Exercise dresses are one of the many pieces of athleisure that have become popular recently but none have made an impact quite like the Outdoor Voices exercise dress. If you Google exercise dress, the brand’s Instagram-famous exercise dress shows up just about everywhere. With such huge popularity, we wanted to see if the dress really lived up to the hype and if the new design features improved the dress.
At SELF we love to test activewear (just check out our 2022 Activewear Awards) and we love to stay on top of new activewear releases, which is why we jumped at the chance to test out the OV dress. If you’re not someone who keeps up with the latest workout apparel trends (like me), here’s what you need to know: The workout dress is a breathable, moisture-wicking mini dress with built-in bike shorts and straps. The original Outdoor Voices exercise dress came out in 2018 but, recently, OV relaunched the exercise dress with new features, including two pockets (instead of one), adjustable straps, and an internal leg grip. It’s also available in new colorful hues—perfect for the spring and summertime.
We can appreciate an apparel company that listens to its customers and adjusts accordingly. And many reviewers are raving about its updated functional style and comfort. One recent reviewer wrote, “My friends and I all bought the dress to match for Coachella. We were comfortable and adorable. I’m not sure how it gets much better than that. We walked over 10 miles a day and the dress was perfect for it. Ladies, this is the best festival outfit—hands down!”
We tested the exercise dress during the month of April doing different activities. We did everything from jogging, running, and working out, to running errands, cooking, and one 45-minute Hot Girl Mental Health Walk. After wearing it a few times this month, here are our honest thoughts.
Table of Contents
Hannah Pasternak, Associate Director of Special Projects
I tried on the Exercise Dress once, a long time ago, before they made a handful of design updates. Back then, I thought it was cute but impractical—it didn’t feel like it was providing enough coverage or support, and for an activewear piece I feel like an item must provide one of the two—so I didn’t make the purchase. I don’t know if the latest version has an updated material (or if I just don’t recall the old material), but I was surprised at how it felt more like a moisture-wicking windbreaker-type material than a pair of stretchy and soft leggings. That being said…I really liked it! I imagine that [material] feel will come in handy on super hot days.
Some notes on fit: It’s pretty short so, although it has bike shorts (which do stay put), I don’t feel like I’m wearing a lot of clothing when I’m in it. Perhaps I just lean more prudish, but when out and about in New York I’d prefer to wear this with a sweater or an unbuttoned white oxford over it. It also doesn’t provide amazing boob support—in fact, I thought it was a bit loose in the chest, which usually doesn’t happen with my activewear (I’m a 32C). I’m relatively small-chested, so it was fine, though if I bent over there was a gap between my skin and the fabric of the dress where someone could definitely see down.
Overall, I absolutely love the color, and I think this will be a really fun addition to my summer wardrobe. You just need to set expectations before you run an Ironman in it, I think.
Sarah Madaus, Commerce Writer
I was an early Outdoor Voices stan, and I have the first iteration of the Exercise Dress in two colors. The new Exercise Dress is a solid (and necessary) upgrade from ED 1.0, with adjustable straps, a thicker lining, an extra pocket, and a wider leg grip to keep the shorts lining in place. I found the dress to be comfortable before, but this is certainly better—especially for functional movement. I sized down for a more secure fit, because I have a larger chest and need more compression. One thing I don’t love is that the actual dress has a slightly wider silhouette than it used to; it falls away from the body around the chest area, whereas it used to have a slimmer fit throughout.
I sweat—a lot. My original evergreen-hued Exercise Dress has a thinner lining, and sweat shows up within 20 minutes. I thought getting the Dayflower color would lead to the same result and was hesitant to put this dress to the test, but after a speedy 45-minute walk and no sports bra underneath, I was floored to come home and realize that the sweat didn’t soak through the lining.
For higher-impact activities like tennis or barre, I’ll definitely slide a sports bra underneath the dress for more support for my 34DD chest, but I’m happy to report that I’ll no longer need layers upon layers to wear this for a casual outing to conceal sweat. The fabric is a little scratchy but it moves with you, and the leg grips really stayed secure even when I got sweaty (though time—and more washes—will tell if that grip holds up). I feel like this one is a little more unflattering than the previous iteration because of the wider silhouette, but the color is simply stunning, and overall a solid spring/summer option for light workouts and running errands.
Allison Tsai, Associate Health Director
I love this little dress! I think it fits great, it’s generous, and also flattering. So if you were to fluctuate in weight, it would still fit and look nice. I was a little concerned about the chest area not fitting since I have a large chest, but it was pretty supportive. I probably still wouldn’t go completely braless, because I like to feel like my boobs are strapped into a harness, but it wasn’t X-rated. I also love that the shorts have a phone pocket. That is essential for a busy mom running after a toddler!
I think it lives up to the hype. I would recommend it to pretty much anyone. The only negative, in my opinion, is that it kind of makes a swishing sound when you walk.
Jenifer Calle, Senior Commerce Editor
I wore the dress a couple of times for both leisure and working out. I spent a day in it working from a coffee shop and walking in the downtown Jersey City area. Another weekend I took it on a four-mile run in the rain. While I loved wearing it casually around town, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for running. During my run, I had my phone in my pockets and the weight of the phone caused my shorts to constantly slip down throughout my run. The one thing I did love about this dress was the moisture-wicking material. When I got caught in the rain, the water did not stick to the dress and I didn’t feel weighed down. I thought the rain would make the dress transparent but it was fine to wear and dried up super fast!
Overall, I fell in love with the color of the dress—it’s a refreshing change to my mostly black wardrobe. I can see myself reaching for this dress for an easy hike or casual Sunday brunch. I’d recommend it for light workouts and if you’re looking for a dress for the spring and summer that you can easily dress up.
Sara Coughlin, Senior Commerce Writer
As someone who values function in her clothes, especially when it comes to activewear, I cannot fathom when this dress would be the first thing I’d want to put on my body—is there a time, place, or activity where a simple pair of shorts wouldn’t be a better alternative? The dress’s double-layered construction (the built-in bike shorts are part of a sort of unitard under the dress itself) makes me feel swampy from the moment I pull it on, and, even with this design, it isn’t supportive enough to wear without a sports bra, which intensifies said swampiness (for reference I’m somewhere between a B and C cup).
And yet! This is, in fairness, a major upgrade from the first iteration of OV’s exercise dress. The built-in bike shorts provide additional coverage that should make actually exercising in this thing more comfortable. The pockets are big enough to hold a phone, credit card, and/or keys. These are real improvements, but they’re nevertheless just parts of an underwhelming whole. This dress isn’t utterly irredeemable—you should give it a try if you’re curious about it!—but it doesn’t feel necessary or practical to me, a self-described Not Fun Person.