Why I’m Wearing French Activewear For The Rest Of My Life

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Nearly everyone I know is a Francophile—rightfully obsessed with how the innately stylish French eat, drink, live, and especially dress. So when I first heard about French activewear label Ernest Leoty, I was intrigued (bien sûr!). After all, the idea of impossibly chic Frenchwomen wearing leggings and sports bras is incongruous with their elegant Gallic image, and I wanted to know how they’d tackle the most casual attire of all: athleisure.

Founded in 2018 by yoga practitioner, former classical ballet dancer, and cool girl Marion Rabate, Ernest Leoty is the French solution to sportswear. The label’s namesake is a 19th-century Parisian corset maker renowned for his clever approach to the constricting undergarment—which so many women wore at the time. While most corsets limited movement, Leoty’s flexible, lightweight styles allowed its wearers to breathe and move in style. Rabate, of course, doesn’t make corsets. But she does apply Leoty’s revolutionary design theories to her activewear—focusing on the holy trifecta of style, comfort, and technical performance to create couture-inspired silhouettes.

The Met has several of Maison Léoty’s corsets in its collection, including a softly rounded silk bodice circa 1891
Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

After test-driving Ernest Leoty’s Blandine Bra and Therese Legging for two weeks, I’m convinced that French activewear (like their wine, cheese, and pastries) is vastly superior to the rest. In fact, I received so many questions and compliments during the wear-test period that I’m sharing my favorites (along with my answers!) below.

A Kind Friend: “Girl, Have You Been Working Out Or Something?” 

Nope, I’m really only a work-out-once-a-week kinda gal. But such is the magic of Ernest Leoty’s tailored cuts and corset-inspired elements, inspired by its namesake. The Blandine Bras clean, architectural lines echo the boning of a traditional corset, but where the latter was used to add structure, Rabate’s contours work to enhance my natural curves. Meanwhile, the matching high-waisted Therese Legging is a marvel. A double-layered waistband holds my tummy in and contrasting side panels create the illusion of slimmer legs. Paired together, these styles are so figure-flattering that I already look more toned before I’ve even stepped foot in a gym.

Total Stranger Who Approached Me At Alfred Coffee On Melrose (If You’re Reading This, Hi!): “Excuse Me, But Where’d You Get Your Outfit?” 

Ernest Leoty shies away from in-your-face branding—and I like to think that’s the reason for the welcome attention. The palette is mostly understated with a host of neutrals like black, taupe, and ivory, but it’s peppered with a few surprises, such as scarlet, olive, and cobalt, that still feel incredibly versatile and easy to mix and match. Even their logo, which appears on the back of the bra (and nowhere at all on the leggings), is minimal, elegant, and discreet. 

Ernest Leoty has carved its own niche in the saturated activewear market; it doesn’t look like the slick, futuristic clothes marketed to athletes or serious sweat-seekers, and it doesn’t cater to a more juvenile crowd with flashy colorways and busy prints. This is activewear for women with a sophisticated sense of style, who want the same elevated aesthetic in their gym gear as in the rest of their wardrobe.

My Always-Skeptical Big Sister: “Is It Comfortable Though?” 

The 19th-century woman slipping into one of Ernest Leoty’s corsets must have felt exactly as I did donning the modern-day label’s bra: très astonished. The vast majority of sports bras I’ve tried are wildly uncomfortable—chest-flattening fabrics, ribcage-crushing hems, too-tight armholes that create unwanted spillage. But the Blandine is no ordinary construction. Cut in a classic silhouette with a scooped neckline, this miracle-worker’s built with light padding in the front that gives the girls a nice lift. Most sports bras do the opposite, creating a pancake effect that’s (sob) pretty demoralizing. 

Meanwhile, the Therese Legging is crafted from 74% polyamide and 26% elastane, meaning it’s resilient and silky-smooth with lots of stretch. You know how it’s a struggle to slip into most leggings? A clumsy, on-the-floor battle that requires circus-level contortion? Not with this legging. It simply slides on over your legs and stays in place all day with an elastic strip built into the waistband.

My Boyfriend: “Are You Going To Work Out Today?”

Okay, this was less about my outfit and more about my increasingly sedentary lifestyle. But I knew I couldn’t properly test-drive these styles unless I’d actually sweated in them. After a few runs and at-home HIIT sessions, I’m happy to report that Ernest Leoty held up remarkably well to the rigors of exercise—which isn’t often the case with uber-stylish sportswear brands that prioritize looking fabulous over functionality. Both the Blandine and Therese are cut from soft, breathable, technical fabrics with moisture-wicking properties that keep me cool and dry. There’s enough compressive support for medium- to high-intensity workouts, but they’re comfortable enough for low-impact sessions too. 

Best of all, the outfit solved my most common activewear dilemmas: no bra straps falling off, no rough seams chafing against my skin, no waistbands suffocating me. No awkward digging, squeezing, or slipping as I jogged, jumped, and lifted. Thanks to Rabate’s ballet background and keen understanding of how our bodies move, the outfit clearly performs, with every inch designed to optimize 360-degree movement.

My Price-Conscious Sister, Again: “How Much Is It? It Doesn’t Look Cheap!”

With Blandine clocking in at $71 and Therese at $106, Ernest Leoty can be an investment for some. But the price tag reflects the cost of designing with best-in-class, incredibly durable textiles and utilizing superlative European craftsmanship, which is part of the brand’s sustainable, slow-fashion approach. By making high-quality, couture-level pieces in timeless silhouettes, Leoty ensures you’ll be able to wear them for years to come. So no, sis, they’re not “cheap.” But in my opinion, they’re worth every penny.

5 More Reasons To Love Ernest Leoty:

  • Ernest Leoty’s designed for women, by women. Led by Rabate, the all-female team is composed of creatives from French couture houses and technical experts who’ve developed sportswear for Olympic athletes. Every single product is designed and manufactured in Europe—with fabrics carefully sourced from Italian mills.
  • In terms of sustainability, activewear’s one of the worst offenders. But Ernest Leoty’s committed to doing better from the start—using recycled or natural fabrics whenever possible (shop their eco collection here!), producing limited runs to minimize waste, working with sustainable-minded factories, and packaging products in recycled boxes. 
  • The label made a foray into swimwear with an elegant collection reminiscent of their activewear: a color-blocked one-piece swimsuit with shape-sculpting corset stitching, a feminine bikini top with flattering molded cups, and high-cut briefs made to smooth and support. The brand also sells hoodies, loungewear, crop tops, tank tops, and bodysuits.
  • Ernest Leoty was so successful that, in addition to his Parisian atelier, he opened a second showroom and shop in London. If you’re interested in his legacy (beyond buying the activewear!), you can see his original corsets at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • From travel guides to France to healthy recipe ideas, the Leoty Life blog provides plenty of inspiration for devoted Francophiles.

Say Oui, Oui To Ernest Leoty Today.

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