Fitness and Activewear

The last time I went to the gym was to eat at the restaurant inside. It was Klay, the club with the beautiful swimming pool and singles' bar everybody I know goes to (including ScarJo), and I think I ate french fries or ice cream or something. Pretty sure they serve pizza too, which is a perfect business strategy IMO. Parisians claim to stay thin by walking and smoking everywhere, but they exercise all the time! People run along the Canal, dance at Éléphant Paname, or swim in municipal pools. They ride horses by Bois de Boulogne, learn Haka at l'Usine, and sweat box with trainers. When we lived at Lamarck-Caulaincourt, we spun racquets before drinks at Squash Montmartre. More commonly, my French friends belong to sports and football clubs, not that they need them. Walking 8 km and running up and down seven flights of stairs daily (lugging books, groceries, and angora cats), is the best exercise anyone could get. Maybe this, combined with a dearth of space, is why Parisians don't seem to accumulate tons of exercise equipment. The Kayla Itsines formula of minimalist fitness- using little more than plyometrics and a chair,* or shared equipment- seems popular here.

On weekends and vacations, we zipline, hike, play football, visit Accrobranche, and ride bikes. None of these activities require special clothing or equipment. Two swimsuits, a swim cap, and a t-shirt with leggings (plus a sweater, if it's cold) replaces a closet full of activewear. Wool clothing is especially cooling, wicks sweat away, and doesn't smell. In school, when I played sports daily, I wore the same sneakers for years. If there's one thing French women taught me, it's there's literally nothing you can't do in a skirt- bike, play tennis, ride horses, bowl, scale volcanoes and waterfalls. My friend Nobue wore a full-skirted yellow dress to play co-ed football in Parc de Sceaux, and she was a quick and effective striker.

Before Oysho, loungewear didn't exist in Paris. It wasn't something I grew up with, either. Like Marie Kondo, my family felt sweats hampered productivity. I disappointed everyone by going to a liberal arts college instead of "real school," but to this day, I've never worn North Face, or pants with messages screen-printed across the seat. My friend Margaux, a Nike model, is the perfect example of an athletic Parisian. She wears a well-chosen collection of interchangeable pieces- workout clothes for multiple occasions, seasons, and countries (she started doing this even before Gigi Hadid rose to prominence). Clothing categories are less delineated here. A French woman might wear running shoes with cigarette pants to the office and be ready for an evening at Hotel Particulier without changing a single detail of her ensemble.

My husband bikes every day, runs, and plays football. Two pairs sneakers, one pair shorts, athletic pants, a t-shirt, and sweatshirt equip him for any weather. He grew up skiing (and luging!) in the Alps and never needed more than one pair moon boots, gloves, rented skis, and a cap. Genevieve Antoine Dariaux, the former directrice of Nina Ricci, recommends "long tights, a silk undershirt, silk socks plus a pair of woolen socks worn over them, a man's shirt made of wool or silk, and a long, loose woolen sweater" on the slopes, and a skirt or leggings with a plain sweater apres-ski. These days, at Gstaad Palace, all the women I meet wear old-fashioned, glamorous 3/4 length coats.

It's sad visiting a person's home and seeing exercise gear or clothing in disuse- bikes hanging untouched in the garage, track pants destined for the couch. The issue of sports vs. a minimalist wardrobe is the #1 question I've received lately, and I'm not in a position to answer it because my possessions don't seem minimal to me. I think I have quite a lot. Rather than buy new pieces, try everyday clothes for different activities. It's obviously okay to own specific-use apparel, but exercise moderation. Don't hang on to Jane Fonda bodysuits on the off-chance that you take up Jazzercise- you can have an active, healthy lifestyle without drowning in workout clothes.

Ethical / sustainable activewear brands

Nau tencel or merino wool
Outdoor Voices
Picture Organic Clothing, organic and recycled French brand
Prana recycled activewear
TranquiliT eco-friendly bamboo capsule wear, locally sewn in the US and made to order. Designed by my friend Kimberly and produced using a closed loop system
Veja made in France with sustainably harvested rubber

*One of my friends uses a towel instead of a yoga mat (if you must buy one, try PVC-free or natural rubber) and jugs of water or a big potted plant instead of a medicine ball for this.
Paris to Go


  1. When it comes to exercise, I have "special" pants (two pairs exactly) because I sweat a lot there and need wicking fabric on my bum. However on top I wear tanks and T-shirts that are nice enough to wear for other occasions. I would really love to find a pair that would look less fitness-y, I think the Nike Legend 2.0 Slim fit would fit the bill. Oh, and I use regular canvas sneakers for the gym, they are dark grey and would be versatile, but the gym has a clean soles only policy, so I can't wear them outside.

    In Germany, where I'm based, people love to have dedicated clothes and equipment for everything, it's often excessive.

  2. It's so interesting reading about the German perspective, thank you so much for sharing this! I actually love that clean soles policy. My sister has the 2.0 Slim fit capris. When you hand-wash them they dry quickly, perfect for travel.

    By the way, I love your blog and Unclutterer too :)

  3. In Canada the quintessential item sports item is a fleece vest. Most everyone has one in a neutral colour and will even keep it handy in their desk at work (sometimes the air conditioning can be quite strong). So it's not even unusual to see one in a corporate setting! In Vancouver hiking or biking in the forest is right nearby (yes even in the big city), so it's always good to have handy. It also cleans easily and air dries fast.

    - Patricia

    1. I LOVE VANCOUVER. I don't love the traffic but I love how diverse it is and the food and that nature is so close by!

      In college the fleece vest was quintessential too! I can't believe I forgot it (I didn't have one though, North Face was well out of my price range). Good to know it air dries, that's something I always look for in clothing, since Paris dryers don't really dry anything and basically just stew your wet clothes until they're a bit less drippy...

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