I have been intrigued and enchanted by running skirts since my sophomore year running cross and track in college. I specifically remember stumbling across a neon lime green and white patterned skirt with a bright aqua blue waistband and the same blue spandex shorts underneath during the summer beforehand and snatching that ensemble up like it was going out of style (when in reality it was never in style to being with). I returned to school that year excited about my purchase and eager to wear it out and about along the banks of the Charles River, only to realize that I was alone on the island of running skirt enthusiasm. Teammates wrinkled their noses and squinched their eyebrows together. What is that? they asked, as if I’d shown up to practice with dog poop smeared across my legs. I don’t blame them for this reaction. They’d been programmed by society to look down their nose at running skirts, we’re all a product of the world around us. And I could and possibly should have stood tall and proud with my thighs be-skirted, but instead I eventually pushed that skirt to the bottom of my running drawer until I lost track of it, or gave it away. I no longer have it.
So when Nicole Bush and I planned to call each other one day while we were both running, I knew exactly what I wanted to chat with her about.
We decided to record the phone call for posterity, and so that we could later bring snippets of it to you, if it turned out that we were able to be the least bit coherent while running. She explained to me a technique she used in order to talk into the mic on her headphones while running, which basically consisted of holding the headphone wire between her teeth, and we were off. What follows is a shortened transcript of our conversation, in which we consider: is the running skirt dumb?
Jeanne: Hey Nicole we’re recording now.
Nicole: Is it a second call that comes in?
J: Yeah I had to merge them. I also really hope it works because I tried Google voice and that was great but then I couldn’t get the call out of google voice, like to download the recording or whatever.
J: Ok I’m getting my shoes on. I’m also in a room with a parrot right now. Because I’m pet setting for a professor. The parrot’s name is Arnie.
N: That’s awesome. Much better than pet sitting a dog or a cat.
J: Yeah and there’s a tortoise too. Named Windsor. Hey Arnie, will you talk? I’ve learned that it’s really hard to get parrots to listen to you or do what you want. Alright, I’m ready to head out for a run. How far are you going today do you think?
N: Mmm. Undecided. I’ll see how I feel.
J: Yeah, same. Bye, Paul, wanna say hi to Nicole? She can hear you but you can’t hear her.
Paul: Hi Nicole. Just tell her I say hi.
J: She says hello. And now I’m leaving.
N: Cool. Me too. I have my key on my little ratchety headband that I put on my wrist and tuck under my watch when I go running.
J: Nice. You don’t ever want to just leave it somewhere in the yard? Under a rock or something?
N: No I’ve been doing this for too long. Plus I live in an apartment, so it’d be like public space too which would be weird. I’m outside now and it’s actually a really nice day in Michigan.
J: Ok me too. Wooo! What’s the weather?
N: It’s about 40 but the sun is out which it doesn’t like to do a lot in the Winter. But also a couple of weeks ago it was 60. Are you running yet?
J: Well shoot Nicole, the wire in my mouth thing really backfired and I’m pretty sure it ended the call!
N: Did you hang up on me with your mouth?
J: Yep. Exactly. Hit some weird button or something.
N: Do you have the regular iPhone headphones.
J: Yeah the ones with the volume adjuster thing on one side.
N: Yeah, so I have the mouthpiece on the right side. Then I put the end of the wire past my lips and just kind of hold it there.
J: How do you talk while you do that? I have no idea how someone could do both!? You don’t need to open your mouth? You can talk with your mouth holding a wire?
N: No wait now. I don’t know. This doesn’t seem like it. I don’t know how I did this. Maybe I just got my friends to talk most of the time.
J: Yeah that’s the thing about calling people when you run, you need to find someone who can talk pretty much uninterrupted so you can just say like, “mm, mhm” and grunt and stuff. But anyway. Guess what I’m wearing right now Nicole.
N: Are you wearing shorts?
J: I’m not. Good guess. But I’m wearing a running skirt.
N: I didn’t see that coming.
J: I know! But you should’ve. Because I asked you pretty cryptically a few days ago, what do you think about running skirts?
N: It would’ve been great if I had been like, me too!!
J: Hah. Do you own any running skirts?
N: I got one for free once. I never wore it. I think it was like a size too big.
J: Yeah. It’s hard to roll the top.
N: I was just gonna say–I probably wouldn’t have been able to roll it. I have a shirt that looks–well, cause I have like no torso–so because of that I have a shirt that looks kind of like a tunic/skirt thing when I wear it. It was when I was at Furman and Jeff See was like you are probably the only person of your caliber who is running in a running skirt. And I was like I’m just kidding, it’s a tank top.
J: So basically it was a running dress. You started the running dress trend?
N: Yeah it went below my shorts. I could’ve belted that shit.
J: Ok. Well. Two things. I just found like the bottom half of a dollar bill on the road. Which is so weird, it was torn in half so now I have from George Washington’s chin down in my left hand.
N: Oh! Like the long way?
J: Yeah isn’t that so surprising? I’ve never seen it torn this way.
N: I’ve seen em, but they’re always like the short way.
J: I don’t know if this will even work. I’ve heard that you need like ⅔ of a dollar in order for it to count as anything.
N: No no no no. You rip it and then you just have two.
J: Ok. Well anyway. The second thing I was gonna say is that, we need to talk about this. What you just were saying about how Jeff said running skirts don’t go hand in hand with high caliber athletes.
N: Yeah! So I was thinking about it a little bit. And yeah, I understand that running skirts serve a purpose. But for me, I’m like, they’re dumb. I think they’re dumb.
