15th March 2018.Take a quick look at the crowd that shows up on race day for a fun run or a marathon, and you'll be sure to notice lots of diversity. It's not only that the group of people who show up to race is diverse, but what they're wearing will showcase many differences, too. Perhaps even your own running wardrobe has begun to look more like a fashion showcase than a drawer full of plain workout clothing. There's nothing wrong with wanting to look good while you run in fact, it can be important to your success but has all this effort to be fashionable begun to intrude on your ability to run well? Balancing function against fashion, alongside determining just how much you need to do that, can be tricky to figure out. The manufacturers of the most visually attractive workout clothes want you to believe that they're the best way to go; the technical brands all want to convince you of the same thing, only in their favour. Which is really the best option? Such as with many other aspects of exercise, the answer depends on many factors. Let's go piece by piece and consider the pros and cons of the assorted products out there.

Why do the clothes you wear while running matter?

Before we get into the specifics of different types of fashionable and functional running clothing, you might wonder why it's important at all. Shouldn't you just wear clothing that works at the right level for your performance? It's easy to think that everyone should just stick to basic, neutral colours or high-visibility clothing when running. It's the budget option, after all, and it's easy to fill out your gym bag with those items without breaking the bank. However, with more people snapping selfies at the end of their run sporting visually impressive outfits, you might wonder "why?" Is there any point to it other than earning kudos on social media? In fact, there is, you could find it helps you run harder and stay focused. Several studies into the way our clothing affects our perception have shown that when we put care into choosing the clothes we wear for certain activities, it helps us to perform better at our tasks. Think of what it's like when you lace up a new pair of running shoes for the first time. All the cushioning is new, and the shoes are so comfortable you might put up a new personal record not long after you start wearing them. As you enjoy the feel and look of your clothes, you can find the motivation necessary to work harder. However, it is important to focus on function, too. You can't neglect prominent features in favour of a fashionable pattern all the time.

Should you choose the most fashionable trainers or special running shoes?

Let's focus on the shoe example first, because they are perhaps the most important item of equipment for a runner. There are tonnes of fashion-focused trainers out there. Some of them are so popular it can be a challenge to lay your hands on a pair when they finally release! On the other side of the spectrum, we have running shoes designed with the athlete in mind. Which is the better choice for you? It helps to consider how much running you do each week. For casual runners and those who don't chalk up many monthly miles, then a more fashionable trainer can be okay. However, the longer and harder you run, the more likely you are to realise that those good-looking shoes don't offer much in the way of support and comfort for runners. Specially engineered shoes, on the other hand, provide important features that protect your feet from injury. More of the major shoe companies have begun to notice the interest in colourful patterns and unique designs, though, so the gap here has begun to close. Even so, for the serious runner, the right idea is to stick with purpose-made shoes instead of something designed to turn heads.

How does athleisure apparel measure up to engineered clothing?

What about the clothes you choose to wear while running? This is an area where comfort is more important than function, generally speaking. You won't find a pair of running shorts or a jersey that make you faster, for example, or that somehow help you to shave seconds off your best time. Instead, you'll want to focus on clothing that doesn't chafe your skin or hold on to too much moisture. What about all the "athleisure" clothing out there, though? These are items designed to be worn all day long, not just when you go running. It's part of why you see so many pairs of tights and yoga pants out and about these days! Is this the right way to go for runners? Generally speaking, no. Because they're designed for "all day wear," these items can sometimes have drawbacks that make them very uncomfortable to wear during a long run. Not only that but do you want to keep wearing the sweaty clothes you just wore through a workout? It's better to opt for lightweight technical fabrics rather than something from a popular "athleisure" line. This way, you'll stay well-ventilated and free to move around during your run.

Colours and patterns: going neon or going chic

Visibility is an important attribute for runners. There's a reason why so many items are in one solid neon colour, it makes you very easy to see from the perspective of someone driving a car. However, you may not always want to opt for those same bright colours every day. Is there room in your wardrobe for technical tops that also look good? Yes! Think back to feeling good about what you wear while running. At least sometimes, picking clothing that makes you feel cool and sporty is more important than visibility. Think about where you'll go running. Heading to the gym to run on the treadmill? Deck yourself out in the coolest workout outfit you can assemble. For runners who stick to the road or the footpaths, especially in the early morning or evening, leave those fashionable digs at home. Instead, prioritise your safety in these situations for a less stressful run. However, the changing athletic apparel industry means this could soon be a moot point.

Can you strike a balance between the two?

With a few exceptions, it's very easy for today's runners to find clothing to wear during their exercise that's always comfortable. With the creation of "athleisure" wear and the continued growth in popularity of new athletic apparel brands, the difference between "fashion" and "function" has become much smaller. In fact, you'll often find some of the most adventurous patterns and looks for these clothes on many of the more high-end technical brands. Not everything has to be a solid colour, after all, especially when you can get a mental boost just from feeling confident in your workout clothes. An important lesson to learn from this is that you do not need to spend substantial amounts of money to acquire running clothes that enable you to perform better. Do you really need to spend tonnes of cash on highly scientific trainers and the latest and greatest technical fabric blends? Not necessarily, some of these items can be nice additions to your wardrobe, but many of the more "functional" brands can offer good looks alongside solid comfort. However, be careful to avoid clothing that isn't intended for intensive workouts. No one wants to wrap up a long run sore and chafed from the wrong fabric.

Choose your running wardrobe with care

If you take away only one thing from all this, it should be this: "dress for success." It may be a cliché, but it's also true, and it should be the guiding principle behind your selection of running clothes. Sometimes fashion can be the way to go, and sometimes you can get the best of both worlds. At the end of the day, you need to wear what will provide you with the most comfortable experience on the running trail. That could be a technical fabric, or it could be a pair of leggings with a pattern you love. Weigh your options with care, try on plenty of clothes, and find what works for your routine. This article was written for Sports Fitness, where you can shop online for a fantastic selection of running clothes and accessories.