5 life hacks for your athletic wear

life hack
All illustrations by Ken Fukuda.

First things first: I’m the consignment queen. The thrift store lurker. If they’re funky enough, I have no problem wearing someone’s old shoes. I will gladly buy a $2 jacket and cut off the sleeves into the vest of my dreams. I love to scout the stuff. I prefer to make it my own.

Athletic wear, especially the close-fitting kind, doesn’t often hold together enough to buy used. Plus, no matter how many times you shampoo someone’s sweated-in stretch pants, there’s slightly more of a yuck factor that you just can’t wash away. So what’s a cheapskate, cross-training gal to do when it comes to finding all the right clothing combinations necessary for all the sports endeavors I’m involved in?

Life hack it.

Over the years, I’ve chopped legs, re-envisioned arms, sewn stragglers, rocked the hand-me-downs, turned stuff inside out and upside down, made a fashion statement, and generally considered how to put once expensive exercise outfits to good re-use. Because running and biking are my go-tos, I tend over-trend in hack-ablity of these specific sports; however, I think you’ll find some of these ideas (or general mindset) will translate to a variety of athletic pursuits. Here are some of my favorites:

The hand-me-over

My husband bikes. Friends with more disposable income run. Just as I enjoy passing on clothes and gear to others who can use it better, the karma seems to come back. I am often a willing, cheerful recipient of others’ “it’s too tight in the tummy” tank tops or x-small menswear items, or old layers for which I have other intentions. These items I take appreciatively, at face value, determining their fate at a later date. Sometimes I cut the sleeves off old bike jerseys and make a raggedy-cool tank that still has all the pockets I need, but leaves me free from armband restrictions or unsightly farmer tan lines. Often I find that even a “larger” men’s jersey drapes better this way anyway. If the shoulder hole leaves me too exposed, I rock a sports bra in a fun color or add a thin tank beneath.


The tweener knee-high

Mountain biking is fun because there’s an independent fashion element to it. And really anything goes these days. Perhaps to distinguish themselves from the spandex-tight road riders, many mountain riders are wearing longer, full-coverage pocket shorts in all styles. With this trend comes the inevitable sock choice, which has also gone to the shin-grazing length of late. I take this to a new level of panache with some ridiculous, and ridiculously cheap, knee-highs from Target’s “tweener” aisle. I stock these in bright pink and purple stripes and blue heart-shaped polka dots. The faux pas is they’re cotton—read: old-school, non-wicking—but they do the job of keeping my calves warm on fall days, as mud guards on a particularly nasty trail, and a general conversation starter. Some I wear as a full sock; others I carefully cut the feet off and wear as a retro yet versatile leg warmer.

bike jersey

The chopping block

Ah, do I love a good pair of scissors when it comes to refashioning old athletic wear. And I mean that literally. The previous owner of our home left behind a razor-sharp pair of sewing scissors, and these choppers can really cut loose. With the Mack-daddy of dicers I shorten sleeves, re-craft leggings into shorts, and turn the scraps into headbands, sweat rags, and other strange outdoor sports-related accouterments. I recently found a 15-year-old pair of Lucy yoga pants buried under a mound of other black pants. They cost a pretty penny and were made of a sweet stretchy blend, but they never fit right. Further and further they sank into the cabinet of outdoor clothes. In an adrenaline-rush moment, I recently reinvented them. I’d been pining for a nice straight-leg pair of above-the-knee mountain bike shorts to go over my old padded liners. So I hacked those flare-leg pants off, tested them over the spandex I no longer wanted to wear on the outside, and, ta-dah, a well-fitting combo came to life—for free.

The remnant bin

Like digging through racks of used clothes, I enjoy the hunt for fabric scraps that will serve multiple purposes. At the fabric store, I head for the remnant area, where I typically can scare up some fun, colorful stretchy materials. If not, I head to the athletic fabric aisle and find some sale bolts. To create a custom-fit “buff” (you know those multi-purpose headband-neck gaiter-sweat stoppers they sell for $20), buy a fourth of a yard of fabric (the cutting ladies will love you) of your favorite textile. Look for fabrics that won’t fray when you trim them (most stretchy types comply) as to avoid having to actually sew the buff, and simply cut a long, wide rectangle that tapers toward the end for easy tying. I have these in every stripe, swirl and color of the rainbow. And rather owning one buff I have to remember to wash, I have 10 that I can slowly cycle through.


The multi-repurpose

One impetus for this repurposing obsession is I dislike doing laundry. I’d rather have a bunch of multi-purpose options and layers that I can assemble for a bike ride, run, swim, or snowboard adventure, in various Colorado weather conditions, without having to stress about whether my favorite $90 Lululemon leggings (yes, I buy the Kool-Aid every few years) are in the dirty bin. In fact, when I do get to wear those buttery-soft favorites, they feel that much more special—and last that much longer. Here are some of my recent repurposes:

  • Using an old, hard plastic sunglass case to protect my precious swim goggles, which once they get squished in my gym bag no longer seal properly and require buying yet another pair.
  • Wearing a full-coverage, well-padded, halter-style Prana bathing suit top for a hot yoga session. Why not?
  • Using my Manduka eQua microfiber, stink-busting yoga towel for my in-between swim practices. I hear it triples as a meditation “shawl.” Like it even more.
  • Using a metal cutter to sever weird securing rings on a pair of bikini bottoms that I loved the fit of but hated how they were held together. I then secured the side panels together with a couple of other swimsuit-fabric ties.
  • Envisioning re-using my super-soft, organic-cotton Gaiam full-length Flow leggings as skivvies under my snowboard pants. I’ve worn the same pair of hand-me-down, fleece “floods” for the last decade. I think it’s time.
  • Layering a shrunken tank top, complete with a cheesy mesh race-number holder, from the old triathlon competition days as the perfect core-warming (and thankfully hidden) base piece for cooler fall rides.

Got some clever hacks or re-use ideas of your own? Tell us about them.

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