Fashion, Shopping Guides

Activewear for petites: Working out while short



In 2020, the year of COVID, we’ve all been stuck at home. The gyms are closed, we can’t go anywhere, so we bake bread, sit on the couch, and binge-watch old episodes of the Great British Bakeoff. And this holiday season, since we can’t see our family or friends, we all seem to have replaced gatherings with contactless dropoffs of baked goods.

All that to say, if you’re like me, you might be making some New Year’s resolutions around working out and losing those extra few pounds. Which is why I felt like it would be a good time for a post about petite-friendly activewear that fits our shorter bodies. Especially for those of us doing our best to work out at home during the pandemic, crammed into small apartment spaces and hoping not to piss off our downstairs neighbours too much while jumping around.

As petites, most of us know that the struggle to find well fitting activewear is real. The challenges we have include:

  • Workout tanks and tops that fit like dresses
  • Too-low necklines and armholes
  • Crop pants that fit like full length pants
  • Full-length pants that drag on the floor

Most of the mainstream brands don’t carry much of anything for petites. At most, you may find shorter or cropped-length leggings or pants from some mainstream brands. Some, like Lululemon, will hem regular-length items, but that doesn’t do much for other proportions. Actual petite-friendly tops, tanks, tees and jackets are almost impossible to find, except at a few very select brands.

Here are a few stores that carry petite-friendly activewear:

(Canadian retailers that used to carry petite activewear and no longer do so include MEC, Winners and Reitmans. MEC in particular was a heavy blow, since it used to be my go-to place to buy everything from ski base layers to hiking gear. However, it’s worth noting that post-pandemic, many of these companies have been sold or entered receivership. The post-COVID shopping landscape will look very different for sure.)

Anyway, here’s a roundup of some of the items in my activewear collection. Some are currently available and others are from past seasons, but if you’re reading this looking for places to shop, this should hopefully give you a starting point.


Short-Sleeved Tops | Long-Sleeved Tops | Jackets | Leggings


Petite activewear roundup

Short-sleeved tops

I generally prefer workout tees with sleeves to tank tops or singlets, which I find uncomfortable, sweaty, and an invitation to sunburn.

But whether you like your workout tops sleeveless or sleeved, finding workout tops and tees that are the right length can be a big challenge for us petites. As a pear-shaped petite with a short torso, most of my problems centre around finding tops that fit. Regular-sized workout tops are usually far too long on me, with necklines dropping below the bra line, and waists that sit too low, bunching up and gathering at the hips.

As you can see from the example below, the difference between a regular-sized top (left) and a petite top (right) is remarkable:

Left: Run shirt, Asics size small (freebie from a race), back length 24.5″
Right: Old Navy Active, size petite small, back length 22″

The shirt on the left — a freebie from a race I ran a few years ago — is an Asics women’s small in regular. As you can see, the body length is far too long on me, such that the waist sits too low and the extra material bunches up and gathers at the hips. While narrow-hipped petites may not experience many problems with this, for us curvier pear-shaped petites, this is a constant struggle with tops.

Contrast this with the top on the right, an Old Navy Active petite small. As you can see, the shorter length of the righthand shirt means the waist nips in at my actual waistline, resulting in a shirt that just skims the top of my hips rather than bunching or pulling at them.

While more and more brands make pants and leggings in shorter lengths, there are very few out there that sell tops for petites. Old Navy tends to be my most regular source of workout and activewear tops. The sizes are very petite-friendly, with all the proportions sitting in the right place. And their price/quality ratio is excellent for technical wear. As an added bonus, I can actually buy Old Navy Petites here in Canada.

Here are a few of my favourite workout tops and tees:

Old Navy: GoDry Semi-Fitted Tee

Probably my favourite workout tee is this one from Old Navy that I bought on a Black Friday sale back in 2017. Besides being purple, this v-neck top has a loose, flowy fit that fits perfectly on my petite frame. With a centre back length of 23″, it’s a great example how even a longer top will fit better if it’s proportioned for petites, since the waist, shoulders and neckline all sit in the right place on my frame. At the price, I wish I’d picked up a half dozen of these while I could.

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Old Navy GoDry Performance Semi-Fitted Tee, size PS, $8.47 CAD (reduced from $16.94)

Old Navy: GoDry Mesh Tee

Also from Old Navy, these GoDry Mesh tees are some of my most regularly-worn activewear tops. I was a bit disappointed when I bought these back in 2017 with how lightweight and loose these were. But since then, I’ve gotten used to them, and I find that they actually fit really well, and the fabric is extremely cool in hotter weather. The only thing I don’t like as much is that the fabric retains a lot of static, which can be frustrating when I’m working out at home in the winter months. But, with a centre back length of 22″, these tops fit extremely well on short-torsoed petites.

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Old Navy GoDry Performance Mesh Tee, size PS, $8.47 CAD (reduced from $16.94)

Old Navy: GoDry Mesh Yoke Tee

Here’s another top from Old Navy (notice a theme?), also from the GoDry semi-fitted collection, made from lightweight poly-spandex mesh. It has a faint striped pattern and some reflective details that make it look great for running. And, like everything else from ON’s activewear collection, it fits extremely well on my petite body. It was one of the first tops I bought when I started to get into running about four years ago, and it’s still among my most-worn items.

