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Down & Dirty: Facts And Myths About Running Skirts

Whether you like them or not, running skirts are here to stay.

Whether you like them or not, running skirts are here to stay.

Take a casual scan of racers at a starting line, and you’ll notice more and more women (and no shortage of men) running in skirts, dresses, kilts and even tutus. Fun is a factor for many, but don’t underestimate the function aspect, especially in trail running, or you may find yourself getting “chicked” by a skirt-clad runner on her way to a podium finish.

“Basically, I look for freedom of movement when I’m on the trail,” says Jen Edwards, a skirt-wearing trail runner from Olympia, Wash., who regularly runs to top-five finishes at distances from 50K to 100 miles. “Skirts give that freedom.”

The modern running skirt trend was sparked in 2004, when Nicole DeBoom won Ironman Wisconsin wearing a prototype Skirt Sports design. (She started the Boulder, Colo., company shortly after winning that race.) Road and trail running sisters Cindy Lynch and Christy Baker launched their Running Skirts brand just a few months later in 2005. And what a difference a decade makes! Now running powerhouses like Nike, Saucony, Brooks and New Balance make skirts as well as more historically hard-charging, adventure-focused brands like The North Face, Patagonia and Mountain Hardwear.

It seems that the fringe fashion statement has taken its place along with split-leg shorts, boy shorts and capris. But mention running skirts among a group of female runners and you’ll quickly find that women either love them or hate them. So what makes running skirts and dresses so worthy of conversation? Let’s take a look at some of the facts and fiction.

[For the sake of this column, I’m using word “skirt” as an umbrella term to cover skorts (skirts and shorts combined), skirts with briefs and skirts without built-in undies. Hopefully dresses, tutus and kilts (underwear or not, up to you) are self-explanatory.]

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Fact: Skirts And Dresses Are Functional

“I love to run in skirts for the comfort, and nothing rides up,” says Colorado-based trail runner Stevie Kremer, who recently won the Zegama-Aizkorri Marathon, a grueling mountain race through Spain’s Basque country, wearing a skirt with built-in boy shorts.

When you think about the dynamic movements required for moving on technical trails, clothes with maximum mobility are essential. Edwards tells naysayers to imagine climbing two steps at a time, basically what happens on tough trail climbs as you go up and over roots and rocks.

“Skirts move with you and don’t create a friction point between your legs like the extra fabric on shorts,” Edwards says.

Like Kremer, Edwards favors skirts with built-in boy shorts. Not only do they stay put, provide more pocket options and possibly, depending upon the fabric, give some light compression, they help to prevent chafing.

“Trail runners are usually covering distances at a slower speed and are thus out there a longer amount of time, making chafing more of a possibility and the boy short really helps to stop it,” Edwards says. “I have run thousands of miles in skirts and I’ve never once had chafing on my thighs.”

Myth: You Aren’t A Serious Runner If You Run In A Skirt Or Dress

Aside from Kremer’s recent win, New Zealand’s Anna Frost won the 2014 Transvulcania 83K in the Canary Islands in a Salomon running dress. American Rory Bosio won the 2013 Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) in a skirt from The North Face. In 2009, Krissy Moehl won UTMB in a Patagonia skirt. And, in 2007, Beverly Anderson-Abbs won the women’s masters division of the Western States Endurance Run … in a skirt.

Enough said.

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Fact: Skirts And Dresses Flatter A Variety Of Figures, Shapes And Sizes

Skirts manage to enhance curves, cover areas you would rather not expose and give shape, if desired, to those with boyish physiques. Lengths go from sassy to modest, with bun hugging to A-line fabrication. There is a style for everyone.

According to Frost, who helped to design the NZ Limited Edition collection for Salomon, “Skirts and dresses look great and feminine on everyone, plus they are comfortable.”

Myth: Skirts Don’t Belong On The Trail

This point is definitely an interesting juxtaposition. Trail running can be hard, dirty and gritty. Making a skirt seem somewhat out of place. But, what better place to insert some girl power? Knowing you can tackle the toughest trails out there, and do it while showing some sass, is nothing short of empowering.

Edwards chalks it up to trail runners liking to show their flair and personality. And, unlike the traditional uniform requirements of track & field or cross country, trail runners have the freedom to wear what they want.

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Fact: Skirts And Dresses Are No Longer A Trend Or Fad

The truth is, they never really were.

The legendary Greek heroine Atalanta was listed, along with Achilles, as a runner in the Trojan War. Considering that was long before the development of split shorts, chances are good she wore a tunic. Scottish men have long revered their kilts. And kilts and skirts are standard at women’s field hockey games. Tennis dresses and golf skirts have been around since women took to the courts and the links. Women even used to swim in wool bathing dresses, but let’s hope that trend doesn’t return. And don’t forget the ever-stylish tunic, belt and bloomer ensembles girls used to wear for P.E.

Skirts and shorts are kind of like chocolate and vanilla—choices are good and we each have our preference. Instead of debating whether running skirts and dresses are frivolous or sexist, it’s high time we celebrate the wide range of apparel available for heading out on the trails and road. Enough about the skirt.