Kerry Folan is a writer and teacher living in the Washington, D.C., area.
Groove pants on display at the Union Square Lululemon store in New York. (Benjamin Norman/Bloomberg)
I recently left New York, where I was a fashion editor for nearly a decade, to attend graduate school in the suburbs of D.C., where I grew up. I’m happy to be home in most ways, but there’s one suburban habit that I can’t get used to: yoga pants.
Women in my neighborhood go about their entire day in yoga pants and running shoes. Moms with strollers, undergrads on campus, girlfriends meeting up for coffee dates or errands — I have even seen women dressed this way for cocktails.
At first I thought this must be a suburban thing. In New York, I didn’t know anyone who left the house in gym clothes, unless he or she was actually going to the gym. In fact, I once had a roommate who was the director of a fancy children’s gymnasium down the street from our apartment in Brooklyn. She would get fully dressed each morning, including hair, makeup, and heels, just to walk the 10 blocks to work and then get undressed again. I loved her for this. I loved all of New York for this — for always putting in a little extra effort, for never taking the easy way out. In New York, after all, 10 million people are always looking.
But yoga pants aren’t just a suburban trend. Athleisure is the name given to a class of street clothes that adopt the look and comfort of gym wear but are not designed for any actual sweating. It’s been a trend on the runways and in retail over the past few years, with forecasters predicting it to be one of the biggest sellers this holiday season. And I’m against it.
Lululemon, the activewear company, is the fairy godmother of athleisure. Though the company might be best known for its ubiquitous black yoga pants, founders Chip Wilson and his wife Shannon acknowledge that they always intended to make garments so flattering and stylish that women would want to wear them all day. The Wilsons take full credit for the current yoga pant craze: “I walk down the street, and I see women in their tights and their running shoes and a jacket, and I think, ‘We started that!’ ” Shannon Wilson said in an interview.
Why have black leggings become the uniform of my generation? At least part of the appeal is our increasing interest in everything high-tech. As our lives become more fast-paced, we seem to want everything sleeker, smaller, smarter and more efficient — in a word, easier. This includes our clothing. Jeans used to be the American woman’s most versatile wardrobe staple, but, as Nike chief executive Mark Parker recently announced, “leggings are the new denim, ” giving credence to the otherwise ridiculous sci-fi hypothesis, embraced by Hollywood costume designers since the 1950s, that the humans will someday uniformly dress in slick, Lycra unitards. Welcome to the future.
As someone who cares about fashion, I vote for jeans over yoga pants (or Lycra unitards) any day, but my stance isn’t just about aesthetics. It’s about manners.