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More people are wearing exercise dresses, like the one Emma Raducanu wore during her Wimbledon matches in London this year, than ever before. Photo: AFP

We’re in love with exercise dresses, as worn by Emma Raducanu, again – only this time, we’re wearing them everywhere

  • Emma Raducanu and Katie Boulter wore the same Nike dress for tennis matches at Wimbledon – and more people are wearing exercise dresses than ever before
  • They have migrated into gyms, Pilates studios, and even coffee shops, are worn by women of all ages and look as flattering as designer outfits

It could have been a storyline from a Richard Curtis film. At this year’s Wimbledon championship, two talented young British players slogged it out at the most famous tennis championship on earth.

And while the Wimbledon fairy tale did not work out for Emma Raducanu, who lost her second-round match, or for fellow Briton Katie Boulter, who only stayed in for one round longer, they both scored a fashion win when they wore the same dress.

The NikeCourt Dri-FIT Slam design garnered nearly as much coverage as their tennis matches – no doubt because of the retro-cut skirt that is reminiscent of the sort of flirty country-club tennis dresses women wore in the 1970s.

And yes, the tailoring creates a very flattering silhouette, but the design is performance-first.

Katie Boulter of Great Britain in her match against Harmony Tan of France on day six of Wimbledon 2022 in London, England. Photo: Getty Images

Bonded vertical seams on the front mimic the look of a corset (and offer support), but with none of the restriction, and a stretchy mesh on the upper chest allows for all-important ventilation, while also giving players extra room to move during serves and volleys.

The dress does not come with underwear, although most players tend to pair it with white cycling shorts.

Raducanu’s NikeCourt Dri-FIT Slam dress has a retro-cut skirt that is reminiscent of the sort of flirty country-club tennis dresses women wore in the ‘70s. Photo: Reuters

On the fashion side of things, the asymmetrical, pleated skirt is probably the most memorable part of the design – it comes up short in the front, while the pleats flare in the back as the players run for the ball, making it somewhat reminiscent of the Miu Miu mini every young fashion fan has been wearing since last summer …

Perhaps that is why, while tennis dresses have been ubiquitous on the courts for decades, this season they have migrated into gyms, Pilates studios, and even coffee shops.

It makes sense: miniskirts are back in a wider sense and, post-pandemic, nobody feels like pulling on the same old pair of leggings every day.
Miu Miu brought back the mini skirt for its autumn/winter 2022 collection.

“Women initially stopped wearing exercise dresses all those years ago because they just weren’t specialist enough,” says Selfridges head buyer Jenny Lee. “Today, they give you much-needed support, thanks to built-in bras, hidden spandex shorts, and give you coverage, so women feel comfortable wearing them no matter what sport they’re playing.”

Unlike the designs of old, which sagged and frayed in all the wrong places, the new exercise dresses are almost as flattering as a designer dress – and much more comfortable.

“We’re more aware of women’s insecurities these days, and design products that make women feel more confident,” says Anjhe Mules, the co-founder of Lucas Hugh – a brand that made the leggings Jennifer Lawrence wore to jump, kick and kill her way through The Hunger Games, and which has now released a bestselling black pleated exercise skirt.

Lucas Hugh is a brand that made the leggings Jennifer Lawrence wore in The Hunger Games.

Because these exercise dresses are not always cheap, it is important to work out what exactly you are looking for. If you are mostly wearing them to go for an easy hike followed by brunch, go for a softer style in a technical knit with a ribbed high waistband.

If you are using your dress the way nature intended, i.e. for actual exercise, then think about extra details like compression (which increases circulation to reduce fatigue), moisture wicking (gets rid of sweat) and heat control (lowers the surface temperature of your skin by five degrees Celsius).
Cult LA brand Alo Yoga has wonderfully comfortable designs that feel like a baby’s sleep suit but look good enough to wear out for lunch. ​​Other brands include Outdoor Voices, Girlfriend Collective, Reformation and Halara – all of which have a cult following on Instagram and TikTok, the place where this trend was born.
An Alo Yoga dress.

Brands are only now catching up with just how powerful viral social media trends can be in fashion terms, and while the ease and versatility of an exercise dress are key selling points, their current cool factor cannot be underestimated.

While most people spotted in these dresses tend to be Gen Z-ers and millennials, the brands marketing them emphasise that they are designed for women of all ages. In a TikTok sponsored post for Halara’s dress, for instance, a woman in her 70s says the dress makes her feel “30 years younger”.

A Halara exercise dress.
All this feels like an important step. Over the years, fashion has not always been kind to women ( stilettos, push-up bras and ultra low-rise jeans to name a few) but with these baby-soft, ultra comfortable pieces that you can run, jump and do a downward dog in, it seems that the industry has finally evolved.