Sheer or Not, Yoga Pants Are Britches for Our Times
A pedestrian walks past the Lululemon Athletica store Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at Union Square in New York. Lululemon has yanked its popular black yoga pants from store shelves after it found that the sheer material used was revealing too much of its loyal customers. (Associated Press - Mary Altaffer)
The abject horror of the see-through yoga pants recall crescendoed to new, tragic heights when customers attempted to return their PG-13 garments.
“I went into my local store to return my Astro pants,” one customer wrote on Tuesday on Lululemon’s public Facebook page. “I was asked to bend over in order to determine sheerness. The sales associate then perused my butt in the dim lighting of the change room and deemed them ‘not sheer.’ ”
No. No! Nooo. Such downward-facing drama. Such an unfortunate incident for Lululemon, the holy sweat palace of aspirational workout gear, which earlier this week announced that 17 percent of its stretchy-bottomed stock was made from inferior fabric.
A statement, from the company: “We value the authentic relationships we have built with our guests. Their passion is amazing and we will always put them first.”
A statement, from CEO Christine Day, in a Thursday-morning conference call, as reported by various news outlets: “The truth of the matter is the only way you can actually test for the issue is to put the pants on and bend over.”
What can we learn from the recall of the $98 yoga pants? In what direction should we focus our third eye to eke meaning from the situation?
If the recall had impacted most any other workout gear, from moisture-wicking T-shirts to racer-back tank tops, the news outlets who have followed this London & France-ing — the Atlantic, Bloomberg, The Washington Post — would not have done so with such tittering glee.
But moisture-wicking T-shirts do not have cults. Yoga pants are a cult.
They have replaced sweatpants for comfort, and jeans for daywear, and tights for warmth, and party pants for partying, and they are the uniform of every mother pushing a double stroller through Trader Joe’s. They have become a default sartorial option, which is to say that the “yoga” modifier has become increasingly unnecessary. They are just pants.
“You go to Wal-Mart, and you see people in sweatpants, and you kind of get a little judgy,” says Whitney Schwartz, 24, who runs the blog “I Wore Yoga Pants to Work.” “But you can go to Target and wear yoga pants,” and it’s fine. Also, “I really do wear them to work a lot,” she confesses. She’s employed in an office environment. “Sometimes I get up in the morning and pretend they’re leggings. ... I’ve been found wearing them at bars before. It’s a little out of hand.”
Does she do yoga? “Occasionally. Maybe one out of the ten times I wear them, they are actually being worn” for a workout purpose.
The sweatpant of the 1980s, the Juicy velour suit of the 2000s — both of these had a shlumpy, self-deprecating modesty. They were casual in a way that covered assets instead of exposing them; people wore sweatpants when they felt bad. Yoga pants, even when opaque and functioning exactly as they are supposed to — are a pants designed for exhibitionists. They expose too much, they leave nothing to the imagination, they are the Twitter of clothing.
These are the pants of our society. We have the pants we deserve. Sorry.
“Just professionally speaking, it’s just as easy to pull on a pair of leggings and a long top,” says Alison Lukes, a Washington stylist who knows the threat of the yoga pants, the creeping and insidious way that the yoga pants may one day lower the standards of the nation. “The Pixie Pant from J. Crew is the perfect legging.”
But people always choose the yoga pant. And the trouble with the yoga pant, Lukes says, “is that it can sort of bleed into other aspects of life.” It begets the messy ponytail, which begets the ratty sweatshirt, which begets the general giving up on life and pride.
For Lululemon, the recall is unfortunate — an anticipated loss of $12 million to $17 million in the first quarter. For the rest of us?
“This,” Lukes says, “is a great way to call for us to get up and get dressed in the morning.”