Choosing the Best Tai Chi Clothing for You

Choosing the Best Tai Chi Clothing for You

One huge monetary benefit and reason for the proliferation of tai chi is that you don’t necessarily need facilities or materials in order to practice tai chi.  That being said, choosing comfortable tai chi clothing is important because uncomfortable pants limit low stances and typical athletic shoes can restrict the ankles and stick to the floor when pivoting (more on tai chi shoes here).  After you have been practicing for awhile or if you join a class, purchasing a traditional tai chi uniform can be fun, especially if you present your form to a crowd!

As a general rule, appropriate tai chi clothing can be any loose fitting shirts and pants that are either not long or gather at the ankle. Tight clothes restrict breathing, make low stances difficult, and long pants can be tripped on during the form. Tai chi clothing can range from inexpensive athletic wear to beautiful silk traditional tai chi uniforms.

Let’s face it, you probably practice tai chi to improve your health, be part of a community, and learn something interesting and new. Choosing what to wear is an additional fun aspect of tai chi that many other sports don’t have. There is so many options for tai chi clothing and uniforms that have cool and beautiful writing and symbols. Here are just a couple of things to consider before making your purchase. At the end we will share links to some of our inexpensive and durable favorites.

What clothes do I need for tai chi?

Most exercise clothes for tai chi will work just fine. And you will see if you have searched for tai chi workout clothes that they don’t look too much different from regular athletic wear but just might be brighter and adorned with Chinese symbols. Above all else, the best clothes for tai chi are extremely comfortable. However, tai chi is different than all other western sports and there are some things you need to keep in mind.

Tai Chi Pants

You would think that picking a pair of tai chi pants would be easy.   Was it easier in the 90s when zumbas were in?  It has to be the right combination of length and spaciousness to remain comfortable.  There are pants that are specific for tai chi but athletic pants can work well with the following considerations:

  1. Roomy tai chi pants are essential.  Having more room at the crotch allows for the deep postures.  Also, you will be moving into seat-like postures so a longer torso area reduces the likelihood that you will be mooning your classmates. Tai chi spends a lot of time stretching and to do it properly you need roomy pants.  For women, wearing athletic tights is fine too.
  2. Long pants can get tripped on and stepped on. We move slowly and often stand with our feet together. Trendy long pants can get pinned down as you try to lift the other foot.  Additionally, in pushhands your opponent will step right inside your foot and can pin your pants to the floor.
  3. Blood flow is essential for tai chi. I wish I didn’t have to point this out but jeans might not be the best option for tai chi.  Coming right from work occasionally?  No problem. Choose tai chi pants that are not excessively restrictive at the waist or thighs. Also, no belts! Belts not only restrict the belly’s expansion but when you are in a deeper stance they crimp at the hip joint.

Are there special considerations for tai chi pants for women?

This brings into question the yoga pants that are incredibly popular that most women work out in. Tai chi breathing demands a complete relaxation of the belly which is not at all flattering. Most of us have the habit of keeping our gut sucked in all day and tai chi works to reverse this during the form to allow the space around our organs to expand. If pants are excessively high or restrict the stomach from expanding they are not a good choice. Yoga pants are fine if they do not restrict the midsection and if you are are at all self conscious, choose a top that does not tuck in. That being said, I have never seen any female practitioners in China or any female instructors who wear anything but loose fitting clothes for tai chi. Loose fitting tai chi pants don’t have to be ugly like the zumbas above. Check out many of the modern tai chi pants options that female tai chi practitioners have designed.

Tai Chi Shirts

Shirts for tai chi are easy and often classes will provide or sell a shirt as part of a tai chi uniform. Choose what you like in most cases but I also wanted to talk about some specifics. Real traditionalists vote for long sleeved tai chi shirts and there is a good reason behind it.

tai chi shirt long sleeve gives feedback for meditation.
  1. Long sleeved tai chi shirts and movement: Long sleeves act as a feedback mechanism when you are further along in your development because the sleeves rub on your forearms in a unique way when you are circling your arms correctly. Imagine (or move) your arm in a circle in front of your body with the elbow and upper arm remaining still. As the forearm creates a circle the sleeve gets tight and loose as it twists on your forearm.
  2. Long sleeved tai chi shirts and posture: Secondly, the sleeves give you some feedback when you are doing standing posture that helps our body stay “full.” Here is what I am talking about. Imagine that you are hugging a huge yoga ball in front of you in tree pose. When done correctly, the back is flat, the armpits are open, and the elbows are pointed to the ground. When done poorly, the “wings” in your back stick out and your armpits are closed. Long sleeves pull a shirt tight across the back and loose long sleeves hand down correctly when the elbows and armpits are in the right position.

