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Although Statistic Brain reports that women own an average of seven pairs of blue jeans in their closets, the average wardrobe in the United States has become even more decidedly casual and versatile within recent years. For many, denim is dead; long live the yoga pant.
When Lululemon launched its first pairs of stretchy studio pants in 1998, most people never thought the clothing article would turn into a fashion staple. They were mainly used by those who practiced sun salutations and started their days off by getting into child’s pose or downward-facing dog. At that time, yogis weren’t mainstream. But here we are, 20 years later, with nearly 36.7 million yoga participants in the U.S. — and yoga pants have become the must-have item for most women to own, whether they practice yoga or not.
Yoga pants and stretchy leggings have become the go-to uniform for gym rats and brunch babes alike. Even if you never buy or use the two main types of exercise equipment (cardio or strength) or set foot on a yoga mat, you can enjoy the comfort of elasticized slacks. Teens started to opt for leggings rather than jeans starting in 2014, and now people wear yoga pants and other athleisure items while running errands, eating out at restaurants, and even at work. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, imports of women’s elastic knit pants (a.k.a. yoga pants) actually surpassed those of jeans for the very first time last year. There are now 11,000 different kinds of yoga pants on the market today, which makes it no surprise that the leggings industry is currently worth $1 billion.
According to fashion historian Deirdre Clemente, the societal embrace of all things stretchy and comfortable has been decades in the making. Modern fibers are more flexible, durable, and washable than those from the past. The use of formality in American fashion has been on the decline for a long time; versatility is now the name of the game, so it’s easy to see why people want to wear the same clothes from the office to the gym. And of course, the fact that wearing yoga pants gives the impression of good health doesn’t hurt, either.
Clemente explained to the Atlantic: “One hundred years ago, you would have day clothes for the street, dinner clothes for the restaurant, theater clothes, and so many genres of dress… Those barriers have come down. Athleisure is the ultimate breaking down of barriers.”
In fact, she adds, that all modern clothing actually fits into the athleisure category. Polo shirts, sneakers, shorts, and sport jackets all evolved from this category of clothing. Even denim, which was originally reserved for those working on farms and in factories, is now undoubtedly mainstream.
But, of course, fashion trends are cyclical. Jeans still have their place in everyone’s wardrobe, of course, but there’s no denying that they’re currently being outranked by less restrictive types of clothing. And now that there are yoga pants and leggings that have pockets (and so many jeans that have fake or tiny excuses for pockets), many women are ditching the denim in favor of comfort and stretch. Still, blue jeans probably aren’t going to disappear completely; makers may merely have to evolve to appeal to women who simply don’t have the time or patience to be held back by their pants.