More Thoughts On Women’s Running Shirts

women's running shirts

Runners at the 2013 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon got their choice of a men’s or women’s cut shirt. (Photo: Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon)

Many of you read my post decrying “unisex” race shirts in favor of women’s running shirts that I wrote back in September. After reading reports that the organizers of the Omaha Marathon gave men tech shirts and women cotton shirts with their race registration, I decided to write another op-ed about women’s cut race shirts on my column at The Washington Times Communities.

I honestly couldn’t believe it. Not when other races, like the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and the Baltimore Marathon, give runners gender-specific technical shirts. It was just one of many complaints runners had about the Omaha Marathon weekend of races, but it came shortly after I wrote a diatribe about “unisex” shirts here on my blog.

A few people voiced their disagreement to my position. Most of them were women who prefer men’s cut shirts because of fit issues and some were men who found it “silly.”

But the vast majority of readers—and I mean vast—have agreed with me. Fewer than 5 percent of the feedback I received—via comments, e-mails, tweets, direct messages and the like—were critical of my stance. A full 95 percent of readers—including a few race directors—wholeheartedly agreed.

If you’re not sick of me harping on this topic and you feel as strongly about it as I do, please consider sharing that column as well. The wider we spread the message, the better chance it has of actually being heard.

women's running shirts

Runners at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon received their choice of gender-specific shirts. (Photo: Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon)

Female Runners Deserve Women’s Running Shirts

Let’s talk about shirts, specifically women’s cut race shirts. Sadly, most races don’t offer them as part of a runner’s registration kit. But, frankly, most should as running has become a female dominated sport.

The Omaha Marathon on September 22, 2013 recently found itself in the middle of a social media brouhaha after race organizer HITS Running Festivals handed out technical moisture-wicking shirts to male participants and cotton shirts to women, the Omaha World-Herald reported. Runners took to the race’s Facebook page to complain about the disparity, among a slew of other problems.

It highlights an issue women have been grumbling about for years: the lack of women’s specific shirts at races all over the U.S.

Read the entire story at The Washington Times Communities.

I would love for this to be the last time I feel the need to write about women’s running shirts. I’m sure no shirt will ever please all of the people all of the time. There will always be the person who a shirt doesn’t fit quite right.

But that’s the entire argument against “unisex” sizing. More runners will get the right fit with gendered sizing than a one-cut-fits-all approach, especially if races give the runners the choice of taking a men’s or women’s shirt, regardless of their gender, like the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. My husband and I ran that race in October and each walked away with a shirt that actually fit.

Karla Bruning


Karla Bruning is a race announcer at the TCS New York City Marathon + other major events, TV host for the New York City Triathlon + contributor to Shape, Redbook, Runner's World + other publications. She used to report for Newsweek but spent her free time squeezing in workouts. Now it's her job. She's run 8 marathons, 30 halves, 10 triathlons + open water swims. When she's not running, talking about running or writing about running, she's snuggling her baby, spoiling her dog + compulsively traveling.


11 2013

33 Comments Add Yours ↓

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  1. 1

    I ran the Baltimore half this year and LOVED the Under Armour women’s shirt! So comfy and fits great, it’s my favorite LS shirt now.
    I am also glad Disney is FINALLY jumping on board. No more ordering an XS and having the hole for the head be way to small!
    Heathers Looking Glass recently posted..Wine and Dine Half Marathon 2013 Race RecapMy Profile

    • Karla Bruning

      I’ve only heard raves from runners about the Baltimore shirts. And SO glad Disney is moving to gendered shirts for all races, not just Princess and Tink. There are going to be a lot of happy runners at WDW Marathon in Jan!
      Karla Bruning recently posted..More Thoughts On Women’s Running ShirtsMy Profile

  2. 3

    I can’t believe they had the nerve to hand out cotton shirts to the women while the men received tech shirts. How do you even begin to think you will get away with something like that?
    Once again I am thankful that most of the races I do here in Ottawa offer me a choice of gender and size when it comes to shirts.

