The idea of renting workout clothes grossed me out…until I tried it


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Photo: Getty Images/Phutthiseth Thongtae

Raise your hand if you’ve been here: You’re signed up for your regular, waitlist-only class, but figure out after you get to work that you forgot to pack your leggings. You’ll have to either A) buy a new pair or B) eat the cancellation fee and skip your favorite sweat sesh. Feels like a lose-lose situation, right?

Well, a new startup named Routinely is trying to offer a third option. “We’re all about changing how people access workout clothes,” says Will Tso, its co-founder. The service basically works like Rent the Runway…but for activewear: Sign up, schedule a drop-off, tell them your sizes, and your favorite brands, and a kit appears with everything you need for a sweat—down to socks, shoes, and even a hair tie.

The service basically works like Rent the Runway…but for activewear.

Rentals cost $12 and include clothes from major labels like Under Armour, Nike, and Adidas. For an extra $2, you can get items from buzzy brands like Outdoor Voices or Lululemon. Better still, you can be sent to your home, office, hotel, or even the studio where you’re headed because of Routinely same-day delivery option.

When I first heard about this, my immediate thought was: genius. My next thought was a big question—one Tso knows is the biggest barrier to getting everyone in New York City’s boutique fitness bubble (currently the startup only serves the Big Apple) to try it: Is it totally gross to wear clothes someone else sweats in? He explained to me that the company is super committed to cleanliness and has hired a commercial launderer to wash every item in between rentals. (They’ve also got a UV sterilizer for the sneakers called SteriShoe that zaps germs and odors, so there’s no lingering funky bowling-shoe stink.) After a certain number of wears, clothes are donated to Underdogs United, an organization that uses sports to encourage cultural and environmental enrichment worldwide.

With that, I decided to test out the service on a recent Sunday gym trip.

The idea of renting workout clothes grossed me out...until I tried it
Photo: Stocksy/Marko Milovanovic

I logged on to Routinely.co (there’s no app yet) to start requesting my stuff. The site almost looks like you’re ordering Fresh Direct: First, I chose the date I wanted my kit delivered and a two-hour time window that worked for me. Then I told them what I actually needed: In this case, I got everything, which included a sports bra, tank, leggings, sneakers, and a hair tie. I opted to pay an extra $2 (so $14 total) to receive only Lululemon, and then I chose my sizes for each item. (Right now, Routinely only offers women’s options up to an XL, which is better than some brands, but it could stand to be more size inclusive.)

No matter what brands you choose, the Routinely stylists pick out your items based on what kinds of activities you’ve said you like, which is kind of fun and kind of nerve-wracking. (This is not a service for picky folks or influencers looking to one-time wear the season’s trendiest activewear). That said, the interface is simple and clean, and while you don’t get to see any of the clothes before you check out, I was able to add notes about my usual sizing in Lulu and everything fit perfectly—though the tags had been removed, so I couldn’t see what sizes the items actually were. I received black leggings, a black tank and a black sports bra with black Nike sneakers, and while it was sleek-looking, I would have liked an opportunity to try some new colors or prints since I was renting.

Part of the service’s appeal is the ability to try new brands for a smaller fee than a full outfit would be.

When selecting for my kit, I stuck to a brand I know and love, but Tso says another part of the service’s appeal is the ability to try new brands for a smaller fee than a full outfit would be. “Take a brand like Outdoor Voices— people say they love it, but often they haven’t actually worn it,” he says. “Once they try it, they can see how they perform in it, how it feels. We get a ton of feedback saying ‘Can I just keep it!?’” (For now, you can’t, but Routinely will send you a link to buy the item directly.)

The kit arrived as scheduled, in my 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. window, and the service sent me a text when it was on the way. It came in a drawstring backpack—easy for toting to and from your studio—and everything was folded neatly and crisply. It even had a handwritten note saying which stylist had prepared my kit. I’m a different size in bras than tops, a fact I had included in a note to the service, and I did receive the correct bra size. Off the bat, I was impressed.

The shiny black leggings looked brand new—and held up to a smell test.

The shiny black leggings looked brand new—and held up to a smell test, as my very skeptical sniff didn’t betray that any previous users had worn them. Though when I put the leggings on, I did notice the elastic on the side pocket for my phone was a teeny bit stretched out—not a big deal, but a clue that these were pants that had seen other legs. Still, the outfit held up well for my gym time: I did a circuit on the elliptical and a round of strength training, alternating upper body and lower body exercises, to really put the outfit to the test.

Okay, here’s where things can get a little gross depending on how you handle your dirty clothes. When your kit’s dropped off, you’re given a return envelope to send your stuff back via USPS. If leaving your leggings in a plastic bag for a day can turn them into a breeding ground for bacteria, certainly, sticking sweaty clothes in a sealed envelope isn’t any better, right? So my advice would be: Don’t. Do yourself—and the future wearers of whatever you’ve borrowed—a favor and wait for your outfit to dry first. You have three days from delivery to mail in your kit, so there’s time. But if you’re in a rush, give them a good blast with a blow dryer in the locker room, perhaps? Routinely sent a text as a reminder when my time was up to turn in my stuff, and another text when the items were received, about three days later. I’ve definitely let my dirty gym clothes linger in my laundry basket for at least that long, so the timeframe didn’t feel out of bounds.

Overall, I liked the service, but I don’t think I’d become a regular user. For my money, I think Routinely’s best for someone visiting NYC to have workout clothes delivered to their hotel—I love the thought of not packing bulky sneakers and still looking great for a workout, fitting in with all the fashionably fitness junkies that call the city home. Still, it’s great to know something like this exists for those last-minute workout emergencies, too.

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