Life with Gracie: That’s a “no” to yoga pants

About the columnist

Gracie Bonds Staples is an award-winning journalist who has been writing for daily newspapers since 1979, when she graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi. She joined The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2000 after stints at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Sacramento Bee, Raleigh Times and two Mississippi dailies. Staples was recently promoted to Senior Features Enterprise Writer. Look for her columns Thursdays and Saturdays in Living and alternating Sundays in Metro.

Everybody knows there are no rules in fashion anymore.

Go ahead wear white after Labor Day. Mix those animal prints, florals with polka-dots, plaids and stripes. And if you want to wear your yoga pants to the office, girls, just lean in.

Unless, of course, you live in Montana, where they’ve been banned.

OK, well, that’s not exactly true but it ought to be. In Montana, in Georgia and across the globe.

In case you’re late to this cat fight, let me back up.

Sometime around Valentine’s Day – yeah, you got to love this one – Republican David Moore suggested that yoga pants be banned in public after a rather revealing bicycle event rolled through Missoula.

When his comments lit a fire across the internet, Moore walked them back so fast there was nothing left but smoke. A whole lot of smoke.

It’s hard to say whether the lawmaker was serious or not. He denied it, saying the tight fitting pants were part of an “off-the-cuff remark in the hallway” that just exploded.

I think the emperor is naked. But he has a point.

Yoga pants have worked their way into almost every American woman’s wardrobe. They’re everywhere and on every body they shouldn’t be. And they’ve done it by simply pretending to be something they are not — a substitute for jeans, a point I find myself constantly reminding my 24- and 26-year-old daughters.

For them, at least, yoga pants have become their lazy gal's go-to when they don't feel like wearing proper clothing. And because they still have curves in all the right places, they seem to think they can get away with it.

You’re likely to see more yoga pants in line at McDonald’s than in any yoga class.

This blurring of lines between exercise attire and everyday clothing isn’t new. There’s even a name for it: “athleisure.”

I read somewhere that spending on workout clothes jumped 7 percent to $36.6 billion during the 12-month period that ended August 2013 from the same period a year earlier. That compares with a 1 percent rise in spending for other clothing to about $169.2 million.

We can thank Lululemon for that. Or was it the push toward a more active lifestyle? Either way, yoga pants are as likely to be seen on a runway in New York as a treadmill in Plains, Georgia.

This is not good.

I asked Amanda Hallay, a professor of fashion and cultural history at New York City’s LIM College, if I might be wrong about this one.

“Yoga pants are a step above pajamas,” she told me. “And we don’t wear pajamas out to lunch, and we certainly don’t wear them to work. Pajamas are for sleeping in, and ergo, not appropriate to wear in any other setting. The same can be said for yoga pants. Yoga pants are to be worn while doing yoga.”

That’s true even if you look like a pencil because weight, she said, has nothing to do with it.

“Who would look better?” Hallay said. “A heavier woman in a fabulous dress or a pair of beautifully cut slacks, or a skinny gal in yoga pants? I’d say the former, because the message she is sending is that she cares about how she presents herself. ‘I’m skinny enough to wear them’ is no excuse.”

It’s not that I’m totally against yoga pants. They’re perfect for yoga or for lounging around the house. So are sweatpants. But we seem to take pride in our lack of sartorial effort, and clothing that is worn for a specific activity is now being worn everywhere.

Everyone can wear whatever they like whenever they like. Yoga pants to dinner? No problem. Fleece to lunch. You bet.

In the past every time fashion moved forward, it was because someone came along and broke a rule, Hallay said. Paul Poiret ‘broke a rule’ in the 1910s when he took women out of corsets. Dior ‘broke a rule’ in 1947 when he put women back into them. Yves Saint Laurent broke a rule when he introduced Le Smoking, which led to the acceptance of pants in the workplace. And Vivienne Westwood broke more rules than you can name, but thank goodness she did. She allowed for ‘rock chic’ to become a part of all of our everyday wardrobes.

But not all rules are made to be broken. Not only does wearing yoga pants to work fail to push fashion forward, it regresses it to a toddler-like state where comfort and convenience are all that really count. If we carry on like this, it’s only a matter of time before ‘adult onesies’ are worn on Casual Fridays.

I asked Hallay what other things she’d ban if she had her druthers. “Fleece,” she shouted without hesitation. Especially a fleece with a ‘popped’ collar.

“There is nothing guaranteed to rob a woman of sex appeal more than a fleece ensemble,” she said

But it’s so warm and comfy, I lament.

“Again, we have traded ‘comfort’ for style, and it seems that it no longer matters if our clothing is attractive, so long as it is comfortable and comes with an elasticated waist. Fleece is fine for jogging in cold weather or for watching TV, but I went to a fairly posh dinner party the other night, and was alarmed to see so many women actually wearing fleece as they tucked into caviar canapes.”

Oh, my.

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