If you exercise a lot, sticking with a rotation of shorts, leggings, and T-shirts is effective. It’s also a little boring. But now, you can take something that looks like a cute li’l sundress you’d wear to a picnic straight to yoga or the weight room. Exercise dresses are all the rage right now on social media and IRL, with plenty of big brands coming out with their versions of an exercise dress designed for working out and everyday life.
Intrigued by the thought of how comfortable—and possibly practical—exercising sans pants might be, I tested some of the most popular exercise dresses. After wearing them to Pilates, Crossfit, barre, and almost every other fitness-related activity you can imagine, I found the Halara Everyday Cloudful 2-in-1 Wannabe Activity Dress to be the best option out there. It’s flattering, easy to wear, and supportive—the ideal combination for an ideal exercise dress.
Here’s the TL;DR on the best exercise dresses right now:
- Halara Everyday Cloudful 2-in-1 Wannabe Activity Dress
- Outdoor Voices The Exercise Dress
- KuaCua Women’s Workout Dress
- Girlfriend Collective Iris Lola V-Neck Dress
- Old Navy Sleeveless PowerSoft Performance Racer
Exercise Dresses We Love
Halara Everyday Cloudful 2-in-1 Wannabe Activity Dress
- Best-known affordable dupe for the Outdoor Voices exercise dress
- Comes in sizes XS to 4XL and more than 30 colors
- Nylon and elastane material
- Great for: Weight Training, Crossfit, running, athleisure
- Not great for: Heated classes
- Has pockets on both sides of the shorts
- Shorts don’t ride up while exercising
- Longer length and built-in bra
- Dress doesn’t fall away from body
- Heavy material
I’ve long been a fan of Halara workout leggings, so I wasn’t surprised that the Halara exercise dress was my favorite. It’s the most popular dupe of the famous Outdoor Voices dress—more on that one in just a sec—and is less than half the price of the original. This is a dress I think I could live in. It works for almost any and every occasion and feels as comfy as a pair of sweatpants (but looks a lot cuter). The dress is the classic exercise dress style, with built-in leotard-shorts beneath and a shelf bra.
The dress is easy to pull on thanks to its stretchy nylon and elastane fabric, which also dries quickly after sweating. I wore it to a hot yoga class and it was dry within about 30 minutes after I finished. The shorts were long enough to prevent my inner thighs from chafing yet short enough that they didn’t stick out beneath the skirt, and stayed in place throughout my workout. Plus, both short legs have deep pockets hidden on the side that managed to fit my iPhone 12 Pro Max.
The dress’ built-in bra was amply supportive for my needs. I could comfortably wear it for higher intensity exercise like Crossfit-style workouts. (For reference, I usually wear a size 34C bra.) And I especially liked that the bra had removable pads. I’m always trying to find old pads for unlined bras and dresses, so this was a big win for me. The skirt also hit right at mid-thigh on my 5-foot-5-inch frame, which felt just long enough without getting in my way.
The only thing I didn’t like is how thick the material is on the dress portion—it’s definitely not the most breathable dress of the bunch. It feels like wearing a thick cotton T-shirt and made it a little too warm to wear on a hot day. I found myself sweating a lot more in this dress than the others, which I didn’t love. But hey, at least it dried quickly.
Outdoor Voices The Exercise Dress
- The OG exercise dress that famously started the trend
- Comes in sizes XXS to XXXL and a rainbow of colors and vibrant prints
- Nylon and spandex material
- Great for: Weight training, Pilates, yoga, hot girl walks, athleisure
- Not great for: HIIT, running
As someone who refuses to spend a lot on clothes, I never thought I’d be the kind of person to spend $100 on something I exercise in. But after wearing the Outdoor Voices exercise dress, I can confidently say I would—at least for this item. It’s comfortable, breathable, versatile, and also just looks really cool. Like others, it has a built-in leotard with shorts.
