After you find a yoga teacher that inspires and supports you, and get the mat and props you need to make the practice effective and safe, you need to choose clothes that help you get the most out of each practice.
While it is true that yoga meets you where you are and you can practice in any clothes (or none at all if you are at home), some clothes make yoga easier and more enjoyable than others.
Why the Right Yoga Clothes Matter
Yoga is designed to move the entire body through its full range of motion. At times in a yoga practice you may be upside down, twisted, folded in half, or standing with your legs wide apart. Most regular clothes are either too tight or too loose to allow you to move comfortably and fully through all poses in an active yoga class.
Clothes that are too loose, like sweatpants and t-shirts, can bunch up around the neck, waist, and thighs. They make it impossible to bend over without getting a face full of fabric, or to sit in a forward bend without a lot of fabric compressing into your belly. Loose clothes also tend to move in ways that might expose parts of your anatomy unexpectedly.
Clothes that are too tight or stiff, like denim jeans or dress shirts, inhibit flexibility and can press into your skin as you bend.
If the fabric is too thick or does not breathe, you will not receive the full circulation-increasing benefits yoga can offer. You are also more prone to skin breakouts and irritation, because you may be perspiring but then making the sweat stay on your skin without the airflow to let it properly evaporate. If the fabric is too thin, you may show more that you mean to when bending over.
Finding the Best Fit
In general, in yoga you want to wear clothes that fit your form comfortably without being constricting or baggy. Your teacher should be able to see your figure and joints to ensure you are using safe alignment.
When you are trying on yoga clothes, test them to ensure that you can squat, bend over, reach your arms all the way overhead, twist, and spread your legs wide apart with anything pulling, limiting your motion, sliding in a way that feels uncomfortable, bunching up anywhere, or falling into your face.
Yoga Clothing Fabrics
The best fabrics for yoga clothes are ones that are pre-shrunk or shrink-proof with just the right amount of stretch. Some yogis prefer natural , eco-friendly fabrics like organic cotton, bamboo, or linen, sometimes blended with lycra or another stretchy fabric. Other practitioners like the moisture-wicking properties and enhanced stretchiness of completely synthetic athletic fabric. Whatever you choose should feel really good on your skin, and not cause any irritation.
The fabric should be sturdy enough to withstand frequent washing and drying. Avoid clothes that must be hand washed, dry-cleaned, or air dried, unless you enjoy those processes.
Choosing Yoga Tops
You want your yoga tops to hug the torso but be flexible enough to allow deep breathing. Men should avoid baggy t-shirts or polo shirts and go with tank tops or other open collars.
Women will benefit from a top with built-in breast support that is not too binding. You want to feel supported and like nothing will fall out when you bend over, but not be bound across the ribcage or shoulders.
Choosing Yoga Pants
The best yoga pants fit well around the waist without being loose or binding. Even if you are not completely comfortable with your figure, a fitted pant will be more flattering and enable a safer and more effective practice than baggy pants.
You want a waistband that stays in place but will not dig into your belly and cut off circulation. Fabric and elastic waistbands are best. Avoid buckles, snaps, drawstrings, zippers, and other metal or plastic closures.
Usually, mid-length pants are best. Short shorts are not advised for hopefully obvious reasons. Form-fitting capri-style pants are very popular and effective for practice. In colder studios, ankle-length pants may be preferred, but they should be straight leg not flared, and should not touch the floor when you are standing.
Yoga pants are versatile enough to be worn all day, and the right accessories can make them appropriate for a variety of situations. White yoga pants are a great addition to summer outfits, while black, brown, and dark blue yoga pants tend to look more professional and work better in the cooler months.
Ultimately, in yoga classes and your personal practice you should wear clothes that make you feel comfortable and allow you to move freely. There are hundreds of manufacturers to choose from, from giant multi-national corporations fueled by sweat-shop labor to little local artisans sewing their designs themselves by hand. Choose your yoga clothes the way you approach the rest of your practice: through experimentation, seeking a blend of comfort and effectiveness, and looking for what works best for you.