BARRINGTON, R.I. — The saga began Wednesday with a letter to the editor in a local Rhode Island newspaper criticizing women over 20 who wear yoga pants in public. Quickly, it snowballed into a “Yoga Pants Parade” Sunday afternoon with hundreds of people walking past the letter writer’s house — and a few death threats, according to the author, who said he had only intended satire.
“To all yoga pant wearers, I struggle with my own physicality as I age,” wrote Alan Sorrentino, 63, in the letter published by the Barrington Times last week. “I don’t want to struggle with yours.”
The letter, which said adult women wearing yoga pants in public was comparable to men wearing Speedos to the grocery store, went viral. The backlash was immediate, passionate, and international.
It was supposed to be funny, Sorrentino said, because what kind of “tormented, uptight individual” could possibly care enough about yoga pants to write such a letter?
“It was in the face of all this political stuff, with all these really important issues going on, and then there’s this letter about yoga pants,” he said.
A crowd that included young girls and older women met in front of the Hampden Meadows School about 2 p.m., wearing a colorful array of yoga pants — although, as many attendees stated, the event was about more than just yoga pants.
“I don’t get involved in much in the way of protests and marches and all of that, but this just brought me out because the guy’s letter was offensive,” said Ellen Taylor at the parade, who sported a neon yellow shirt with the words “ ‘MATURE OLDER WOMAN’ in yoga pants” written on it.
“It’s OK if you’re 20 and gorgeous to wear yoga pants, but don’t do it if you’re older and lumpy and bumpy?” she asked.
It was the shaming and the policing of women’s bodies that struck a chord with the attendees, said organizer Jamie Burke, who lives in Barrington and called the parade a “positive response to casual sexism.”
The crowd went on a short walk in a loop, then held a group yoga session back at the school. Some carried bright pink flags with the words “PEACEFUL PANTS PARTY.”
While not directly related to the presidential campaign, the rhetoric of the letter ties into the current political climate, Taylor said.
“This isn’t a personal vendetta against Mr. Sorrentino,” Taylor said. “It really went beyond him.”
Sorrentino disagreed as the walkers passed his Knapton Street home, where he had put up a sign bearing the words “FREE SPEECH.”
Barrington police officers stood on the edge of the property while some people in the street paused to take photos of the home.
Sorrentino said he received death threats, which he reported to the police. Someone wrote in chalk on the street outside his house that morning, identifying him as the resident.
“Every little bump, every little noise,” he said. “I lock my car, I lock my windows, I lock my house — I’ve locked myself out of my house twice.”
The backlash has caused stress not just for him, but for his family, friends, and neighbors, said Sorrentino, who said his partner had decided to leave the home during the parade.
A description of the event on Facebook emphasized, “[T]his is NOT a hateful protest against Alan [Sorrentino]. This a wonderful group of people celebrating our bodies and our right to cover them however we see fit.”
“We will not engage with ANY residents on the street in any negative way,” Burke wrote in a separate Facebook post. “Please do not come for a fight, you will be shut down.”
But Sorrentino said that even if the letter was offensive to some, the event was an “improper reaction.”
“This is bullying,” he said.
He asked whether a woman would feel comfortable with a similar crowd walking by her home after death threats.
Burke said Sorrentino had “impolitely declined” her invitation to participate in the parade. Sorrentino said her invitation to wear yoga pants and join in the parade was “humiliating.”
People from all over the world posted in the Facebook event with messages of support and photos of themselves wearing yoga pants.
“Being in U.K., I can’t attend, but will share with my friends and will proudly wear my yoga pants this evening at the time of your parade,” wrote one poster.
Well-wishers chimed in from Washington state, California, Missouri, North Carolina, and many other locations.
“I was amazed at the [news] coverage,” Taylor said. “It shows the vein that it tapped into.”
More photos from the event: