When you think about compression shorts, you might think back to the days of soccer and field hockey practice where it was common to wear spandex under Soffe shorts. Or, perhaps you picture Olympians racing in a sports bra and briefs.
For some people, Princess Diana in bike shorts might come to mind. Whatever your connection to tight shorts, they’re making a comeback and deserve some love. As the sheer number of runners continues to swing on an upward trend, the variety of sizes and designs has followed. Between 2008 and 2018, marathon running popularity among women grew by 57%. Outside of 26.2-mile efforts, women’s participation rate in running has increased by 18%.
It’s not just more women coming to the sport; it’s also faster times. At the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in February, 512 women qualified to compete, compared to 257 women in 2016. As women get faster, the demand for kits that help them feel fast also increases. Speed and participation have a trickle-down effect—from the fastest runners to the newbies, resulting in more options across the board.
While spandex shorts have been in many apparel lines since the early ’00s, (Under Armour launched its women’s-specific line, including spandex shorts, in 2003), product designers and company executives found themselves peppered with questions from runners about when they’d have more options. “We [heard] a lot from our racing team and run club that women wanted more options—both longer and shorter—in tights that could stay put when they were pushing the pace,” says Matt Taylor, founder and CEO of Tracksmith.
It’s not just elites who are looking for more options, but new runners as well. “We’ve seen an increase in demand for more compression shorts (or as most women call them, ‘bike shorts’) in the market, thanks to our celebrity and influencer female role models,” explains Julianne Ruckman, senior product line manager of women’s apparel at Brooks.
Even brands that haven’t made apparel before are getting into the shorts game. Hoka One One launched an apparel line in March, creating and crafting gear based on a survey of 4,000 people. “For women, we have a wide range of body shapes and sizes, and we’re trying to offer more to accommodate for different types of runners,” says Brittney Rekate, Janji’s head of design. With all that demand, brands quickly went about adding to their current offerings and expanding into new sizes and colors.
“Each season, we listen to consumers and focus groups to truly understand what the female runner needs,” says Gwen Houck, a product line manager for Under Armour’s run apparel. “When we see trends and changing demands in the market, we see opportunities to make more styles and offer more inseam options of run compression shorts in the line.”
Beyond making a larger variety of shorts, product designers—many of whom are women—want to help more women feel comfortable. The long-held stigma with compression shorts is that they are incredibly tight, ride up, or cut off in an awkward spot. But that less-than-ideal perception is changing. Brands are adding longer inseams so that bike shorts don’t ride up, and higher waistbands to help reduce bulge. They’re basically like your favorite pair of leggings, just with a few more pockets and details. “Compression shorts are a major part of making people feel good in their own skin,” Rekate says.
Consumers have a lot of opinions about pockets and storage options, says Jeff Garabedian, strategic business unit manager of New Balance apparel. “Not just more pockets, but smart placement, different closures, and innovative concepts. A variety of storage is important,” he says. Large zipper pockets line the fabric that lays flat on your waistband, so it’s easy to carry your phone. Small pockets hold keys, so you don’t need to bring anything else with you.
With all the advances in options, colors, and fit, there’s seemingly no reason not to fall in love with a new pair. They look good, make you feel good, and, in turn, can help you perform at your best. If you’ve never considered wearing tight shorts because of how they make you feel (or their past shortcomings) there just might be a pair that changes your mind. We’re here to help you find the perfect fit and the best pair for running.