the $$$.

  10. Such a great article! I was just having a conversation the other day about how women are socialized to believe that when an item of clothing doesn’t fit them or look right that it’s their fault, so I’m really glad you made this same point. The reality is women are expected to fit in awfully made clothing whereas men’s sizes are far more standardized as well as suitable for tailoring.

    • Your comment makes me wish I knew more about clothing, specifically how it is constructed and such. I read some but don’t know a lot, like I didn’t realize that men’s clothes were better suited for tailoring than women’s. Does it have to do with detailing? A lack of extra fabric?

    • Dude, I would if they didn’t make my feet feel like someone had run over them with a tractor trailer. It’s fun to be super tall, but not fun to limp around later on because my feet are bleeding. :/

  11. I had to start buying jeans a waist size up whenever my lifting got serious. Since I wear my jeans a few times between washes, it means extra bad gapping, and that they sort of…slide down? until they hit my butt/thighs, once the denim gets a bit stretched. The only ones I’ve found that stay put and fit are Levi’s Curvy Cut line.

    • Levi’s Curvy Cut sounds like it would be a more affordable option compared to some of these smaller boutique denim lines.

      • I have one pair that I got at a secondhand store (I am a hopeless miser). They’re skinnies and so far I really like them. My calves still feel like denim encased sausages, but I think that’s going to happen regardless. But they’ve worn well between washes.

    • I just discovered Levi’s Curvy Cut line, and am even wearing a pair right now. They have become my go-to jeans. I hate sitting down or bending over and having a huge gap of denim on my lower back.

  12. Oh my word. Yes. Please.
    And please add a 36in leg too?

    I don’t consider myself very athletic but I do have that build and the clothes problem gets worse when I do manage to be ‘athletic’.

    Having your jeans pulled down by your monster thighs (don’t mess with them!) because the jeans are made for someone else is horrible!! On the up side: I can use the leftover space in the waist as a hand bag.

  13. Thanks for letting us know about the campaign–I hadn’t seen it. Definitely agree, it would be great. Since I started lifting weights, things have definitely shifted. In my shoulders and how my shirts fit, and definitely pants. I think half my self-esteem problems come from the fact clothing doesn’t fit right, and even though I know this, I still battle looking in the mirror and cursing where my expensive jeans used to look good, but now show muffin top, or have even ripped (ugh!) because my legs have become bigger from all those squats I do. You just think you are big when you aren’t. Anyway, will check out that campaign!

    • Yep, as I mentioned in another comment elsewhere, I’ve had similar issues and I have to deliberately remind myself that the problem isn’t with my body. Like, I remember searching for a strapless dress to wear to a holiday party and not being able to zip any of the dresses up my back because my back was too muscular (even though the dress fit perfectly everywhere else). It was frustrating but I love having a strong back and the idea of letting it deflate so I could wear a dress is so depressing to me! Even more depressing than not being able to wear the dress in the first place!

  14. Hey great article !
    My girlfriend has the same problem with jeans. I like the idea and i’m not the only since the goal was $15,000 and now the project has $280,322.

  15. “Calf sausages”– great description! That’s what I get when I try to put on skinny jeans. I’ve been relegated to boot cut, even though I haven’t worn boots since my 8 year old cowgirl fantasy period.

    Totally off topic, but can’t find an email address–I’d love to do a very brief interview of you over at Cranky Fitness (3 Annoying Questions, to be exact). I suspect you are way too busy, but my readers (all 3 of them) would love it. (You can email crabby mcslacker at gmail dot com).

    But no worries if that sounds totally unappealing, just thought I’d ask!

  16. This is interesting… I’ve also noticed that the more fit I’ve gotten the less tolerant I am to wearing heels. I used to prance around in them all day like it was nothing, and now I get them off my feet ASAP, and I no longer wear them for anything but work and formal events. I’ve never heard anyone else mention this before.
    I’m all for the jeans, my only beef is that even though I’m a total meathead, I’m not sure I want a picture of a barbell plastered on my butt. If I wanted my outfit to scream “I work out!!” I’d just wear spandex. If I go through the trouble of putting on jeans it’s because it’s one of those rare moments where I want to look like a normal human, not a gym rat.

