By Lauren Keegan
Running is a fairly minimalist activity in terms of equipment and gear, as proper shoes and clothes are the only true necessities of the sport. Because of the importance of lower body mechanics in running, bottoms in particular have become highly specialized. Men and women alike have many options for what to wear: basketball shorts, standard running shorts, split or dolphin shorts, long compression shorts, spandex shorts and running briefs are the most common styles of bottoms for competition. While leggings and sweatpants are viable running attire options especially in colder weather, they are usually supplementary to the main six styles of short bottoms used in competition. Each style provides the athlete with a different experience when performing, and there are many factors to consider when choosing the right race bottoms.
There are two main camps of running shorts: loose and tight. The loose family includes basketball shorts, standard running shorts and split shorts, also known as dolphin shorts. The tight family encompasses long compression shorts with a four to seven inch inseam, spandex shorts with a one to three inch inseam and running briefs with no inseam, more colloquially referred to as buns, bun huggers or runderwear. The choice between loose or tight bottoms is usually a matter of personal preference. Some runners find the tightness of spandex or long compression shorts to be limiting for mobility, while others consider the swishing of excess fabric a hindrance. It is difficult to actually gauge which style creates the least resistance, so preference is the best measurement for aiding performance. Loose shorts usually win over tight in the ventilation category, but this can largely depend on the quality and type of fabric of the short.
That being said, length is a different story. It is fairly apparent that the less fabric around the leg, the more mobility one has. Buns and split shorts are the clear winners in this respect. Because of this functionality, they are quite popular, especially among more elite runners. However, cultural pressures play a large role in choice of length. Buns especially are quite frowned upon by some in and out of the running community. Their tendency to be worn by female runners combined with their “revealing” nature has produced a great deal of scrutiny for buns. In the fall of 2017, New Jersey mother Karen Garconnier launched a Change.org petition to ban buns from her daughter’s high school cross country team, a movement that mobilized the running community nationwide in support of buns. Running news outlets such as Runner’s World have warned that this disdain for buns imposes a harsh double standard against females, discounts the empowering nature of buns and actually exacerbates body issues in young girls more than it helps to avoid them. This is considered a critical distinction in the running world; the hypersexualization of running corrupts the sanctity of the sport, specifically the empowerment it provides to young girls and how susceptible they are to such scrutiny.
Split shorts are arguably just as revealing as buns and are typically sported by male runners, yet they have faced no such backlash. In fact, the variations in men’s shorts length has had more to do with fashion than function in recent years. Short shorts such as the standard running short and the split short have been sported for decades, but longer shorts became highly popularized by Michael Jordan in the ’90s. This influence borne from basketball bled into men’s fashion and trickled into other sports such as track and cross country. The standard running short for men now falls to about a 4–6 inch inseam, which is longer than the average standard running short was in the decades prior. This contributes to the perception of split shorts and shorter men’s shorts as more of a “retro” style, which has actually increased their popularity as of late as retro fashion dominates the scene both in and out of athletics.
Though certain styles are sported by primarily men or women, it is not uncommon to see runners of any gender dawning any one of these six styles. At the end of the day, what a runner chooses to wear is about personal preference for what helps them look and feel their best to achieve peak performance.