From the start, slipping it on felt akin to slipping on a favorite worn-in T-shirt—made of nylon and spandex, it’s that soft and comfy. It’s more lightweight than the Halara dress, which I appreciated on super hot days. Yet despite the fact that it’s so breezy, it offers full coverage and is completely opaque, so you don’t have to worry about any accidental wardrobe malfunctions. I got it in the daisy print in my usual size small and it fit true to size, hitting about mid-thigh. I like that the straps are adjustable and that they’re very thin—another perk when the temperatures spike.
The highlight of the dress, however, is the built-in shorts. They feature a grippy edge around the interior lining that prevents them from riding up, yet doesn’t chafe the skin—it’s a special touch that makes a ton of difference. The shorts also have two pockets that were able to hold my keys and AirPods case when I was exercising outdoors.
Of course, nothing is perfect and neither is the Outdoor Voices exercise dress. Because it doesn’t have a built-in bra, it offers very little in terms of support. It’s fine for walking, light weights, or everyday activities, but I wouldn’t wear it for higher intensity exercises or running without a sports bra underneath.
Are Exercise Dresses Worth It?
Exercise dresses aren’t exactly new. In most cases, they’re just the latest take on a classic tennis dress. Most are dresses made of breathable, sweat-wicking material that often come with racerback straps and a built-in romper underneath. These base levels provide varying levels of support—some offer additional built-in shelf bras, others do not. Likewise, some people choose to wear them with additional sports bras; others go without. While the sporty frocks of years past were reserved for tennis or golf, the new exercise dress is an outfit you can wear for much more than working out. The trend is so hot that last year, market research firm NPD Group reported that sales of exercise dresses almost doubled.
Even if you aren’t an avid gym visitor or if you prefer Netflix marathons to, well, actual marathons, an exercise dress could still deserve a spot in your closet. The best ones are comfy enough to support both vigorous movement and high-intensity lounging.
Exercise dresses can cost up to $100, depending on the brand, but you can also find some quality picks for less than $50. Available in so many colors and sizes, there’s a dress for almost every style, body shape, and budget. Finally, they’re easy enough to maintain. All the dresses we tested can be machine-washed (like all fitness gear, it’s best to use cold water) and hung to dry.
How We Got Here
Meet Your Guinea Pig
I’m Amanda Tarlton, a service and product journalist who covers everything from health and fitness to home and beauty. You may have read some of my reviews at USA Today, MindBodyGreen, Taste of Home, Reader’s Digest, or Scary Mommy.
Outside of that, I’m also an RYT-200 yoga teacher and NASM-certified personal trainer. When I’m not tapping away on my Macbook keys, I’m probably teaching (or taking) a hot yoga class at the local studio here in Baltimore or training clients at the gym. I’m also a self-proclaimed fitness junkie who would rather spend Friday night in the weight room than at the bar and whose idea of a great first date is going for a sweaty sunrise hike.
Our Testing Process
Testing exercise dresses involved, well, exercising. But before I even started running, lifting, and yoga-ing, I had to narrow down the list of the most popular exercise dresses. I scoured the internet looking for the pieces with the most reviews and the ones that are all over social media. Then, ended up with five choices, which the Nessie purchased to put to the test.
I wore each dress for two 45- to 60-minute workout classes or activities of varying intensity. For instance, I wore the same dress on a 45-minute power walk that I did to a sweaty hour-long HIIT class. I also spent at least three to four hours wearing each dress around in my daily life, whether I was working at my desk, heading to the grocery store, or hanging out with my nephew at the park. To test the material and durability of the exercise dresses, I washed each one at least twice, carefully following the provided care instructions.
For more info on how we found the best exercise dresses, read the test notes.
The Exercise Dress Buying Guide
You can find exercise dresses at almost any clothing retailer right now. They come in a variety of styles—some have pleated skirts, some have adjustable straps, some have built-in bras, some have cut-out backs.
To choose the best exercise dress, think about the occasion or purpose for which you’re buying it. If you plan to wear it for high-intensity exercise, you may want a supportive bra and compression shorts. If you just want it as an everyday dress, you might be more concerned with aesthetic details like neckline and skirt design.
