From Athleticwear to Everyday: Yoga Pants at LSU

Ariel Baise, Katie Gonsolin, Ben Mosery, & Adam Vincent


In the 21st century, Americans have more concern about their comfort than ever before. Yoga pants are made from a stretchy, synthetic material. They have become a staple of modern fashion because of their comfortability and simplicity. College students at the Louisiana State University love yoga pants. They are no longer worn in just workout studios; they have been accepted as street and casual wear since they are available in a wide range of styles, colors, and lengths to fit any women. They can be seen as a symbol of female empowerment because yoga pants reject restrictive, conservative, and archaic ideals of fashion. Despite their recent boom in popularity, there has been a debate as to their indecency by religious organizations, schools, and the general public. Yoga pants have versatility while at the same time remain being comfortable and modern while showing the evidence of a social trend towards comfort that is active on LSU campus.

The first recorded leggings were in the 14th century when Native American men and horse riders from other regions, such as Europe, donned leg coverings. The ability to hug the body made leggings perfect for straddling horses. During this era, most leggings were found only in men’s wardrobe. Though mainly used for protection from the elements, leggings were also a symbol of high status especially in European cultures where men where the predominant wearers. However, Native American women wore leggings “made out of hides from deer, elk, and various game animals” (Chan and Waxman, 2017). These are the only recorded uses of leggings at this time.

figure 1
Figure 1: Left: Scottish man from the 14th century, wearing pink stockings or leggings;  Right: detail of leggings design on left 

Across the pond, Scottish men wore stockings, another ancestor of leggings. “Stockings had been invented during the 16th century, when Londoner William Lee invented a special loom that could produce machine-knitted silk stockings” (Chan and Waxman, 2017). They were originally two separate, boot-like legs comprised of leather, as seen in Figure 1: Gentleman — costume from 14th century. The purpose of their stockings was for both military and casual wear. Only men wore leggings during the Renaissance in Europe. They remained popular among men until the 1800s, when leggings shifted into a more feminine market, but only used as undergarments. In the mid-20th century, women began regularly wearing pants, and leggings came into fashion.


During World War II, America experienced a rubber shortage, prompting research and production of synthetic materials. “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” (Waxman and Chan, 2017). The invention of spandex led to the invention of the leggings we know today which are tighter, more flexible, and cheaper to manufacture and purchase. Department stores began to carry leggings as designers began to hop on the trend. This caused leggings to become popular among youth. Leggings were made for athletic activities, but also at home for housework, gardening, and casual wear. Clemente Deirdre, a History professor at the University of Las Vegas, said in her book, Dress Casual: How College Students Redefined American Style, “…[W]hat Americans wanted was clothing that was not only easy to wear but also constitutive of their own individual identities and lifestyle” (Deirdre, 2015).

audrey hepburn
Figure 2: Audrey Hepburn,wearing her iconic black pants with a black crewneck and ballet flats. 

Shown in Figure 2, Audrey Hepburn donned the slim, waist-defining cropped black pants for her movie, Sabrina, and many other women followed suit throughout the decade (Payer, 2018). Actresses like Audrey wore leggings on screen, despite censors not knowing whether they were suitable for television.

In the 80’s, the youth of the time began to reinvent the style of leggings. Celebrities like Madonna, shown in Figure 3, donned the leggings with oversized sweaters u

Figure 3: singer-songwriter Madonna perrforming in New York (1985) while  wearing a lavender lace crop top paired with lace leggings under a purple mini skirt.

nder a miniskirt on stage; off stage, she wore a pair during her iconic Like a Virgin music video. Also during this time fitness became a huge part of people’s lives. The trend featured baggy t-shirts, tennis shoes, along with leggings and flare yoga pants. At this point, women began more commonly wearing leggings and yoga pants casually but their use was still more restricted than how they are used today.


In the ‘90s, loose-fitting bottoms were trending such as bootcut jeans and baggy sweatpants. Capri leggings only were paired with tunics, empire-waist dresses, and other long tops that cover the hips. Skinny jeans replaced leggings as the preferred fitted bottoms.

After the turn of the millennium, leggings slowly made another comeback as celebrities started wearing dark leggings everywhere. Fitness and comfort began taking over the fashion scene. Yoga pants have become a critical article of clothing for the athleisure trend. Popular styles range from high waisted yoga pants, leather leggings, and capri cuts. “They’ve become something of a staple item in our off-duty outfits, everyone from career professionals to models wearing them on their days off” (Komar, 2017).

lululemon display
Figure 4: Lululemon yoga pants display

Yoga pants are so popular that “ U.S. imports of women’s elastic knit pants last year surpassed those of jeans for the first time ever, according to the U.S. Census Bureau” (Bhasin and Porter, 2018). Even denim companies are adding stretchy material to their jeans to gain more profits. Nike’s chief executive, Mark Parker said, “Leggings are the next denim” (Folan, 2016).