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Old Navy GoDry Mesh Yoke Striped Tee, size PS, $14.96 CAD (circa 2016)

The ill-fitting race freebie shirts (or why regular sizes don’t work well for petites)

The balance of my short-sleeved tops tend to be freebies I got from various race events. Since they are all regular sizes, not petites, none of them fit particularly well. The smalls are all too long at the torso and bunch up and pull at the hip area. Sizing up to a medium solves that problem, but at the expense of a shirt that’s too big at the shoulders and the bust, and too long overall.

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(From Left): Brooks women’s tee, size Medium; Asics women’s tee, size Small; JustRun custom women’s tee, size Small; JustRun custom women’s tee, size Medium

Really, I suppose it’s too much to hope for that race organizers would offer special sizing in their free souvenir shirts. But a girl can dream, right?

Long-sleeve tops

If the weather’s a bit cooler, I own a couple of long-sleeved activewear pieces, including a thin long-sleeved run tee and two half-zip pullovers of different weights. Not surprisingly, these are also from Old Navy, which just gets petite sizing better than any other options I’ve found.

Old Navy: Go-Dry Long-Sleeve Tee

This ultra-thin, ultra-light long-sleeve workout tee fills a very specific niche in my wardrobe; namely, for times when it’s still warm outside, but I prefer to wear something with longer sleeves. This happens pretty rarely. But for a mere ten bucks, this Old Navy crew-neck performance tee fits the bill. And it’s purple, so there’s that.

The thumbholes here illustrate why having sleeves that are the right length for petites is so important when it comes to activewear:

Old Navy Crew Neck Performance Tee, size PXS, $10.13 CAD

Old Navy: 1/4 Zip Performance Pullover

I’m sure it will surprise nobody that my favourite long-sleeve run pullover is another purple item from Old Navy. Specifically, this Go-Dry 1/4 Zip Performance Pullover from circa 2016 has to be my most-worn item whenever the weather is a bit too cool for short sleeves. I’ve run in all sorts of weather in this. It fits perfectly and looks great. In a petite small, this is a perfect fit.

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Old Navy Go-Dry 1/4 Zip Performance Pullover, size PS, $26.50 CAD (circa 2016)

Old Navy: 1/4 Zip Fleece Pullover

For times when the weather’s even cooler or I feel like wearing something layered on top of a t-shirt, I picked up this slightly heavier fleece pullover last spring. Also from Old Navy, this is a soft, cozy, but still lightweight pullover that doubles as activewear and as my favourite travel mid-layer. While it doesn’t get as much home workout use, it’s a warmer layer that is great for running in cooler weather.

Old Navy Active 1/4 Zip Fleece Pullover, size PS, $20.79 CAD (reduced from $34.99)

Jackets

Old Navy: Powersoft Zip Run Jacket

Jackets can be the trickiest clothes to find for short-torsoed petites. I was never able to find a technical running jacket that fit me properly. Until recently, when I picked up this Powersoft Zip Run Jacket from Old Navy. It’s a lightweight jacket in a technical stretch fabric. This jacket isn’t going to keep you warm on particularly cold days — for that, you’ll need a heavier insulated jacket.  But it’s just warm enough to shield me from the wind and chill on cooler mornings or evenings, while being thin enough to be comfortable to wear without sweating. I love the cool grey colour, which blends in with everything (though I kinda wish it had more reflective details for safety.) It even has zippered pockets. For the price, it’s really a great deal.

And, miracle of miracles, it’s a petite size! Which means the length, sleeves, shoulders, arms, and even hood fit me perfectly. If I’d known such a thing were possible, I would have invested in a running jacket ages ago.

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Old Navy Powersoft Zip Run Jacket, size PS, $54.99 CAD

Leggings

Workout bottoms are often the easiest items for petites to find. Ironically, many brands making petite activewear only tend to focus on pants or leggings, believing erroneously that the only issue we shorties face is our shorter inseam.

But really, for most petites — especially those of us who are curvier, larger-hipped, and/or proportionally longer-legged for our height (or, in my case, all three), there’s an abundance of options in both petite and regular sizes for activewear pants and leggings. We can choose between full-length petite styles, or regular styles cut in cropped or 7/8 length.

The key for us pear-shaped petites is finding workout leggings that are cut generously enough at the hips, and that aren’t too high waisted so as to go right up to the boob area. Personally, I prefer lower midrise pants that sit right below the belly button and that hug my hips. I own options in 3/4, 7/8 and full length.

One thing about workout leggings for pear-shaped women: I’ve found it generally necessary to size up. I’m usually a size 4/small in most pants, but with workout leggings, I’ve found that typically a petite medium will fit me better. Whether this is because workout clothes are sized for smaller-framed women in general with narrower hips, or due to the stretchiness of the fabric, I can’t say. But in any case, most of the pants I’ll showcase below fit me better in a petite medium. (For reference, my measurements are approximately 27″ at the waist and 36″ at the hip, and my inseam is about 29.5″.)