  3. 5

    I ran the 2011 Kona marathon. I’d love to wear the shirt to remember the race, but the unisex size small shirt is huge. That’s too bad because I like race shirts even better than medals!
    Tina@GottaRunNow recently posted..To BQ or Not to BQMy Profile

    • Karla Bruning

      I feel the same way about the Kauai Half Marathon. I LOVED the race and actually like the shirt color, logo and fabric, but the “unisex” XS is still way too big on me. I wear it as a sleep shirt. It’s really soft. Agree about shirts v. medals. My medals sit in a drawer, but I actually wear the shirts!
      Karla Bruning recently posted..More Thoughts On Women’s Running ShirtsMy Profile

  4. 7

    I can NOT believe they did that! I am beyond outraged about this! To distribute an “inferior” shirt to women is…are we back in the 1950s? Are they actually saying that women runners don’t deserve the same quality shirt as the men do?!?! Ugh! If I were a woman, I would never register for their race again and then lets see how successful their marathon is!

    Sorry…my angry rants sometimes get the better of me.
    Kellie recently posted..Week in Training (and Not Really with the Cooking) 11/11-11/17My Profile

  5. 9

    Can I also be picky and ask for a tech tee that’s not white?
    Lesley recently posted..Disneyland 2013 Pt. 3My Profile

    • Karla Bruning

      Absolutely! Be picky! I love getting fun colors instead of white and grey.
      Karla Bruning recently posted..More Thoughts On Women’s Running ShirtsMy Profile

      • 11

        I wholeheartedly agree that races should have gendered tech shirts and I also think they should do better about stocking the most popular sizes. HOWEVER, I have also come to not expect too much from race shirts, quite frankly. Yes, the INC NYC Marathon shirt this year is actually quite nice, but it’s not a brand I generally like all that much. My favorite tech shirts have been from the Rock ‘n’ Roll races I have done — the shirts are high-quality tech shirts from Brooks (my favorite brand).
        Arun recently posted..Day 5 | Stage 4: The GorgeMy Profile

        • Karla Bruning

          So funny. Brooks has been hit or miss for me. Some fit well and some are way too short in the torso. From small races, I don’t expect anything from the shirts. But when it’s a marquee race, I want something nice.
          Karla Bruning recently posted..More Thoughts On Women’s Running ShirtsMy Profile

  6. 13

    I AGREE. No point in getting a T shirt that acts like a sail. I PR’ed my last race, but the T shirt is awful so I don’t get to wear it except as a junk shirt. The cost is included in the race fee, right?

  7. 17

    That is ridiculous of the Omaha race! In a perfect world I’d take slightly cheaper registration over a T-shirt, but if you’re going to give them out, you might as well make an effort to make them something runners will actually want/use.
    Sadye recently posted..I need a change from this sceneryMy Profile

    • Karla Bruning

      Double agree. I’d happily take a cheaper fee and no shirt. BUT if I’m going to get a shirt, I at least want one that fits. I’d also take something other than a shirt! A visor, tuque, mug, race belt, anything.
      Karla Bruning recently posted..More Thoughts On Women’s Running ShirtsMy Profile

      • 19

        Actually, yes, something other than a shirt can be fun. Case in point, this past Saturday I ran a small, community-based trail race on Staten Island. The race swag was a nice-quality fleece winter beanie emblazoned w/ the race logo — not a shirt.
        Arun recently posted..Day 5 | Stage 4: The GorgeMy Profile

  8. 21

    I agree with you, but the problem is that it seems that no matter what RDs do someone is always left out — because of certain sizes “selling out” and whatnot. Example: My girlfriend and I ran the NYC Marathon this year. We went to the expo on Saturday, the day before the race, and the women’s cut tech shirts in XL were ALL GONE. So my GF, who prefers XL in tech shirts, had to get L, which fits her but not very well. Not only that, but they didn’t even order men’s XXL, which is what I need. I’ve been to races where M and L men’s shirts abound, but the XLs are all gone. It is rare that a race has them. Basically, RDs are having trouble predicting how many men and women will want a shirt of any given size or cut.
    Arun recently posted..Day 5 | Stage 4: The GorgeMy Profile

    • 22

      But race directors can set up a system to have you fill in on your registration form what shirt you want. I have done so many races here in Ottawa ranging from 100 runners to 12,000 runners where they have my t-shirt size written right on my bib. I pick up my bib, go to the t-shirt table, they hand me my size and mark off on my bib that it has been picked up. Maybe this is a Canadian thing? :) If I were a director I would want to know ahead of time what people want rather than trying to second guess and then deal with the wrath of angry runners!

