Runners are a notoriously naked bunch. They start losing layers with the first weak light of spring and shed unabashedly at the least provocation. Yet as the temperatures soar we ladies find ourselves at a disadvantage. Some unspoken edict has many of us convinced that only the most toned among our sex can pull off (or pull on) running shorts. Too many of us plod through runs in capris and pants, sweltering and swearing and shaking our fist at the masculine specimen squeezed into split shorts and blissfully unaware of our envious stares. We have all crouched in our local running store’s fitting room, bending and twisting and high-kneeing and searching for the tiniest jiggle or crease. To attribute the dearth of lady short-wearers to vanity, however, is to do women a great injustice. Powerful thighs lead unequivocally to chafing; the spandex shorts that provide some brief respite from the confounded rubbing creep steadily higher throughout our run. Tight waistbands cinch even the most muscular core, inhibiting free movement and seeming to grow more restrictive with each step.
So what is a girl to do? First and foremost, know the options. The unisex split short of yesteryear has been replaced by a motley crew of lengths, materials, sizes and shapes. Unfortunately, most running stores display their apparel by brand. While visually appealing, brand categorization can prove difficult to navigate. A good sales associate will help customers negotiate the racks, but a short savvy consumer can facilitate the process by familiarizing herself with The Big Four: liner, inseam, split, and waistband. Running shorts frequently come with some sort of attached liner. Traditionally this has been a ‘brief liner,’ a shapeless mass of technical fabric that perfectly encompasses approximately one wearer out of a thousand but is relatively comfortable and generally inoffensive. While the brief is still the most widespread liner on the market, many brands now offer a ‘2-in-1’ option, which replaces the brief with a formfitting boy short. This piece has become exceedingly popular among women, as the synthetic fabric takes the brunt of the friction and spares the wearer from inner thigh chafing. A word of caution: any women-specific boy short will have a triangular insert at the apex of the inseam known as a gusset. The gusset is the friend that knows way too much about us- it protects the wearer from a type of ‘short creep’ known only to the fairer sex.
Customers hoping to convey the amount of coverage they desire in a short will be best-served referencing the inseam length. Looking for abundant coverage? The inseam should be at least 6 inches. Many ‘traditional’ running shorts, those that strike women at the upper- to mid-thigh, have inseams of 3.5, 4, or 5 inches. More daring runners will select a ‘racing short,’ a category known for leaving little to the imagination. Coverage-conscious short-shoppers will also want to keep an eye on side splits. Although these slits in the material do reveal a bit more leg, they also allow the short to gap fluidly when the knee is lifted at the beginning of the stride, limiting the ‘bunching effect’ that plagues many runners.
The waistband is perhaps the most overlooked component of a running short, yet it can prove the most instrumental to a comfortable fit. Traditionalists will swear to the functionality of a simple elastic waist secured by a stretch drawstring. Unfortunately, even in models cut specifically for women’s hips, the elastic waist can end up digging slightly below the waistline and creating the spillover-effect so unflatteringly referred to as ‘muffin top.’ Most manufacturers now offer at least one short with a ‘flat’ waistband to combat this fit. The flat waistband is often 2–3 times wider than a traditional elastic waist and, true to its name, sits flat against the hips. The additional inches allow a more uniform dispersion of lady lumps; indeed, many women compare the reinforcement of the flat waistband to the support provided by control top pantyhose.
A final note of caution: try to leave stylistic singlemindedness at the door. Staffers are well-versed in the cut and function of their inventory, and something that looks abysmal on the rack can be stunningly comfortable on the body. Most stores have at least one woman on staff. Search her out, but know that male associates are often as well-versed in the technical components of each piece as their female counterparts. They just don’t know about short creep.