06/27/2012 10:08 pm ET Updated Oct 11, 2012

When Did Workout Clothes Become So Sexy? (PHOTOS)

Anyone who has ever participated in an athletic event will back me up when I say that participating is only part of the reward -- the free t-shirt is the other part. I'm not exactly what one would call a thrifty shopper; I do love my designers. But I also love flaunting my event t-shirts: I wear them like a badge of honor. The older they are and the more "vintage" they look, the more proud I am. So, after my last son was born and I had milked the no-exercise-for-six-weeks rule, it was time to get back to my pre-baby marathon routine.

Normally, I would throw on a sports bra, old tank top and shorts. Hitting the pavement in Florida is not the time to dress to impress. As a matter a fact, within moments of stepping outside you look like you have been swimming in a pool of sweat. Furthermore my lack of motivation coupled with my three young children who want to run, bike, skip, and/or keep me company on my run, led me to start training at the local gym. (Truth be told, for the hour I run, I strive to be as unreachable as possible -- I completely exit mommy-mode.)

I didn't give my attire much thought as I prepared for my run. Nothing would be more suitable than my 2006 New York Marathon t-shirt. I waved goodbye and was happily on my way.

I walked in and got serious right away. Headphones and water in place, I ran for the next 45 minutes without looking up. I did notice that the gym was busy, the treadmills were in good condition and that the people all around me looked "attractive." But between trying to catch my breath and promising my husband I'd be home in an hour, I didn't give the people or the ambiance much thought.

This all changed, however, as I began my cool-down. I looked around me and couldn't believe it -- the gal pals walking (at a very slow pace) looked flawless ... and decked out. The clothes looked like something I might wear out on the town. I quickly became hyper-sensitive about my own appearance: My sloppy t-shirt and sweaty face weren't quite the badge of honor I had originally envisioned.

The women hanging out by the smoothie bar also looked impeccable. They wore similar outfits to the ladies on the treadmills. In fact, there seemed to be a dress code that I wasn't aware of: tight black pants and form-fitting tops. Nary a pair of sweats to be seen. Instead, Lululemon, Athletica and Nike seemed to be sponsoring this particular gym. The more time I spent there, the more I realized that a) everyone's idea of working out is different, and b) it felt like a fashion show. If half the battle really was showing up, then most of these gym-goers were doing just fine.

I later came to realize that many of the familiar faces at the school drop-off were the same faces (and outfits) that I had seen at the gym. In fact, it became apparent that the pickup crowd came straight from the gym, in their workout clothes.

Although I have decided to return to my old stomping grounds (i.e. the neighborhood roads), I am thankful for the time I spent at the gym. I never imagined that workout fashion could have such a "cultish" following. I now know what's hot and what's not at the gym. That said, I wouldn't trade my miles of peace and quiet, endorphins or sweat for stylish gym clothes. However, I'm never one to turn down a good look, and I may just have to buy some of this workout gear come fall -- just in time for the new school year.

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When Did Workout Clothes Become So Sexy?