Being active is a difficult task to squeeze into our modern lives, from finding time to exercise to finding an activity that suits you and getting into a habit.
As a Muslim woman, I’ve also had the added difficulty of trying to find clothing that I class as modest – criteria for me includes long sleeves, loose fit, no gaping necklines or see-through mesh panels, among other things – and that is also fit for purpose. I want materials that are sweat-wicking, garments that fit properly, and, if possible, I want sustainability and value for money.
It’s an uphill battle, and I’m not the only one who’s been climbing the hill for a long time. Whether you’re after modest activewear for religious reasons or just prefer to work out in something looser-fitting, it can often feel really difficult to find something beyond leggings and crop tops when you scour the high street.
But there is some hope. A number of Muslim-owned brands have sprung up, and are leading the way when it comes to modest fits, as there’s a personal understanding of what is required from modest activewear. But well-known brands and high street shops are also slowly expanding their ranges, and if you know where to look, you can find pieces that work whatever your needs and however you define modest.
Luckily, I’ve done the looking (and testing) so you don’t have to…
Best modest matching sets
Canadian brand Dignitii was set up by Khaoula, who couldn’t find anything to wear while exercising that was stylish, modest and fit for purpose. The brand produces a range of items (including hijabs) and matching sets (although all pieces can be bought separately).
I love the Performance top and the Loose leggings. The top is a kind of sports dress, with a full front zipper and high neck, sleeves with thumb holes and a tulip-shaped skirt that is flattering while still offering full coverage. Dignitii’s designs are all loose fit, and the latest iteration of the Performance top comes with a tuck in underlayer, meaning no unwanted tummy exposure during activities like yoga and pilates.
The £81 price tag for the top (and £50 for the leggings) may seem a little high, but the cost-per-wear is incredible. I’ve had my Performance top for a number of years, and I wear it most often for running, where it’s been through every kind of weather from snow to torrential rain to blazing sunshine (plus me sweating). Despite that and the dozens of times it’s been laundered, it still looks and feels amazing.
Best modest long tops
Founded through a need for clothing that really worked for working out, plus still offered comfort and coverage, Imaan Active is one of my favourite modest activewear brands, and has moved beyond a few core products to a variety of lines for various needs. Its stylish and modest activewear is available in sizes small to extra large, and 2XL in some cases.
Its relaxed fit top has a longer length at the back to offer more coverage, and is A-line in style so it doesn’t cling. The top also has that most elusive of things: zip pockets that are big enough for your phone. The sweat-wicking material is comfortable, and the hip slits mean it’s an easy garment to move around in.
The brand also does a range of other tops, including a longline top (available in small to 2XL) that comes down to just above the ankles, if you’re looking for extra coverage during activities like walking, or for a layer you can throw on after a workout. It also does sports hijabs as well.
Best compression tops
Well Fit Active’s modest activewear range includes a long sleeve compression top which is made from recycled ocean plastic and is available in sizes 8-10 to 28-30. Tops are made to order in small batches to minimise waste, so this is a brand to look to if sustainability is among your top priorities.
I was a little sceptical of the mesh moisture-wicking panels on the back and under arms, but once on, they’re not at all see-through. The long length is flattering, coming down to cover the backside, and the compression under-layer means you won’t flash any flesh during moves like burpees.
The top is super comfortable, but do go a size up – as a compression piece it is well fitted on top, particularly around the bust, and so won’t be to everyone’s definition of modest.
Best modest activewear for yoga + pilates
For years, I was put off doing yoga and pilates, not because I’m not flexible (although that’s also a reason) but because I worried about joggers and tops riding up and exposing parts of my body during various moves.
BAM’s Serenity top and Grace bamboo yoga pants is the outfit of my dreams. The top is long-sleeved and comes down to the backside, with a hem band that keeps it in place. The yoga pants have a really high waist, with a deep waistband, and are fitted at the ankles. Together, you have an outfit that stays in place through every downward dog, single-leg circle and more.
Plus, the fabric is super soft (so soft, I’ve worn the top to just lounge around the house in as well). Both items are made of bamboo viscose, which BAM says is more sustainable than polyester, and delivered in packaging that is completely recyclable. The brand currently only goes up to a size 16, but has plans to increase its range in the future.
Best modest hoodies
Major sports brands made a slow start in getting into modest activewear, with many beginning with sports hijabs. Their efforts aren’t to be slighted, but the range of items available from big-name brands is still fairly small, especially considering the huge market out there.
But they’re trying, so let’s give them some credit! Of the big sports brands, one of my favourite items comes from Puma – its Modest Activewear Training Hoodie is thigh length, with a longer back, and made from a moisture-wicking fabric. It also has an added piece of fabric at the neckline that means the collarbone is covered without you having to wear a separate top underneath.
If any big sports brands are reading, more of this kind of thing please!
Every sports company produces jogging bottoms, so it should be easy to find a modest, functional pair. But a bit like shopping for school shoes when you were a child, my battle to find good jogging bottoms has been tiresome.
Step in Boody, with its Weekend joggers. Made from organically-grown bamboo and organic cotton, they’re hugely comfortable – I’ve been wearing mine everywhere since I got them (long drives, running errands, and just plain running). The cuffed ankles mean they don’t ride up, and the slim yet not skin-tight fit means they’re flattering but don’t cling when I work out in them. I’ve worn them for runs in both cool and warmer weather, and they’re that kind of magic that keeps you warm yet doesn’t let you get overly hot.
Two-in-one modest activewear
Ah, the leggings dilemma. They’re great for some workouts, and yet they’re also super clingy and can make a lot of people (including me) feel very self-conscious.
The solution could be a pair of leggings with a skirt attached, like Adidas’ Tennis Paris Two-in-One leggings. The short floaty skirt layer offers coverage over the backside, while the ankle-length leggings feel secure and offer a great range of movement, whatever you’re doing.
Sure, I maybe feel like I’m back in 2001 and skirts over trousers are in fashion, but this activewear look is much more stylish and functional.
Everyone needs a top to throw on after a workout. Or at least I do, because after the heat from a run or a spin class I cool down very, very quickly, and need an extra layer for the journey home.
H&M does an oversized sweatshirt that’s perfect for these occasions. Made from a fabric that helps wick away moisture from the skin, it’s the perfect post-workout piece with its loose fit and long sleeves. Plus, it’s available in a range of bright colours, proving that activewear doesn’t need to be super serious (my favourite is the dark purple).