Why Are Running Skirts a Thing?

They’re donned by runners in every race, but we still don’t understand the hype.

For the past few years, women wearing running skirts have become a popular sight along race courses. Photograph by Kelci House.

There used to be a time when working out in my ratty high school T-shirt was okay. Baggy college sweatpants were my life, and my running shoes were just plain old smelly sneakers.

But somewhere down the road, the fitness clothing industry stepped up its game. Sweatpants became $60-plus running Spandex, shoes became fashion statements, and cotton T-shirts became sweat-wicking wonders.

Even I have to admit that eventually I fell prey to the onslaught of beautiful workout clothes. I pushed my sweatpants to the bottom of my drawer and ditched my T-shirts with holes in the armpits for neon-colored tech T-shirts and tanks.

But there’s one trend I’ve held out on: running skirts.

They’ve long been rocked by field hockey and tennis athletes (think the Williams sisters), and, to be fair, women have been running in skirts since ancient Greece, when the dress-wearing huntress Atalanta said she’d only marry a man who could beat her in a race. But why, eons later, have so many women returned to the running skirt?

My curiosity was piqued at this year’s Cherry Blossom Ten-Miler, where my runningmates and I counted 40-some running skirts surrounding us in our corral alone; the number only increased along the course. I didn’t understand, especially when I saw women wearing long Spandex underneath them. Why try to add extra flair to an outfit when you’re about to run ten miles and look a hot mess anyway? I’d always put wearing a running skirt in the same boat as wearing makeup or leaving your hair down during a workout.

Clearly, I was missing something. So I tried one on at a local fitness clothing store to find out what all the fuss was about, hoping my life would change as soon as I slipped one on. The built-in Spandex shorts underneath the skirt were extremely comfortable, but as I jogged in place in the dressing room, the skirt kept brushing against my thighs. Too distracting. I would rather have worn just the Spandex. Plus the skirt made me look like a 12-year-old.

A call-out on Twitter confirmed my suspicions. Various responses piled in regarding running skirts, ranging from “I don’t understand running skirts” to “I can’t take myself seriously to wear them to the gym” to “I think they kind of get in the way” to finally “I own three. Never seem to wear them for anything athletic.”

Even the folks at Lululemon say they’re not for everyone. Some women just feel more comfortable wearing the skirt versus Spandex, community relations manager Amanda Casgar said. While she couldn’t offer any hard numbers comparing their running shorts to skirts, Casgar said “running skirts are definitely one of our guests’ favorite products,” especially in regions that experience warmer climates year-round.

But the mystery of the running skirt remains. So do me a favor, dear readers: If you’re a running skirt supporter, share your thoughts below. What are us shorts-lovin’ folks missing out on?