Do You Need To Wear a Bra With an Exercise Dress?
It depends! First, consider your usual comfort level when it comes to bras (or lack thereof). If you’re the kind of person who distrusts built-in or shelf bras as a general rule, you should go ahead and factor in some kind of sports bra with your exercise dress. Then, think about the activity you want to do. If you’re going for something high-impact, like running or a HIIT class, you’ll probably want to add a bra. For lower-impact activity, like yoga or barre, you may be able to go without.
If you’re somewhere in between—that is, you want a little more support but don’t want to feel constricted—try a sports bra that’s intended for low-impact activity. This All In Motion strappy racerback or Lululemon Like A Cloud bra are both good options.
How Can You Style an Exercise Dress?
One of the best things about exercise dresses is that they look pretty good without any styling at all. The versatile dresses can be worn for athletic activities with a pair of sneakers and a headband or dressed up for social events. If you’re going to brunch or a walk with friends, pair it with chunky sneakers and a denim jacket or lightweight button down cinched around the waist. (Get one with UPF, like this Solbari oxford top, to protect your skin from the sun.) To dress it up more, switch out the tennis shoes for sandals.
All in all, it’s up to you! Use the dress as a base and play around with it until you find something you love.
Who Should Buy Exercise Dresses?
An exercise dress is an on-trend alternative to shorts and a T-shirt or leggings and a tank top for working out. With a short cut and strappy neckline, they’re great for warmer weather or for anyone who sweats a lot and doesn’t want to feel overheated by layers of clothing. You can wear them for power walking around the neighborhood, lifting weights, playing tennis with friends, or doing a HIIT workout class at the gym.
Exercise dresses are also versatile enough that you can wear them for everyday, non-athletic activities—like shopping, running errands, or grabbing a casual dinner out—and comfortable enough to double as loungewear or a WFH uniform.
That said, exercise dresses still have their annoyances. For one, you may not always like the feeling of having a layer of fabric (the romper) beneath the other layer of fabric that makes up the dress. Another potential issue: They’re still dresses, and subject to the same perils of gravity of all other skirted apparel.
Think about all the exercises you’ll do in the dress—like, for example, “a plank in a group fitness class,” says Rae Reichlin, a personal trainer and creator of Ladies Who Lift. “Someone might be behind you, and in the prone position, the dress will fall away from the body.” Yes, you’ll have shorts underneath, but they tend to be short, tight, and can sometimes ride up. This may be fine for some people and not fine for others.
When shopping for an exercise dress, consider the following key features:
- Fit: An exercise dress should be close-fitting and particularly snug across the bust to offer support during athletic activities and have a looser skirt to allow for a wide range of motion. Bonus points if it has adjustable straps so you can customize the fit.
- Comfort: You want an exercise dress that stays in place as you move and feels good—no shorts riding up, no straps chafing your skin, no constantly tugging and pulling at everything.
- Material: Many exercise dresses are made of breathable, sweat-wicking material that dries quickly and allows for plenty of ventilation. The most common activewear fabrics include nylon, polyester, and spandex (which you may also see listed as elastane or lycra).
- Coverage: Similar to fit, look for an exercise dress that offers ample coverage while you work out. The fabric should be opaque, and the skirt should be long enough to cover the built-in shorts. Consider whether the dress has a built-in bra or if you’ll need to wear a sports bra underneath.
- Extra features: Some exercise dresses come with additional features that make the piece more functional or convenient. It might have hidden pockets on the sides of the shorts, a stylish back design, or removable pads, for instance.
Other Exercise Dresses Worth Considering
Girlfriend Collective Lola V-Neck
- Versatile V-neck exercise dress that comes in two styles
- Available in sizes XXS to 6XL
- Made from spandex and recycled plastic bottles
- Great for: Day-to-night, HIIT, light activity
- Not great for: Running and power walking
- Supportive built-in bra
- Pretty cut-out keyhole back
- Flowy skirt allows for range of motion
- Fabric clings too much
The Girlfriend Collective exercise dress was very close to being the runner-up. For starters, the back has a gorgeous cut-out keyhole design that makes it seem a little fancier than other exercise dresses—making it an ideal option if you want to transition the piece from the Pilates studio to brunch with friends or even happy hour. Similar to the other dresses, it has a leotard with shorts that provide full coverage.