Lululemon is one of the most popular brands of yoga pants. Their original fabric, Loun, has a higher portion of nylon microfiber and was trademarked in 2005. (Bhasin and Porter, 2018). Today, Lululemon has newer fabric such as Luxtreme, which feels like a second skin due to its four-way stretch design, and Silverescent, which features “stink-conquering technology” (Bhasin and Porter, 2018).

Large athletic brands such as Nike and Adidas are now producing synthetic fabrics to compete with Lululemon. Nike has produced Dri-Fit material that keeps sweat away. Adidas has produced Climalite material which is sweat-wicking, as well as Climacool and Climawarm for heat regulation (Bhasin and Porter, 2018). Even retail giant Target is making their own fabrics including Freedom Fabric for high activity and Embrace Fabric for leisure (Bhasin and Porter, 2018).

Boot cut style leggings, as shown in Figure 4, paired with yoga pants have built up popularity over the years, and give today’s youth plenty of choices. Ali Pratima, full-time Fashion & Lifestyle writer at StyleCraze said, “Even though a lot of other fads have come, leggings have weathered the storm and are here to stay” (Pratima, 2018). Ranging from classic black, to flare bottoms, to multicolor, and athletic, leggings can work for almost any occasion. There are even men leggings, “meggings,” and the popular “jeggings,” a product that denim companies created to cut a piece of the profits from leggings market when skinny jeans became less profitable.

Almost everyone is wearing yoga pants. Celebrities wear yoga pants on the red carpet and in their daily outings. Athletes wear them in and out of their training. LSU students wear them to class, to the gym, to dates, to everywhere. Yoga pants are no longer reserved for exercise. College students love leggings due to their convenience and comfort. Kerry Folan, a writer and professor at George Mason University, said, “Women in my neighborhood go about their entire day in yoga pants and running shoes. Moms with strollers, undergraduates on campus, girlfriends meeting up for coffee dates or errands — I have even seen women dressed this way for cocktails” (Folan, 2016).

Yoga pants can be professional in workplaces outside of the athletic field. Today, employers are generally accepting of business casual dress as opposed to business formal for employees. Especially in creative and tech fields, employees are allowed to dress less formally. Classic black leggings are now considered business casual if dressed up, generally meaning covering the hops with a long blouse. Fashion and Lifestyle writer, Ali Pratima, recommended “treggings — trousers + leggings and pair them with your work shirt, tops, etc.” for women with strict office dress codes” (Pratima, 2018). Most women cover their waist with long button-down shirts, cardigans, sweaters, and coats. Add in a pair of heels or flats and a woman dressed business casually. On the other end of the spectrum, there are still several fashion bloggers advising not to go to work in leggings or yoga pants as it is unprofessional to accentuate the body in that way.

With the rise of popularity of yoga pants and leggings, the lines are now blurred between activewear and casual wear. Since it is common to wear athletic wear without the intention of engaging in athletic activities, leggings and yoga pants are now considered casual wear for all aspects of college life. “Casual is diverse and casual is ever-changing, but casual was made in America” (Deirdre, 2015). Yoga pants embrace the growing desire for comfort in American culture. “Yoga pants make a statement about comfort and modernity … As our lives become more fast-paced, we seem to want everything sleeker, smaller, smarter and more efficient” (Folan, 2016). We no longer have the need to dress up in suits and formal dress. In modern America, our clothing must contour in with our busy lifestyles and represents our individuality. We no longer want to dress up to fit standards: we make them, especially college-aged females.

Yoga pants are more than a piece of clothing: they are a symbol for female empowerment and independence. Women used to conform to men’s standards of power by assimilating dress pants and power suits over past decades. “Women’s appropriation of men’s garments puts manufacturers, retailers and collegians central to palpable cultural change” (Deirdre, 2015). However, in the current decade, yoga pants are the opposite of women conforming. The influx of yoga pants into all facets of fashion shows that women are finding their own self-imposed identities. Their clothing choices show how society values the power of freedom and independence that celebrates femininity, in comparison to the assimilation of dress pants and power suits that woman wore when they first entered the workforce. Women are now wearing leggings at their jobs, where the dress codes are lenient.