    • LOL! Yes, I’m sure that your incredibly cut arms do more than enough to communicate your gym rat-hood to the whole world. No need to make it blatant, and on your butt of all places.

      I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who is less and less capable of dealing with heels the more I get into fitness. I wore them for my work Christmas party and that was about it. I love the feeling of REALLY towering over people when I wear them, but sheesh, they just bug me way too much. I will settle for merely towering over people instead of REALLY towering over them. 🙂

  17. I’m a huge, huge fan of Kuhl’s pants. They’re comfortable and look good and they fit my running/climbing/hiking/yoga thighs. I can do yoga or go for a run in some styles, and others are great for hiking. And I can wear them to the grocery store without feeling like I’m disappointing my grandmother.

    (Pants seem to be in the air. So to speak. I was just raving about the Kuhl pants on twitter yesterday.)

    Fluevog and Dansko make great, durable, comfortable, good looking shoes. They cost a mint, but are worth every penny.

  18. While we are at it, could someone PLEASE make a boot that fits over my calves. I live in a very hilly area, and since I have started cycling, not only are my old boots too tight, but I can’t find a replacement. 14″ is not wide calf.

  19. I am happy to hear that women are now starting to blame clothes instead of themselves for things not fitting correctly. Athletic women do have a more difficult time finding clothes to fit their muscular bodies and they shouldn’t be ashamed of that.

    Glad to know that there is a company out there attempting to create a clothing line to fit the muscular build of an athletic woman.

  20. Pingback: Great Fit And Cute·

  21. Maybe I’m missing something really obvious, but where does this difficulty finding clothes to fit muscles fit with “You won’t bulk up if you lift heavy things”? Serious question.
    Love your blog, by the way. I’ve read most of it in the last few days.

    • That’s a good question! I think that part of it is that clothes don’t tend to be cut for bodies with bigger quads and smaller waists, which is what has happened to a lot of us. It’s like the assumption is that if your quads are bigger, your waist is bigger too, so a lot of women who squat heavy will end up with pants that gap around the waist. It’s mostly a matter of proportions.

      That said, I’ve stopped with the whole “you won’t bulk up if you lift heavy!” stuff. Yes, it’s harder for women to put on muscle than it is for men, and women who want to put on serious muscle have to work really hard and dial in their nutrition in specific ways, but I also will say that my muscles have gotten bigger because of lifting and I like that they have! I would be sad if I didn’t see gains in strength or in definition after lifting as much as I do. I do think the “women won’t bulk up” thing is sort of a well-intentioned means of helping ease any fears non-lifting women have about instantly turning into Arnold lookalikes, but I don’t know if I would particularly make that argument myself anymore (even though I have in the past).

  22. Hi Caitlin! I just found you, your blog, and this post (via Jen Sinkler’s site) and I have to give a big and resounding YES to everything you say here! I actually bought a pair of the jeans, haven’t received them just yet, and we’ll see how the fit goes! Mostly, it’s your message about the negative feelings and self- talk we women can engage in when faced with the fact that we don’t fit in what’s on the rack that is my personal mission. Been there, done that! In addition to changing my mindset about it, I am actually creating a new clothing line focused on designing/constructing “real clothes” for really fit women! I’m starting with tops – a blouse, specifically – because I would get so upset trying to fit my shoulders into anything professional and appropriate for work that actually then fit the rest of my body. Definitely looking toward creating an entire line, including pants (cause I know that is a huge deal for most, if not all, of us) and I hadn’t even thought of shoes, but who knows!! LOL. Beyond just starting a business, though, my mission is really to enable women to wear their confidence outside the gym as well as in…to create an alternative to the current “either/or” – either I’m super fit and healthy or I can find stylish clothes that fit my body. Check it out, if you are interested,

    Thank you for what you’re doing and keep up the awesome work! You definitely have a new fan here!!

    • Hi Caroline, thanks for the kind words! I’m checking out your site right now, as I’m definitely interested in what you are doing. I signed up for your newsletter and look forward to seeing what products you put out there!

  23. Am I missing something here? It looks just like the regular kind of too-tight pants for women.

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