J: Well wait. What is the purpose? I’m intrigued about whether there’s a purpose that’s not obviously apparent. Like I gotta tell you. I feel bouncy and buoyant. And maybe that doesn’t have anything to do with the skirt. But there’s some air getting in under the skirt part and it feels nice.
N: If it was like buns under the skirt, I wonder. I might like that but maybe not with the shorts.
J: I wonder if they make them like that. To be clear, this is probably just a tennis skirt. But Ok. Here’s the thing. Here’s the argument for running skirts. Why they’re not dumb:
I think it reminds me of what I would imagine the draw is for wearing kind of long shorts if you’re a guy. Like even if you’re still good, wearing longer shorts means: ok. I’m taking a step back and going to fully embody a runner dad and just really relax, maybe go 8:30ish pace. And that’s what it feels like, wearing a running skirt to me. Subversive.
N: Ok, so short shorts are for like, when you’re gonna go fast or hard you’re gonna fully step into the role. And then the longer inseam… is when you’re more relaxed…okay…
J: Yeah I think so, right?
N: I guess my big thing is maybe I think they’re stupid because I think it’s too feminine so it’s for like wimps who want to look nice. And that’s totally unfair. Like, I’m a feminist, why am I thinking that!
J: Oh no! Shit!
N: I know! I’m not perfect.
J: So I used to work for a company that would send me to the Disney half and 10k in Orlando, Florida. And I’d be at the expo and race registration and oh my god. There. That was the running skirt mecca. If you didn’t have a running skirt on, get the fuck out.
N: Like all ages?
J: Yeah I think so! Most of the women were a little older. But yeah you’re right, I didn’t see many girls. Or like women in their 20s wearing running skirts. But also tutus. Tons of tutus there, not just running skirts. And that’s kind of where I draw the line. I’m pro running skirt, but I don’t know about a tutu.
N: Ok. Now I’m rethinking this. I have run in a tutu.
J: Wow! For what?
N: It was for Halloween. I decided to be a ballerina. So I made one and then ran through the woods with my friends.
J: Were you the only one wearing a tutu?
N: Oh definitely, yes. Just me.
J: And maybe that’s some of the allure of the running skirt, too. Sure anyone can wear shorts, men, women, boys, girls. But it takes a certain kind of person to wear a running skirt.
N: What kind of person is that? I think there’s a demographic of people who want to be a little more covered up. And not be just in like straight up spandex short shorts.
N: But then beyond that. Beyond that- what is the appeal? I guess you could feel really feminine while you’re running in a skirt. And I’m like no – I don’t want to.
J: Yeah that’s true. I think that’s part of it. I feel like yeah, running usually involves hocking loogies or maybe pooping in the woods. and I guess it can be hard to equate that with femininity. But it can be! And maybe that’s part of why people like them, to put together two parts of themselves that are usually seen as separate. Feminine and athletic.
N: Yeah I think for a while when my friends would put makeup on to race, I’d be like, what are you doing. I disapprove. But not that much. And now I think, you know what, people can do that and that’s cool. It’s like you get to step into a race persona.
J: Yeah! That’s the thing. It’s like the running skirt is a persona! Regardless of whether it’s for the purpose of a race–and granted I don’t see a lot of people doing that. But for an easy day, maybe it’s like–I want to be able to get into a different persona? Or embrace a different part of my persona that’s already there. I don’t know.
N: It isn’t necessarily just racing, like work out day, too. And also going out in public afterward, and you’re all gross and you can’t change, could be nice to cover up with a running skirt.
J: Yeah. I wonder if anyone has ever raced a pretty fast time in a running skirt. Definitely something I should research.
N: Except for the fact that there’s no “ran 2:50 in a running skirt” asterisk in race results.
J: True. You’re right, there’s no way we’d ever know. We’d have to get on some of that Derek Murphy internet detective shit, where he cross references pictures from the race and stuff.
N: I guess you could find finish line footage from Chicago or Boston and watch until you saw someone cross in a running skirt and see what their time was.
J: I could. Maybe I will. Would you ever consider racing in running skirt, personally?
N: I think I would consider it. I don’t know if I would actually do it. I’d have to be like either really killing it at running for a while, or just be like: uhh, this is basically my last race ever. It’s interesting though, I just keep coming back to thinking, being in a running skirt just doesn’t feel like or seem like you’re tough. And that’s so stupid.
J: Yeah. That is stupid! I don’t think it should be that way. That’s why, part of me thinks I really want to race in a running skirt. But I also wonder if it’s just that the only reason I want to race in a running skirt is to be able to say: I raced in a running skirt. Which seems backwards.
N: Yeah. Maybe if it was a running skirt that you really liked and you would wear it anyway, like if it was a cool material. And you liked that look and you would wear it running or not running. That might be the answer.
J: Yeah I’ll have to think about it.
N: What color is your running skirt?
J: It’s navy blue! and I was also just checking around for a pocket to put this half of a dollar bill in and unfortunately, I don’t think this skirt has a pocket. Which really makes me think it’s not a running skirt at all and instead is probably for tennis.
When we hung up a while later because my phone’s deformed battery was on the verge of dying, whether or not my skirt was intended for running or for tennis, I was happy to be wearing it. I’ll be the first to admit that I at times have enjoyed doing something different just for the sake of being different. But, with running skirts, it’s about bucking the trend in a larger way. It’s about defying expectations of what it means to wear a running skirt, and doing my best to free this pigeon-holed item of clothing from the category of only being meant for not quite super competitive or maybe not even serious runners. Free the Running Skirt.