This is a familiar scene nowadays at the local health club. Picture this scene that I am sure many of us have been subjected too while trying to get a workout. Does this young woman bent over like this make you feel uncomfortable? Should she be allowed to wear such a tight fitting outfit while in such a provocative position? This question has sparked a huge amount of controversy the last few years at health clubs, schools and many other public establishments. Why has yoga pants sparks so much controversy as of late? Tight fitting clothing like this have been around for a very long time. Let me quickly give you a brief history in the invention of the yoga pants and their rise to popularity.
History of Yoga Pants
Yoga pants are nothing more than your average leggings that have been around for centuries. Before they became a form of active wear they were used for practical purposes. For obvious reasons, the concept of pants — as opposed to skirts, kilts or other clothing that doesn’t protect the legs individually. The term leggings dates back centuries, but the early uses of the word applied to items that few of today’s yoga pants devotees would recognize as leggings. In North American history, the term was often associated with the leg coverings worn by some Native Americans and eventually adopted by many settler frontiersmen. Those leggings could often look more like high-top moccasins than pants, and for special-occasion use artists would decorate them with beadwork or attach flattened porcupine quills to them. Great Plains indigenous women wore leggings made out of hides from deer, elk and various game animals. The garments served not only a societal role — it was proper etiquette for women to keep their ankles covered — but also a practical one, protecting women’s legs from plants and animals. Stockings had been invented during the 16th century.
By the 18th century, men who sought a lower-leg covering for warmth could turn to leggings that fully covered the lower leg from a few inches above the knee extending to cover the top of the foot. For centuries thereafter, even after modern trousers came into fashion, leggings were comfortable, tight but protective garments worn by children or by men during activities that ranged from battle to hunting, eventually transitioning from mostly something that just covered the lower leg to something more like pants. That old-time use of the word leggings remained the dominant one until the 20th century.
Then, the high demand for rubber during World War II led to a reduced supply and a demand for rubber alternatives. During the course of research into that problem, DuPont chemist Joseph Shivers developed a synthetic fiber in 1959 that could stretch up to 600% of its original size and go back to its original shape. Originally called Fiber X, this lighter, more breathable invention replaced natural rubber in garments and became known as Lycra or Spandex.
So, when stretch pants became technologically possible, it made sense that they would eventually take on the name that had long been associated with garments that fit tight around the legs. And the timing was perfect for leggings to become what they are today: the 20th century saw a rapid rise in pants-wearing by women, as well as a growing trend toward casual dress in American life.
As the children of the 1960s stretched social norms, leggings made of stretchier fabric came into vogue. By the 1970s, Oxford Dictionaries was defining leggings as “‘tight-fitting trousers made of a stretch fabric, worn especially by women and girls.”
A look at appearances of the word in English-language books reveals that the word peaked around 1940 — presumably the old usage of leggings — and then began to pick back up again in the 1980s. That’s when women were increasingly seen wearing Lycra leggings on the street and in the gym, as popularized in part by Jane Fonda, who was the most popular face of the rise of aerobics.
Fast forward to today and workout clothes for women, once relegated to the back of the closet, are moving to the front of the fashion scene. Yoga pants are the new jeans, neon sports bras have become the “it” accessory and long athletic socks are hipper than high heels. In fact, sales of workout gear are growing faster than sales of everyday clothing — by a lot. Spending on workout clothes jumped 7 percent to $31.6 billion during the 12-month period that ended in August from the same period a year ago. That compares with a 1 percent rise in spending for other clothing to about $169.2 billion. According to the Association of Fitness Studios, Americans spent around $24 billion on studio fees in 2015, or about $4 billion more than they spent on traditional gyms — and that spread has only increased since then. Naturally, women are spending the most; they outnumber men in studio classes by more than two to one. Looking at these statistics the scene of a young woman working out in a pair of yoga pants is not going away any time soon, if ever, so we better get used to it.
Controversy Surrounding Yoga Pants
The popular, casual attire has come under fire many times in the past few years as being inappropriate for students in school and even for adult women in public. In 2014, anger over the lack of tolerance for leggings prompted some middle school girls in Illinois to picket. The girls were apparently told leggings were “too distracting to boys,” the Evanston Review reported at the time. Critics have called such policies against leggings sexist and have repeatedly condemned the bans. Last year, after a Rhode Island man wrote a published letter to his local newspaper decrying yoga pants as “bizarre and disturbing” on adult women, hundreds of legging-clad protesters demonstrated outside his house. Also in 2016, a North Carolina school district’s ban on skinny jeans and leggings was met with outrage after officials reportedly said one of the reasons for the change was because “some of the ‘bigger girls’ were getting bullied because of their tight jeans.” Nevertheless, analysts found that 2016 online purchases of leggings were up 41% over the year prior, with the volume of orders surpassing orders of denim as women have come to see them as more versatile and appropriate for working out, sleeping, and going to the office.
Too Sexy or Not?
While some can say that women who are wearing tight leggings and yoga pants do so to be seductive this writer disagrees. Working out while wearing yoga pants is quite practical and the fact that many find it distracting and too sexy is not the intention of the women who choose to wear them. Have you ever tried doing yoga in a t-shirt? Downward Facing Dog becomes Send Assistance Dog, as the t-shirt falls forward over your head and blinds you. Have you ever done Malasana — squat pose, like you are peeing in the woods — while wearing track pants? The posture quickly becomes Builder’s Bum Pose as the pants splits right in the crack of your you know what! Yoga pants are designed to stretch. When practicing yoga the last thing anyone wants to think about is the possibility of their pants splitting, like a sausage bursting its skin; that would defeat the purpose of yoga, which is to empty the mind by thinking about nothing except moving the body into weird positions.
Unfortunately, yoga pants have been over-killed on the internet with tons of pictures online of the sexiest women imaginable doing three legged dog poses on sunset beaches, all with golden skin and perfect curves. These women would look seductive wearing a muumuu thus the yoga pants are not to blame. What’s next on the banned list — jodhpurs? Cycling shorts? Let’s stop the madness folks.
What’s Your Opinion?
The yoga pants controversy rages on. What do you think? Feel free to leave comments about this article and your opinion, your stance in this controversy. I would appreciate it if you could also take the time to take our poll.