Should you wear organic tai chi clothing or cotton only?

There is a purest argument that tai chi should be practiced only in organic tai chi clothing such as cotton or silk. There is some basis for this idea that I will share here. Tai chi and qi gong cause a lot of intentional pressure on your organs through deep belly breathing and through movements in the form. Think of it as pushing on the filters that are cleaning you blood and removing toxins that you excrete through sweat and by going to the bathroom. This may sound gross but is actually great for your health. Synthetic materials are designed to stay dry and may leave this “residue” on your skin. Truly, a change to the smell of your sweat is something that many practitioners have experienced so this thought process makes sense.

Know that these are important considerations and demonstrate the detail and knowledge that is built into tai chi. Above all, make sure that your tai chi outfit is comfortable and not constricted. I prefer long-sleeve shirts and tai chi cotton clothes but do wear a combination of short and long-sleeve shirts, cotton and synthetic material depending on the season and temperature.

Tai Chi Uniforms

tai chi uniforms for competition

Purchasing a tai chi uniform depends on so many variables such as: what tai chi style you practice, what style uniform you like, how much you want to spend, your body, what event it is for, etc.  Know that 99% of the world practices with comfortable tai chi apparel and use uniforms for special occasions.

On the other hand, they can be beautifully crafted clothing and a nice tai chi uniform gives you the sense of participating in a historical tradition.

What is the tai chi uniform called?

A traditional tai chi uniform is called a “fu” (服) but the name means “uniform” so the word “fu” is rarely used. It is made of silk or cotton, and typically has a high collar, woven knots that run the length of the front, and elastic or woven knots to gather the sleeves at the wrists and the pants at the ankles. They can be any colors and many are ornately designed.

tai chi uniform with design

An authentic tai chi uniform isn’t needed to practice tai chi but some schools wear tai chi uniforms to have everyone feel closer to the tradition and part of the community. A tai chi uniform is needed for competition and is one way tai chi and kung fu differentiate themselves from the other martial arts. It is up to each individual to choose their favorite color and whether they want to have a design on it.

So do you need to buy tai chi clothing?

I really can’t answer this question.  There! I am rendered opinionless for the first time.  Mark this date on your calendar and let me answer this with a spectrum of answers.

No, you do not need a special tai chi outfit

To be honest, in China I watched four grey-haired gentlemen perform incredible pushhands in plain white T-shirts and cigarettes hanging out of their mouths.  One’s white pants were so transparent you could see his greeny-tidies through them. How’s that for confidence?  So no, focusing on which clothes is a distraction.

Maybe you need to consider buying clothes for tai chi

Do not split your pants? That’s the bottom line.  Wear comfortable clothing that any gym store could offer you. Please no jeans and Birkenstocks. See Tie-dyed Tai Chi for more information on that.

Yes, buy specific clothes for tai chi

Part of the beauty of studying this art is becoming part of the tradition.  The amazing tai chi outfits that are available are inexpensive and aligning yourself with a class of people who are working towards something greater by wearing their tai chi t-shirt is great.  Go with the whole experience.  If you need to be convinced about what a uniform can do, watch the 2008 Olympics opening ceremony.

Where to find the best tai chi clothing and uniforms?

As you can imagine, we get this question a lot from our students and this community. The problem is that the best tai chi clothing for you is probably not the same for someone else who is a different gender, does competitions or has different goals.

Stay tuned!

Scott Prath

Scott has been practicing and teaching tai chi and qigong since 2000. He is a lead instructor for the Austin Chen Tai Chi Association. His interest in the internal martial arts began after traveling in India and Nepal, and he has since traveled to China to train. Scott has published over 100 articles on tai chi with a focus on research showing the benefits of practicing.

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