Are Yoga Pants the new Denim?

When I landed in Australia and discovered that our bags had yet to arrive, I hightailed it as quickly as my jet-lagged body could go to the nearest Lorna Jane to stock up on athletic wear.  I figured this was the perfect excuse to wear leggings and comfy attire for the next few days, because 1) it was raining and if we were sitting outdoors, in said rain, then I wanted to be comfortable and 2) I would certainly wear the pieces again after I returned home to the States. At home, I’m most often in jeans when working from home or a skirt when I’m in an office or with a client, so unless I’m on my way to or from the gym, I rarely wear stretch pants.  After all, Karl Lagerfeld said “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants.” And while I’m not 100% behind that statement, for the most part, I keep my sweat pant/loungewear to the house and the gym.

But not everyone agrees with my decision and lately there’s a huge growth in the U.S. retail athletic apparel, surprisingly, even as the rate at which American’s participation in sports is on the decline.  Analysts estimate the athletic apparel industry dubbed “athleisure” by the retail industry, will increase by 50% and hit $100 billion by 2020.  That’s massive growth in athletic wear in a country where the CDC considers more than 1/3 of adults obese. 

An analyst for SportsOneSource, via the Wall Street Journal, reported the demand for yoga apparel is up 45%, but participation in yoga only grew 4.5% in 2013.  The stretchy black pants have become less athletic wear and more of a wardrobe staple.

Sweat tops and cotton t-shirt used to be the appropriate gym attire, but the new athleisure wear has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry andit’s not just traditional athletic wear companies that are making fashionable gym clothes.  Brands such as Gap, H&M, Old Navy, Uniqulo and Forever21, as well as luxury website Net-A-Porter are now creators and curators of active wear.

The black stretchy athletic bottoms have taken over the fashion space once owned by denim, which was traditionally reserved for off-duty and weekend wear before moving into the work (depending on your employer) and dinner/drinks appropriate attire.  Jeans used to cost consumers roughly $40, but some brands now charge upwards of $200 in stores like Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, with women purchasing several pairs in different cuts, like skinny, trouser or boyfriend.  Much like it’s predecessor, athletic pants are also experiencing a moment of “premiumisation,” with some athletic pants costing consumers over $100. Shockingly, luxury brands such as Lucas Hugh, whose clothes made an appearance in “The Hunger Games,” charge consumers £225 (about $380) for a pair of leggings, which ultimately suggests the category is graduating into a bona fide luxury commodity.

While a fashion house might not send yoga pants down the runway, we are seeing an uptick of fashionistas and runway models wearing designer tennis shoes. Chanel and Dior are sending sneakers down the couture runway and retailers such as J. Crew have sold the shoe for a few seasons now.

While I’m not sure I’ll wear my new Lorna Jane pants or my favorite Under Armour skinnies to anywhere other than the gym or yoga/cycling studio, my feet are doing a little dance with the rise in casual shoes.  Although, I’m sure some people feel the same about shoes as I feel about pants, so I have to say “to each his own.”

Share your thoughts.  Do you work in an industry where yoga pants are work appropriate? Are you on-board with the designer sneaker trend?