May 26, 2020

You can’t place too high a value on a good pair of workout shorts with a solid waistband. Well-built and tailored workout shorts move with you, keep your temperature regulated, and wick moisture away from your skin. Great workout gear makes all your activities better. 

So what do you wear with a great pair of workout shorts? A great top, of course. But what kind of top? Short sleeve or long sleeve? What kind of fabric? Will you need outerwear to complete the ensemble, and if so, what kind? Answering these questions will ensure that you have the most comfortable, most effective workout possible.  

Choose Tops to Match Your Activity

The key to unlocking the puzzle of what to wear is to consider what kind of activity you’ll be participating in while you’re wearing your workout shorts. Not all workouts are the same, just as not all the environments where you participate in a workout are the same. Take these tips into account when choosing what to wear with your workout clothing shorts.

  • Be sport-specific. You’ll probably sweat a lot more doing a 5-mile run than you will do a gentle yoga class. Your top’s fabric, weight, and cut will make a big difference in how comfortable you are. 
  • Layer with outerwear for the outdoors. Just because it’s a cool morning doesn’t mean that you should stay inside. Putting together combinations of layers, like a performance tee and a quarter-zip, will keep you comfortable and focused on the task at hand.
  • Think outside the box. High-quality athleisure workout shorts from brands like Willy California are for more than the gym. Consider pairing them with an athletic polo shirt for your morning coffee run or a trip to the market.

A T-shirt Isn’t Just a T-shirt

The go-to top that most guys will pick to wear with their gym shorts is bound to be a good old t-shirt. But if you think all t-shirts are made the same, and up to the task, you’re going to be disappointed. Let’s check out your t-shirt options as part of your workout short ensemble. 

The Basic Cotton Tee

You’ve got ‘em. Open any guy’s dresser drawer and you’re bound to find cotton tees. Giveaways, hand-me-downs, vacation and concert souvenirs — they’re all in the mix. It might seem logical to just stick on one of these for your workout clothes, but think twice before you do.

While a broken-in cotton t-shirt can be a comfortable old friend, 100% cotton isn’t great for sports performance. Cotton doesn’t manage moisture well, so you’ll probably find yourself soaked in perspiration in no time at all. And that salty residue can cause chafing that’ll rub your skin raw. There are better ways to go.  

Better Blends for Better Tees

You can get away with cotton for less vigorous sports when it’s blended with synthetic fabrics like polyester. These shirts are more breathable than cotton, for moisture-wicking management, but keep a lot of the softness and smooth feel of that natural fabric. They’re a great match for your workout shorts when you’re doing sports like yoga, or for grabbing a coffee after class. Look for these features when you’re shopping:

  • 4-way stretch. Blend a little spandex in with your cotton and polyester and you’ve got a shirt that moves when it needs to. 
  • Slim cut. You want to look good while you’re wearing it, right?
  • Anti-microbial properties. Bacteria buildup can cause your shirt to pick up and retain odors. Anti-microbial shirts will stay fresher longer.  

Performance Tees

Performance t-shirts are designed to keep you comfortable and let you move during the hardest and sweatiest workouts. Most are 100% synthetic or synthetic blends.  Some, like the Willy California 104 The Workout Tee keep just a touch of high-quality Pima cotton for extra softness without sacrificing performance. Look for these features:

  • Performance fabrics. Polyester is a go-to fabric, though some brands use proprietary weaves that offer excellent moisture management. Nylon and nylon blends are common as well. 
  • 4-way stretch. Around 5% or more spandex in the shirt’s blend will provide excellent mobility. 
  • Slim cut. High-performance t-shirts or tank tops are often cut slimmer than standard tees. 
  • Anti-microbial properties. You’re going to sweat in these shirts, so put up a good defense against the funk! 

Going Long (Sleeve)

When it’s just a bit on the cool side, add a little more coverage to your ensemble by putting on a long sleeve t-shirt. Performance long sleeve tees add that extra coverage without adding significant weight to your workout wear. And best of all you really can “roll up your sleeves and get to work” with a long sleeve tee. Pull your sleeves back down when you’re done to enjoy your cool down.

Outerwear and Layers

Versatile workout running shorts supply a great foundation for all sorts of clothing combinations. The addition of outerwear for cold weather over a t-shirt is one of the best examples. These combinations can serve many purposes. They’ll keep you warm before and after your workout, or they’ll serve as a great-looking addition to your workout shorts, giving you an outfit you can wear all day, all around town. 

Quarter-Zip Pullovers

The quarter-zip pullover — light and warm, casual but dressy — has become a staple in many guys’ wardrobes. They provide extra warmth for warmups and chilly mornings, while the handy zipper lets you regulate temperature. They work great with workout shorts but are also a great complement to track pants, sweatpants, yoga pants, leggings, jeans, and more. Look for these features:

  • Zippers that last. Make sure your quarter-zip uses quality zippers that will stand up to lots of use. And make sure there’s a convenient pull tab on the zipper. You don’t want to have to fumble around for the zipper pull when you’re in the middle of your morning run. 
  • Athletic cut. Just because it’s a layer doesn’t mean your quarter-zip should be baggy. A slim cut will show off all that work you’ve been putting in at the gym.   
  • Stretch fabrics. That touch of spandex in your top’s fabric blend will ensure that it won’t constrain your movements.
  • Anti-microbial. Anti-microbial fabrics and treatments keep you and your outerwear fresh.


Need something with a little more warmth and weight? The hoodie is the way to go. The hoodie has come a long way from the functional but bulky cotton garments worn on swim decks and at the track. Fashionable and high-quality athleisure hoodies feature precisely engineered fabrics, attractive cuts, and great technical details that make them just at home with a pair of chinos as with your workout shorts. Here are some handy hoodie tips: 

  • Go for the full zip. The addition of a full zipper gives your hoodie the versatility to go anywhere and do anything.
  • Skip the cotton. Those old cotton hoodies are heavy and bulky. High-quality athleisure hoodies, like the Willy California 501 Zip-Up Hoodie use light-weight polyester and polyester blends that are lightweight and move moisture away from your base layer. 
  • Shop for fit. You’re not looking for grunge, you’re looking from performance and style. Stick with athleisure brands that understand that you want both function and fashion in your wardrobe.

Dress for Performance, Dress for Style

Today’s activewear workout shorts are great in the gym, but also a great look for the rest of your leisure activities. And when you pair them with the right top, you’ll find that they’ll match almost every activity, from loading up the weight rack at the gym to loading up a basket at the farmer’s market. Shop smart and you’ll have a look that will serve you well, in the gym and beyond.