It’s Not a “Midriff” Problem. It’s a Bra Problem.

In a previous article, “What’s Wrong With My Midriff,” the topic of gym dress codes against one’s midriff was brought up. This article is here to explain that gyms may not actually have an issue with clothing revealing midriff, but they might actually have an issue with those who only wear sports bras as a top.

For those who do go to the gym and have witnessed the many people exercising among various equipment, you may have also noticed the different outfits these people choose to wear. There could be some in gym shorts and t-shirts, compressed shorts and tank tops, leggings and a sports bra, or a variety of these options and more. However, as you enter upon the gym, you may or may not notice a sign of the gym’s dress code rules.

A gym’s dress code rules typically always involve tennis shoes for support, slip resistance, and toe safety. Also, the dress code will state that everyone must be wearing bottoms of some kind whether they are gym shorts, compressed shorts, leggings, etc. However, a gym’s dress code over what kind of top one must wear varies from gym to gym. Some gyms state that a shirt must be worn, and some gyms do not mind whether one is worn or not. Some gyms, though, take their top wear measures to levels that target the female body for its use of the sports bra.



Even though sports bras are advertised and worn without the use of a shirt or jacket to cover up, there are still places that prevent the wear of sports bras as tops. While this notion is an issue on its own for maintaining old traditional and societal views of cleavage and skin, this also poses a problem with midriff and equal dress coding for males and females. Would it be equally acceptable if a female could wear a sports bra but a male could not be shirtless? Would it be equally acceptable if a female had to wear a shirt but a male could be shirtless? Is there any real equality and fairness with gym dress codes?

These questions may not be easy to resolve, nor may they appease everyone that walks into a gym. However, there is one gym in particular that I have stepped foot into and received different reactions to my workout wear. Typically, I wear capri leggings, a sports bra, and a t-shirt or twisted tank top. I have been working out every Tuesday and Thursday since the 2nd week of the Spring Semester rotating between the different outfits. Occasionally, after I have already been working out in the outfit, I will take off my shirt to cool down for a few exercises or the remaining workout. Most of the workers have not minded, yet I was finally approached by one rather quickly after removing my t-shirt in which they stated it was just a part of the dress code. Strangely enough, the next week, another worker told me that they personally did not mind but that other workers may mind and say something to me.

As I exited the building after that first encounter, I sought out any signs with the dress code. There was a written sign on the top level that stated at the very bottom, “clothing must not reveal midriff.” On the bottom level at the desk, there was a picture sign that showed examples of what was acceptable and what was not. What caught my eye, besides the “no sports bra” representative, was the racerback tank top representative that was still NOT acceptable. That is when it occurred to me that the gym’s dress code may not have been just a midriff problem, it may actually, or also, be a bra problem.


woman working out Photo by Clayton Scelzi from Unsplash


As someone who does not actively seek others attention to my body, I have always found the dress code unfair in the fact that it maintains the stigma of what body parts are too sexual and scandalous to show. For the most part, this stigma is targeted against females. Which, as for the one gym in particular, they seem to be mislabeling their bra issues as “midriff” issues. However, to reinstate, I have worn this top before with no issues. Is this some kind of Midterm turning point to reinstate their dress code that no one has encouraged for the first half of the semester? Probably, but I find this very aggravating. Personally, I truly just want to workout regularly to feel healthy and good about my body. However, since these encounters, I have been more tense and on edge about my workouts thinking about who may be looking at me (more than likely no one) and what someone might say (more than likely just another worker). This has left me feeling irritated and defeated when it used to brighten up my day. I do not have the money to buy new, thin workout clothes nor should I even have to when I am only ever minding my own workout business.

A possible solution to gym dress codes may be that different sections or areas of the gym have different dress codes. Those who workout on equipment with seating and benches may be required to wear tops so that there is less risk of sweat exchanges between people. (Although, there are still workout towels for people to use to lessen this risk as it is). Those who workout standing, running, or on the floor may be okay without top requirements since the health and safety of others are not as affected in those kinds of areas. However, it ultimately should not matter what someone wears as long as it is reasonable to be worn in the gym and they are not actively and solely seeking attention from others.