In Praise of Yoga Pants

It’s the new “Leggings aren’t pants.*”

I’m not talking about the moral panic that sees girl wearing yoga pants sent home from school for “distracting boys” or lawmakers proposing to imprison women who wear them in public or people who insist you have to be a certain–small–size to wear them. Those are all appalling, of course, and activists are on those problems. Objectification and fat-shaming are things we understand pretty well.

I’m talking about this weird idea we seem to have collectively adopted that wearing stretch knits on our legs and asses somehow means that we’ve “lost control” of our wardrobes, and by proxy, our lives.

Yes, I’m talking about fashion and fashion advice. If you think this is absolutely trivial, you probably work at home, work in a uniform, and/or are male. Clothing is a means of expressing ourselves, and we’re judged on the messages we’re thought to be sending. The messages we attach to items of clothing as ubiquitous as yoga pants matter.

So what are those messages? What do we mean when we say that wearing yoga pants means we’re not in control?

We mean, frankly, that they’re easy. We mean that:

  • We can try on far fewer brands and styles before finding one that suits our particular sets of lumps and curves.
  • We can move further without running into the hard limitations of the fabric we’re wearing.
  • We can sit for long hours without the fabric bunching, bagging, or creasing.
  • A few pounds fluctuation of muscle or fat won’t drastically change how comfortably our pants fit.
  • It takes a ridiculous amount of work to wrinkle these fabrics enough to require attention before wearing.
  • Being classed as exercise wear, yoga pants vary less with fashion trends, making them easier to buy more of the same when you’ve found something you like.

Can you have fitted, comfortable, unwrinkled clothes without yoga pants? Of course you can. It will take you time and money though.

Well, you could be lucky. You could fit off-the-rack clothes comfortably and easily. As someone with a belly, no hips, and a high enough waist that I’ve had to alter even petite fitted tops, I can’t do that unless I wear knits. The existence of decent jersey knits make this periodically possible for dress clothes. It’s much, much harder for casualwear.

Otherwise, my option is tailoring. I’ve done that. Luckily, I had the skill and the time to do it myself, so I could save some money. Then I figured out what it cost me on a per-hour basis at my usual rates. I do less tailoring these days. I don’t get enough joy from the work to sew for any reasons but keeping otherwise good or beloved clothes out of the trash stream.

So what I hear when someone tells me that yoga pants are a sign that we’ve lost control of our wardrobes is that they think I need to look like conformity or money. I hear them say I should be spending the time and money to buy access to clothing that looks like it was made for me. I hear them say that’s my responsibility, since clothing manufacturers aren’t already doing the job for me. I hear them say that I’m cheating.

Okay. I’ll cheat.

I have no loyalty to a system that doesn’t make sure I’m included and represented. This is true in my activism; it’s not going to be any less true in my commercial transactions. What? You mean these yoga pants are going to make sure my butt looks great and you can see those awesome thigh muscles? And they’re going to do it easily, comfortably, and cheaply? I’m there! If that’s cheating, I’ll cheat in a heartbeat.

If you want a more tailored look, that’s fine. Maybe it’s easier for you than it is for me. Maybe looking like you invested serious money or time in your wardrobe is important to you. There are plenty of good reasons for that to be true. For you.

Let’s be honest about what we’re doing when we make those choices, though. Choosing to conform to class and industry standards may be how you take control of your wardrobe, if you’re making a considered choice. It doesn’t, however, mean that I and others who face higher barriers to that conformity lack control.

Cheating a system that encourages the capitalist consumption of conformity is all about taking control. Whether we do it because we can’t afford the time or money or because the nonconformity makes our lives easier, wearing our yoga pants (and leggings!) as the casual pants they are is imposing our control on an industry that hasn’t served our needs. Gauging from how ubiquitous yoga pants are these days, we’re doing pretty damned well at it too.

So hush about yoga pants saying anything about who is in control and just find and wear the clothes that work for your body and your life. Me? I’ll be over here thinking about why I’m wearing jeans instead of those boot-cut jeggings any casual day I’m not hopping on a motorcycle.

*Yes, they are, and they have been for hundreds of years. They were even men’s pants.

In Praise of Yoga Pants

4 thoughts on “In Praise of Yoga Pants

  1. 1

    I got to go looking for some men’s yoga pants. I’m in a similar boat, with a body that conforms poorly to the way most pants are made (the ratio of size between my thighs and butt has always been off even when I was much thinner, so I have a perennial issue with pants that fit my legs but are constantly drooping down in the back).

  2. 2

    I wish you luck with that. Men’s pants seem to be built with the idea that all men bulk up in the butt when they exercise. Still, stretch pants may mitigate that somewhat.

  3. 3

    As often happens, nosey parkers can’t figure out the obvious: If you don’t like how something looks, stop looking. It wouldn’t shock me if they also attack people for their body size or hair styles. I’ve heard plenty of unwelcome comments over the years for wearing tights while running or cycling, though I’m not comparing my experience to those in the story.

    As often happens, this is about the body shaming of women and girls, about justifying harassment. No matter what their size or what they wear, they’re going to be criticized and judged. There is no “right clothing” that will end the unwanted judgements and catcalling.

    The only time yoga pants or other clothing is a problem is when it’s transparent or translucent, when it might violate laws on public exposure. Otherwise, people need to learn to mind their own business.

  4. xyz

    I think it’s really interesting that the capsule wardrobe (see: the link Stephanie posted to the blog of a Dallas mom) is becoming part of this narrative of “proper control” of one’s dressing habits, consumption patterns, and life. I’m a hardcore capsule wardrobe enthusiast and own 50 pieces of clothing excluding PJs and sportswear*, which is something I do to get more freedom from trends and only wear what works for my body. Surprise, surprise, a clotheshorse friend of mine has a slight resentment of how I dress, and has basically described this as “cheating” as well! It sucks to see that making a capsule wardrobe is apparently turning into yet another non-optional task for women – now everything in our closets has to match, be a proper “investment piece” to demonstrate our thrift and financial discipline, and even our clothes (let alone our bodies) aren’t allowed to take up space in our homes? UGH. I can just see “effortless dressing” becoming the new “natural makeup” – a supposedly simple thing that actually takes a shit-ton of time, labor, knowledge and money. Gross.

    Also, since when is a more tailored look a guarantee against harassment? Tell that to the 375739428 men who apparently can’t cope with my ass and legs in a pencil skirt without commenting on it.

    * But including a pair of Eileen Fisher knockoff, drapy viscose pants that totally fall under “athileisure” and “sloppy.” Bite me, fashion police.

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