Visit any college campus today, and you’ll see yoga pants and leggings on almost every female student and some male students. Or visit any office, and you’ll see yoga pants or leggings as part of a more “dressed up” attire instead of the dressy, professional look of the 1950s. When did yoga pants become so popular, and when did they replace jeans or trousers?
Yoga pants became popular when Lululemon created the first pair in 1998 that moved with the yoga practitioner. With the increasing popularity of yoga in the 1990s, pants needed to accommodate advanced yoga moves without falling like sweatpants often did while keeping sweat from forming.
But leggings have had a far longer history in fashion that may have started in the 14th century. If that surprises you, buckle up for even more strange facts about leggings and yoga pants!
It might seem that yoga pants and leggings are the same kinds of pants, but several features differentiate one from the other. Yoga pants are constructed with lycra or other material designed to wick moisture away from the body while practicing yoga. Leggings, however, are usually made with cotton and a mix of spandex or other stretchy material.
But yoga pants and leggings have some things in common that now make them almost identical. The main similarity is that both yoga pants and leggings stretch and move with you rather than constrict you, unlike jeans or trousers that constrict your moves if the material isn’t very stretchy.
Yoga pants are made with thicker materials, such as cotton blends, lycra, bamboo blends, or other stretchy polyester materials. Standard yoga pants flare at the legs’ bottoms but are tighter around the waist to allow for a wide range of movement during yoga or other sports such as pilates or running.
Athletic leggings are made similar to yoga pants but are typically tighter to the body from the waist to the ankles. However, fashion leggings are thinner and designed for use under a long shirt or short skirt. They are not meant for yoga, as you might end up mooning your neighbor with thin leggings.
Jeans were once viewed as the ultimate fashion in casual wear, but leggings and yoga pants have taken that position, as they are more comfortable and can be dressed down or up, depending on where you’re going. Some many styles and designs allow you to express yourself and establish your statement.
They are also comfortable for daily wear, and if they are made with high-quality material, they won’t wear out for a long time.
Depending on the leggings’ thickness, you can wear leggings or yoga pants for yoga or whatever sport you choose. Athletic leggings are similar to slim yoga pants and are made with the same type of material. Just be sure to choose thicker pants for working out.
Before the modern age, leggings were a part of fashion going back to the 1400s. They were considered men’s fashion up until the mid-19th century. By that time, women began wearing leggings under their skirts during the colder months. Later, leggings were exclusively for females until just recently when men began wearing them again.
During the 1400s, leggings served the practical purpose of protecting the wearer’s legs from horse riding and swords. There were two types of leggings made for different purposes. One type was made from leather, and they fit individually on the legs to protect the rider from getting chafed legs while on a horse.
The other type was made from chain mail, much like the chain mail vests that knights would wear during a battle. These were worn to protect the legs from getting cut and sliced, as back then, there were no antibiotics to treat open wounds. Many people developed infections and gangrene from open wounds.
Later, when leggings became thicker and connected, men wore leggings as part of their regular outfits during the Renaissance. Women wouldn’t have thought about wearing leggings during this time.
During the mid-19th century, women began wearing leggings under their skirts during cold weather. But the modern leggings for women started in the 1950s when Audrey Hepburn started wearing Capri leggings with her signature sunglasses. These leggings were not like the leggings in fashion today, but they were more of a slim-leg pant that hugged the body more than the ladies’ pants of the 1940s.
Spandex appeared on the fashion scene in the 1960s, and it changed what leggings looked like forever. Designers used this material to make stretchy pants that women wore under dresses or skirts or with crop tops for a bold fashion statement.
Between the 1970s and 1990s, leggings underwent dramatic transformations that mirrored the rest of women’s fashions of the day. Fabric designs ranged from small discreet designs to big and bold geometric designs, then back to small and muted patterns. As fabric technology evolved, leggings became more than athletic wear.
Stirrup leggings became popular in the late 1980s but quickly fell out of fashion in the mid-1990s. However, as fashion trends tend to cycle every 20-30 years, stirrup leggings are once again back in style.