Old Navy: Midrise Go-Dry Cool Run Capris

My absolute favourite pair of running leggings are this black capris from Old Navy. They feature a nice thick waistband with a rear zippered pocket just big enough for ID or credit cards, reflective details on the legs, and a silky technical fabric that keeps me cool, dry and comfortable. With a 22″ inseam and an 11″ rise in the back, these fit somewhere between a 7/8 pant and a true capri, meaning they’re long enough to run in without riding up, but short enough to stay cool. As mentioned, I sized up to a petite medium, which fits perfectly.

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Old Navy Mid-rise Go Dry Cool Run Capris, size PM, inseam 22″, rise 11″, $32.00 CAD

Old Navy: Midrise Go-Dry Compression Capris

I also have a pair of these very similar Old Navy compression capris in a multicolour pink and navy pattern, for those times when I want to pair something with a solid top. These are a bit different from the black pair above; they don’t have a rear zippered stash pocket, the fabric is less silky, and they actually fit even smaller than the black ones, perhaps due to the fabric. They’re also shorter, with only an 18.5″ inseam, making them more of a true capri length. I originally ordered them in Petite Small and ended up exchanging them for the Petite Medium, which fits much better around my hips.

Normally, I avoid busy patterns on my lower half, but I find these are kind of fun when I want to change things up a bit.

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Old Navy Go Dry Compression Crops, size PM, inseam 18.5″, rise 11″, $20.50 CAD

Old Navy: 7/8 Mesh Side-Pocket Midrise Leggings

These slightly longer 7/8 length crops feature some neat elements, like mesh detailing at the cuffs and — most fun of all — mesh side pockets at the thighs. I’d originally thought I could stash my phone in one of those pockets, but unfortunately, they aren’t secure enough for that and anything I use the pockets for just slips out, so they’re mainly decorative. The mid-rise waistband is nice and thick, and the length and fit on these leggings are excellent, though, making them among my most-worn workout pants since I picked them up in late 2018. I wish they had a zippered waistband pocket for ID or credit cards, mind you.

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Old Navy Mid-rise Elevate Side-Pocket Mesh-Trim 7/8 Leggings, size PM, inseam 23″, rise 11″, $34.94 CAD

Athleta: Relay Tights

I bought this pair of full length workout tights from Athleta back in 2015, when I was first getting into running. Athleta is a sister company to GAP/Old Navy, and also offers petite-friendly sizing for outdoor, hiking, lounge, and activewear. I’m a big fan of some of their items, namely their hiking pants.

Unfortunately, unlike the other brands, Athleta isn’t available in Canada; to buy from them, I have to order from the US site and pay extra for shipping, taxes and duties, not to mention the hassle of returning anything that doesn’t fit. I also find that they are quite a bit more expensive than Old Navy while offering similar quality, so I don’t really see the value in making the extra effort to shop from them.

These tights feature a midrise thick waistband with a rear zippered stash pocket, reflective details at the seams, and a thick cuff with an inseam that actually sits a bit above my ankle, given that my legs are relatively long for a petite. I really should have sized up, though, since I find that they’re a bit too snug on me in Petite Small. And I don’t love the angled slash reflective detailing at the hip, which I find unflattering on more pear-shaped women like myself. The fabric is also quite static-prone, making them a bit less comfortable than some of my other leggings.

But Athleta still has solid options for petites looking for activewear. If you live in the US and can buy it locally, it might be a more attractive option for you.

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Athleta Relay Tights, size PS, inseam 26″, rise 10″, $79 CAD

 

Head: Workout Capris (Regular)

For comparison’s sake, here’s a pair of regular-sized workout capris I bought ages ago, when I was just getting back into running. I picked these up at Winners, which unfortunately doesn’t carry petites, mostly because they were cheap and I needed something quickly. They have a silky fabric, a hidden stash pocket in the waistband, and reflective details at the seams.

While they aren’t bad in terms of fit, they are too big in a size medium regular. They’re supposed to be midrise but the waist is a bit too long for me, so they come up a bit too high and have a tendency to slip while I’m running. They might fit better if I’d sized down to a small, mind you. But I suspect most of those fit issues would still exist.

We longer-legged petites can often get away with buying bottoms in the regulars section. But this is proof as to why, even for us, petite sizes often work better.

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Head Running Capris, size M, inseam 20″, rise 12″, unknown price (Winners; old)

Summary

Well-fitting activewear for petites can be tricky to find. I’ve had good luck with Old Navy here in Canada, and with Athleta in the US, for activewear that fits us short-torsoed petite pears and allows us to look great while burning those calories. But there’s no doubt that the market is still crying out for more options. Far too few brands make petite-friendly workout tops or tees, and even fewer understand why it’s important.

If I have the time, I’ll do a follow-up post with some tips for working out at home during lockdown and confinement. Meanwhile, I’m wishing everyone a happy but, most of all, healthy start to 2021. May we keep each other safe and emerge from this pandemic and find the strength to go forward.

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