Quartz recently ran an article about the success of athletic-wear — and yoga pants in particular — in the US. They use the term ‘soft dressing’ in reference to wearing yoga pants and other active apparel outside of an athletic context. If you live
in a major city, you know this is nothing new. Some friends ran a pop-up shop on Chestnut Street in the Marina District of San Francisco a few years back and held a raffle for anyone who could guess the number of yoga pants they saw walking by in a single day. (Hint: it was a lot. Winning guess in the comments below earns a piñata). But the soft dressing trend goes way back —much before 2011 on Chestnut Street.
Like many trends, it all starts with teenage girls in braces, giggling and pushing eachother through the halls of junior high. In the mid 90s, girls are wearing loose-fitting, comfy sweatpants to school. Because ’90s. Fast-forward to 1997 and all the girls at school are wearing terrycloth sweatpants with a giant Juicy logo emblazoned across their butts. The guys are into it. The girls are into it. They’re more flattering than regular sweatpants and they’re super comfortable.
Throughout high school in the late 90s, sweatpants get thinner and tighter around the leg and sport a signature flare at the bottom. Athletic brands like Nike and Adidas start getting in on the action and the ‘stretchy pant’ is in full force by the time ‘y2k’ is a thing. They aren’t the high-tech, shape-shifting versions we see today, but they’re soft and comfortable just the same. These girls graduate high school and move on to higher education, but not surprisingly they hold on to an affinity for comfortable pants. Ugg Boots and stretchy pants are practically issued as uniform to sorority sisters across the nation for the next five to ten years.
Graduating from college, these young women move to cities and get their first real jobs. Around 2008 Vancouver-based brand Lululemon, with a yoga-centric approach to stretchy pants, is gaining serious traction in the US market. At the same time, yoga practice is going mainstream in major cities, skinny jeans are prevalent across the US and Gap buys activewear brand, Athleta for $150M to compete with Lululemon. The Quartz article referenced at the top attributes Lululemon with starting the yoga pants trend, which is only partially true and mostly from a naming perspective since stretchy pants were prevalent 10 years prior. To Lululemon’s credit though, you can see a striking parallel growth in the two search terms here:
Brands like Lululemon and Athleta continue to iterate on fabrics and fits for a few years as yoga pants come fully into the mainstream for women of just about every age, shape and size. And by 2013, yoga pants are generally accepted as appropriate to wear in almost any situation — running errands, commuting, watching TV, kickboxing, — except at work.
Now, everyone knows we all generally spend more time at work than anywhere else on earth, so the fact that you can’t be comfortable at work is a grave injustice. Encouraged by a successful invention for men a year prior called Dress Pant Sweatpants, Betabrand steps up to the plate again with a veritable game-changing product developed in the wee hours of the night: Dress Pant Yoga Pants. The result?
“Professional-looking workwear that can double as workout wear, perfect for performing the Lunchtime Lotus and the Power Pointer, as well as other, more orthopedically sound postures.”
The Dress Pant Yoga Pant is the latest, and my bias aside I say greatest, in a 20-year evolution of experiments in bottom-comfort technology. So, soft dressing is nothing new, really. It’s just grown, rather significantly, over two decades of popularization as the teen girls in blousy knit jersey sweats in the 90s grew up into professional women, spreading the gospel to all women suffering from Stuffy Pants Syndrome (SPS™). These modern, working women suggest, no, demand that comfort and fashion finally be on an equal plane from here on out. Now and forever.