Jeans have now taken a back seat to leggings, especially on college campuses, much to the chagrin of several devout Christians. After seeing how many girls wore leggings at the University of Notre Dame, one Catholic mother of four boys wrote a letter to the student newspaper complaining that young women exposed their “nether regions” to the young men on campus.
In response to the letter, over 1,000 students wore leggings to class to protest being told what they can or cannot wear. But the debate is an old one that will continue, as more people wear leggings in public.
In the 1980s, aerobics was THE thing for fitness and health. But as scientific research showed, gentle movement and exercise were healthier, and yoga became the decade’s fitness craze. As more people began practicing yoga, they realized that they needed other clothing besides bulky sweats.
Fashion designers and clothing manufacturers realized that this market went largely untapped and went to work creating a full line of fashionable athletic wear, including yoga pants, that would stay up and keep you dry while sweating.
Before these designers created a full line of yoga fashion, yoga studios were full of sweatpant-clad people who struggled with keeping their pants up while not slipping on their sweat. Yoga mats were not yet standard equipment, and people brought beach towels. Once the towels were wet with sweat, some people would refer to the yoga studio as a “slip and slide” rather than a yoga studio.
Once yoga pants hit the market, several other yoga equipment, and gear followed. Yoga mats, plastic “bricks,” and other things used during yoga exploded on the market.
But several people remember what it was like during those days of holding their pants up while making the downward-facing dog move.
Before the early 1990s, when yoga became more popular to stay and keep fit, many people practiced yoga in bulky sweatpants or other exercise clothing that kept falling every time the yoga practitioner would move or bend in a yoga pose.
In 1998, however, Lululemon created a new type of pants that moved with you and stayed up while making those complicated yoga moves. The material is a patented blend of 86% nylon and 14% lycra, called “Luon.” Their marketing campaign focused on the moisture-wicking properties of this new material.
The company started in Canada as a design studio, which grew to a storefront in 2000. They design athletic wear for both men and women by people who are athletically minded.
Other companies began making yoga pants, but since they couldn’t use that exact formula that Lululemon used, they had to re-work the blend slightly to not infringe on the patented blend. Athleta is another company that uses 88% nylon and 12% lycra in their yoga pants.
Moving while making that complicated yoga pose is a requirement for getting the maximum benefit from yoga. If your pants don’t stretch and move with you, you will not get the posture correctly. That is why yoga pants are made with stretchy fibers that allow for movements, such as nylon, lycra, spandex, and other cotton blends.
These stretchy fibers make yoga pants extremely comfortable, which is why people wear them for more than yoga or other sports. When you’re lounging or moving, yoga pants don’t hold you back or constrict you. People realized that these pants are more comfortable than jeans or dress pants and started wearing them for more than just yoga or sports-related activities.
Walk into any office today, and you will find that more women are wearing leggings paired with skirts or large shirts than those wearing jeans or trousers. “Fitness chic” is the new fashion trend, and jeans have taken a back seat to yoga pants and leggings. Sports bras and athletic socks are also high-class fashion accessories.
Americans are getting more active, which explains the push for more activewear sales, and it explains why yoga pants are becoming more popular than jeans or trousers. Fashion runways in New York display as much workout wear as any gym in the US.
Workout wear can also be dressed up with a skirt and dressy top, or it can be dressed down with an oversized t-shirt or sweatshirt. These types of outfits are what makes yoga pants so popular today, and with upscale designers creating high-end yoga pants, the trend of “fashion chic” continues.
New York-style editor Annie Georgia Greenberg stated that “It is almost cooler to be comfortable and athletic and feel like yourself than to be overly glam.” That same article claims that when people wear leggings or yoga pants, it sends a message to others that they are healthy and active, whether true or not.
But this trend follows historical trends of how sportswear became a mainstream casual fashion. According to the Atlantic, people used to be much more formal in how they dressed. For example, people would wear one outfit for the daytime, another outfit for dinner, and another outfit for the theater. They all had different clothes for different activities or times of the day.