      • 23

        Kristi — Yes, I have had that option on some races I have run. Maybe for some races it is more practical than others to do that, who knows. But I can’t remember the last BIG race that gave me that option. Maybe some RDs have been burned by that system? For example, runners asking for an XL on the signup but then weeks/months later deciding they want an L… Just a guess.
        Arun recently posted..Day 5 | Stage 4: The GorgeMy Profile

        • 24

          I’d be curious to hear from race directors why they would choose not to have people fill in shirt sizes at registration. There must be some reason but I can’t think of what. I think if you made the rule no size changing until after the race and dependent on extras you would be safe. I just signed up for Ottawa Race Weekend (anyone looking for a Canadian “racecation” I recommend it) and they asked for shirt sizes. Last year the number of runners for all events combined was over 44,000. Can’t even imagine trying to guess ahead of time what shirt sizes/genders were needed for a race event that size.

          • Karla Bruning

            Also some races have the shirts allocated as you chose in registration and a separate size swap table with extra shirts (Disney races come to mind). You only get the size you requested, but there are extra shirts to swap if you want. But you’re not able to take someone else’s allocated size.
            Karla Bruning recently posted..More Thoughts On Women’s Running ShirtsMy Profile

    • Karla Bruning

      So funny. I’ve had the EXACT opposite problem at races. No XS, S or M but lots of XL. It’s hard to get right. The RD I interviewed in the original post said that getting sizing right is the hardest part, especially the larger the race is. He said that throwing gender into the mix actually isn’t that hard. But to Kristi’s point below, a lot of races have you choose ahead of time and ONLY give you the size you requested. I’ve been to races where the size shirt I chose was already in my bag (Philadelphia comes to mind.)
      Karla Bruning recently posted..More Thoughts On Women’s Running ShirtsMy Profile

  9. 27

    I’m still kind of peeved that the Disney Wine & Dine half marathon shirt is a men’s cut. I got an extra small and it’s still huge and boxy on me.
    Judith recently posted..Appetizing/UnappetizingMy Profile

    • Karla Bruning

      Yeah, Disney announced earlier this year that for 2014 they’ll have women’s and men’s cuts. But the 2013 races got finished out with the “unisex” shirts. Definitely looking forward to the women’s shirts. I LOVE the Tink and Princess women’s cut shirts and have never once worn my “unisex” aka men’s shirt from 2011 Wine & Dine.
      Karla Bruning recently posted..More Thoughts On Women’s Running ShirtsMy Profile

  10. 29

    I can’t believe they had the nerve to give women cotton shirts and men tech. I’m pretty sure I would have hunted down the RD right then and there and gave him a piece of my mind. There are a few things that really make my blood boil- and treating men and women differently for no good reason is definitely one of them.
    Laura @losingrace recently posted..I can see clearly now…My Profile

  11. 31

    When it comes to expensive races (especially expensive, non-charity races) I just cannot understand when women’s shirts aren’t available as an option. Sometimes I find women’s cut shirts to be a little bit short (probably because I have a bigger bust) but at least I can wear an undershirt under it and be fine. When it comes to men’s cut shirts because I have a biggest bust I look ridiculous and smooshed in when I try to wear them. Also I FEEl smooshed in!
    Kristina @ Blog About Running recently posted..Do You Have a Standard Running Loop?My Profile

    • 32

      *have a bigger bust …. I probably don’t have the biggest bust 😀
      Kristina @ Blog About Running recently posted..Do You Have a Standard Running Loop?My Profile

      • 33

        Too funny Christina!
        Btw, those men’s shirts are awful for those of us in the smaller bust category too ( I think I might even get away with saying s
        “smallest” when it comes to me). When you are small chested with a boxy men’s cut shirt on you can feel like you are built like a 12 year old boy.