When Nicole Gergits, a junior at Boston University, wants to look professional, she knows just what to put on. Leather jacket. Knee-high cognac-colored boots from Madewell. And, of course, yoga pants.
“They’re great for business casual,” she said. “As long as your butt isn’t showing, they’re very dressy.”
The so-called “athleisure” look has not just exited the health club. It has stormed offices and bars, driving almost $2 billion in apparel, footwear, and accessories sales in 2014, according to market research company NPD Group. It has reached the point that fashion industry analysts say has gone beyond “trend” and become a part of the permanent fashion landscape, at least until something even more comfortable comes along.
The public’s love for — and hatred of — the style has been captured in a satiric video by the popular sibling vloggers from Australia, the Van Vuuren brothers. In just over a month, their “Activewear” has gotten nearly 3 million views on YouTube.
The video — done in the style of sportswear commercials and music videos, and set to a disco beat — begins when two friends, each in active wear, run into each other along a promenade.
“Are you off to the gym?” one asks as the music pumps. “No, no, just going shopping in my active wear,” the other says.
Active wear, active wear a chorus intones, as a succession of active wear-wearing women look into the camera and deliver their lines. “Having coffee with my friends in my active wear.” Active wear, active wear. “Get a manicure in my active wear.” Active wear, active wear. “I drink Coke Zero in my active wear.” “Buying active wear in my active wear.” “Never exercising in my active wear.” “Smoking on the street in my active wear.” “Doing literally nothing in my active wear.” Active wear, active wear.
Easy to make fun of, hard to take off, yoga pants have for many people become the sartorial version of Google Maps. They can’t recall how they managed before.
As BU junior Christina Revelli put it: “I was recently thinking, ‘what did I even wear in middle school before leggings took off?’ ”
Even as school administrators, stylists, and others try to rein in the pants that are just too comfortable to go away, it’s not hard to see parallels to denim, whose star is fading in the face of casual wear.
It, too, started as clothing with a purpose — for farm and mine workers in the American west in the late 1800s — before achieving star status. By 1953, jeans had such a bad boy cachet that Marlon Brando wore a pair in “The Wild One,” and a Levi’s ad promoting jeans as school wear so offended a New Jersey woman that she whipped off a letter, according to a Levi Strauss & Co. “When denim was dangerous” blog.
“Propriety and respect are good discipline rules,” the woman wrote in 1957, a foreshadowing of the challenges yoga pants would face. “Let’s not desecrate our schools nor promote juvenile delinquency.”
From there, it was on to the $300 jeans that were welcomed in high-end restaurants and clubs, and a popularity streak that could only be broken by yoga pants — a garment so forgiving that a person can put on 10 or 20 pounds before the pinching even starts.
But not everyone is a fan. Tricia Cromwell, of the Boston styling agency Trust in Tricia , says the only thing that bothers her more than seeing yoga pants where they shouldn’t be are the excuses people make for wearing them.
“I hear it all the time when I’m going through people’s wardrobes,” she said. “They say, ‘No one knows the difference, and I’m just wearing it to work.’
“If you’re at work 40 hours a week, what do you mean you are ‘just wearing it to work?’ ” she asked, outraged. “They don’t even have pockets. How are they functional?”
Well, not to stir the pot, but if you are wearing them 40 hours a week at work, and to the gym, and to dinner parties, and on weekends, and maybe even sleeping in them, maybe $98 for a pair of Lululemon pants isn’t so much after all.
Watch the “Activewear” video:
• Has Bostonians’ addiction to casual dressing gone too far?
• Skinny jeans over? We need a fashion bill of rights
• ‘Athleisure,’ the awkward word for a comfortable relationship
• The trouble with yoga pants at school
Beth Teitell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.