Today, however, people wear the same outfit for different activities, except for formal events. How did this happen? More importantly, when did the formality of dress when in public turn into a casual dress in informal situations?
Modern fashion is all “athleisure.” Shorts were first designed for the tennis courts and the gym. Fashion magazines of the time called for shorts on men to be commonplace, not just in the gym but also outside the gym. Polo shirts were once known as “tennis shirts” because they were used only on the tennis court.
When rubber first appeared for general use, it was used for soles on shoes used for tennis players, which is why sneakers were once known as “tennis shoes.” Now, sneakers are found everywhere and for most events and activities. Many people now wear sneakers to the office in dress shoes, even when dress codes prohibit this practice.
Sweaters, sports coats, and all other clothing have come out of clothing developed for sports originally. Yoga pants are no exception. Once designed for yoga or other active sports, they now have a place in everyday fashion, including office wear.
Athleisure, or casual streetwear, has a long history of evolving from on the court to on the street or, in the case of yoga pants, on college campuses. While there is a debate about the propriety of young women wearing leggings or yoga pants, these pants’ popularity continues to grow. The main reason is that they are comfortable and easy to move in.
When asked the difference between high school fashion and college fashion, one young woman stated that students are more concerned with looking good and being popular in high school. Still, in college, students are more concerned with being comfortable. With college courses being more intense than high school courses, students spend more time studying than they do worrying about fashion.
As college students graduate, they take that trend into the workplace, which is why many women in offices wear more yoga pants or leggings instead of jeans or trousers.
Ever since Lululemon started the trendy yoga pants phase, other top designers jumped on the trend with their versions of yoga pants or leggings. Calvin Klein, Macy’s, Forever 21, and other top brands have their line of athletic wear. But not everyone buys yoga pants for yoga, as many of these brands cater to those women who buy the pants for running errands, working out, lounging at home, or even wearing to work.
While some brands charge high-end prices for their clothing line, other brands charge significantly less for the same styles. Lululemon, for example, charges up to $30 more for the same pants that Athleta sells. Many high-end designers charge at least $50 for a pair of leggings or yoga pants.
The materials used for yoga pants are now making their way into professional dress suits for women. Dress suits and blouses were usually made with silk and wool, which looked professional, but after a few hours, they became wrinkled and sweaty. However, suits made with spandex and cotton blends maintain their shape and wicks away moisture.
The future of yoga pants depends on designers taking their designs into the business world and using the “technical fabric” for dress clothes. Yoga pants are not the only clothing piece that benefits from spandex and lycra blends. When blended with cotton or bamboo blends, the materials can create high-end professional clothing.
If designers go in this direction with their designs, yoga pants and other clothing will soon be accepted in the mainstream as office wear.
Yoga pants became popular at the height of the yoga fitness craze in the 1990s. But leggings had a much longer history in the fashion world, dating back to the 1400s. Leggings and yoga pants are often seen as workout wear, but many women wear them to run errands or go out to eat.
However, while the debate rages on, leggings or yoga pants are not diminishing in popularity. Why? Because many women swear by the comfort and ease of use. The pants do not shrink or lose their shape when washed, and they still look great after repeated washes.
- Bloomberg: How America Became a Nation of Yoga Pants
- Wikipedia: Yoga Pants
- The Denver Post: How Yoga Pants Became the New Jeans
- Vox: A Decade of Leggings Controversy, Explained
- Who What Wear: The Little-Known History of Leggings
- The Atlantic: Everything You Wear Is Athleisure
- Shut Up and Yoga: The Evolution of the Yoga Pants
- Fast Company: The Future of Office Wear? Blazers Made of Yoga Pants Fabric
- Kira Grace: What is the Difference Between Yoga Pants and Leggings?
- Yoga Kali: Are Yoga Pants and Leggings the Same Thing?
- Lululemon: History
Sitasyoga.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. We also participate in other affiliate programs which compensate us for referring traffic.