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What to Wear to a Pilates Mat Class

author image Meg Campbell
Based just outside Chicago, Meg Campbell has worked in the fitness industry since 1997. She’s been writing health-related articles since 2010, focusing primarily on diet and nutrition. Campbell divides her time between her hometown and Buenos Aires, Argentina.
What to Wear to a Pilates Mat Class
Wear the right gear to pilates class. Photo Credit jayfish/iStock/Getty Images

From the first inhalation to the last movement, a Pilates mat workout embodies a seamless flow of energy. During the course of a typical class, you might find yourself standing, sitting, and even rolling. On the mat, Joseph Pilates himself typically wore snug, short shorts paired with a form-fitting turtleneck. His students, many of whom were dancers, often sported leotards and footless tights. Today’s class attire is still close-fitting, but not quite as revealing.

Fit and Material

One of the fundamental principles of Pilates is proper muscle activation. Whether you work one on one with a trainer on the reformer, or participate in a mat class with 15 other students, your instructor needs to be able to see how you engage your powerhouse, or core, muscles to initiate movement. In addition, a considerable number of abdominal exercises require you to work with your legs raised in the air, or even extended back over your head. Consequently, form-fitting pants and tops are essential to the workout. A fabric blend of cotton, nylon and spandex allows your clothes to stretch with, rather than constrain, your movement.

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Women’s Apparel

Most form-fitting clothing made for yoga or specifically for Pilates is appropriate for a mat class. Due to the nature of the exercises and the flow of the class, it’s possible to generate quite a bit of body heat during a mat workout, so body-skimming tanks or cap-sleeved tops are two of your best options. Even though your instructor will be watching your abdominal region to make sure you’re performing the movements correctly, you needn’t wear a shirt that exposes your midriff. Shorts and capri-length pants are more suitable than full-length pants because of the extensive amount of leg work.

Men’s Apparel

Men should also strive to wear form-fitting clothes on the Pilates mat, for the same reasons as women. While donning a pair of cycling shorts is a common recommendation for men, the chamois insert can be a bit cumbersome on the mat. Instead, a three-quarter-length pair of men’s running tights or a pair of nonbaggy shorts might be the best options. Men’s yoga pants are typically a bit too roomy through the seat and legs, but a pair of closer-fitting yoga pants with tapered legs can be an option. Forgo the loose T-shirts and opt for a close-fitting T-shirt or tighter sleeveless T-shirt.


Women should opt for supportive, full-coverage sports bras rather than their everyday bras. Sports bras don’t have metal clasps that can dig into your spine when you perform “rolling like a ball” and other supine exercises. A pair of underwear will prevent the instructor and other students from an unexpected view of your intimate areas if you wear shorts that aren’t totally form-fitting. Avoid clothing with zippers, buttons and hoods, all of which can get in the way during a mat workout. Long necklaces, bracelets and big earrings can also cause discomfort. Pilates is best performed with bare feet. If you feel the need to wear socks, use the kind with nonslip rubber strips on the bottom.

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