I’m a big fan of how the exercise dress fits. The built-in bra, which has a flirty V-neck neckline, offers plenty of support—I wore it during a HIIT class sans additional sports bra and felt like the girls were held properly in place even during burpees. While the dress is very fitted up top, the bottom flows out away from your body almost like an A-line dress. It hit at mid-thigh on my body, which allowed me to move and jump around without feeling constricted at all, and it also created what I think is a flattering silhouette.
I got the dress with the compressive shorts, which didn’t budge an inch while I worked out. Note this dress also comes in an option lighter-compression “Float” shorts, which are made with the same material as the brand’s leggings. (I didn’t test this version, though.)
The one thing I didn’t like about the Girlfriend Collective dress is that because the skirt is cut so loose, the fabric bunches up and clings to your body as you move. For instance, when I went for a walk around the neighborhood, the skirt kept getting caught in between my thighs and I constantly had to pull it out.
KuaCua Women’s Workout Dress
- The most popular exercise dress on Amazon
- Comes in sizes XS to XXL and 27 colors
- Nylon and spandex material
- Great for: Athleisure, weight training
- Not great for: High impact sports, HIIT
- Adjustable racerback straps
- Has pockets on the shorts
- Full built-in romper
- Shorter in length than other dresses
- Less room in the bust
With more than 1,600 glowing reviews, the KuaCua workout dress is Amazon’s number one exercise dress—and it didn’t let me down, either. Thanks to its figure-hugging cut and lightweight material, it’s very flattering and more importantly, works well for both athletic activities and daily life.
The dress is made of a blend of nylon and spandex, so it’s both stretchy and sweat-wicking. It’s easy to pull on and even after a sweaty power walk, it dried within 30 minutes. I also liked its built-in romper—this not only provides plenty of coverage, it also smooths out the midsection for a sleeker fit. The shorts of the romper have two pockets that weren’t quite big enough for my iPhone but can hold a key or ID. This came in handy when I wanted to go outside and exercise hands-free.
Something to note: This dress may be best suited for people with petite frames or who are on the shorter side. I found the KuaCua dress to be much shorter on my 5-foot-5 frame than the other dresses—I had to pull it down frequently throughout the day. The dress was also snugger through the bust than I prefer and cut narrowly on top, so it may be better for people with a smaller chest.
An Exercise Dress You Can Skip
PowerSoft Performance Racer-Back Mini Swing Dress
- Slightly flared exercise dress with a built-in bra
- Comes in regular, tall, and petite sizes
- Polyester and spandex material
- Great for: Walking around
- Not great for: Most athletic activity
- Adjustable straps
- No built-in shorts
- Doesn’t fit true to size
Despite the fact that this Old Navy exercise dress has more than 600 reviews and a 4.3-star rating online, I am not a fan. My biggest complaint is that, unlike most exercise dresses, it doesn’t have built-in shorts. That seems essential for a piece of clothing that claims to be meant for working out—to me, it’s like buying tennis shoes without laces. To me, the lack of shorts alone disqualifies this dress as a viable option.
While it has a built-in bra with removable pads—something I usually appreciate—the dress still had a bizarre fit. I ordered my typical size small but it was too snug in the hips and bust yet strangely roomy in the midsection. The end result? An unflattering outfit and one that was entirely impractical to wear for anything remotely active, unless you put a pair of bike shorts underneath.
- Sales of exercise dresses doubled in 2021: “We Have Reached Peak ‘Exercise Dress’” (The New York Times, August 2021)
- Best material for activewear: “Polyester, nylon, wool and more: The fabrics to look for in your workout clothes” (CNET, January 2020