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Figure 5: Peaceful protest of Christian extremist

Despite America’s love of yoga pants, some people believe that yoga pants are an abomination and atrocity. In some religious circles, wearing yoga pants is more than inappropriate: it is considered a sin, as shown in Figure 5. The basis of this argument starts in Matthew 5:27-28, “Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Bible).  Many religious followers interpreted this as when a man stares at a woman, in this case with yoga pants since some pairs can be revealing without a woman covering her bottom, that he is committing adultery. However, this sin is being blamed on the woman for wearing what she pleases while a man sexualizes her. Another example that links yoga pants as a sin to the scripture is Romans 14:13, “Let us not therefore judge one another anymore: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way” (Bible). This quote suggests that Christians should not be a “stumbling block” for others. Knowing that men’s sexual urges arise from visuals, women should help men by dressing modestly so they won’t lust after them. This is merely a case of dragging women as a cause of men’s issues and inappropriate sexual urges. On LSU’s campus, there are extreme religious groups who visit heckling at female students for wearing yoga pants and telling them they are going to hell for doing so.

LSU students are obsessed with leggings and yoga pants, and female students are following the trend of wearing leggings outside of the gym. Several students can be seen wearing leggings under university sweatshirts, oversized hoodies, crop tops, t-shirts, cardigans, and sweaters. Yoga pants are moisture wicking, which is perfect for LSU’s hot and humid climate. College students love to save time and value comfort, so yoga pants fit perfectly into a LSU student’s lifestyle.

However, leggings wouldn’t have passed LSU’s dress code from the 1950’s to the 1970’s. Female fashion was restricted to emphasize modesty, compared to the practicality and comfort that women on campus exhibit today. LSU’s guidelines enforced the stereotypical characteristics expected of women in mid 20th century. It is no doubt that yoga pants would have broken the policy as women couldn’t even wear pants on campus until the mid-70’s. Without this conservative and impractical dress code, women are allowed to dress in a way that allows them to express themselves without worry about stigma and judgment. This has allowed a fashion trend such as yoga pants to become as widespread on LSU campus as it is today.

In 1996, LSU came under fire from a lawsuit alleging that the rights of women athletes that was mandated under Title IX was being actively violated by LSU. As part of the settlement in the case, LSU added several female athletic divisions to increase diversity of the student-athlete body. These female athletes often wear leggings and yoga pants in their sports. Uniforms are a large factor in how comfortable and possible it is to play a sport. Without the old restrictive dress code, LSU’s women athletes are allowed to dress in a way that is reasonable for their sport. These female athletes donning yoga pants became even more widely distributed throughout LSU campus and popularity began to translate to the whole student body.

Yoga pants are widely popular among the youth during modern times despite the backlash and stigma that still exists in some parts of American society. We see that women have taken control of what they want to wear and their influence has leaked into other aspects of life, such as workplaces where leggings can now be worn as business casual attire. Yoga pants and activewear now dominate the clothing market and are more popular than denim. Women are no longer taking the backseat to men when it comes to their clothing choices, instead they are taking control of their bodies and crushing outdated, sexist fashion rules. Women at LSU are taking control of their future in a patriarchal world, one pair of yoga pants at a time.

Work Cited:

Bhasin, Kim and Porter, Gerald Jr. “How America Became a Nation of Yoga Pants” Bloomberg 31 October 2018  30 November 2018

Chan, Melissa and Waxman, Olivia. “How Leggings Became the Most Controversial Pants” Time  27 March 2017  30 November 2018

Deirdre, Clemente. “The College Shop: Making, Selling, and Buying Women’s Casual Clothing, 1930-1970” Journal of Social History, Winter 2015, vol. 49 no 2. 331-350. Academic Search Complete 24 November 2018

Deirdre, Clemente. “Why and When Did Americans Begin to Dress so Casually?” Time 5 August 2015  30 November 2018

Deirdre, Clemente. Dress Casual: How College Students Redefined American Style. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2014.

Figure 1: Gentleman –  Costume From 14th Century. WhoWhatWear, 1847, Getty Images. 24 November 2018.

Figure 2: Ochs, Michael. Audrey Hepburn. Instyle, 1957, Getty Images,  . 24 November 2018

Figure 3: Marino, Bill. Madonna on Stage in New York. WhoWhatWear, 1985, Getty Images. 24 November 2018

Figure 4: Norman, Benjamin. Groove Pants on Display at the Union Square Lululemon
Store in New York. The Washington Post
. 2015. 30 November 2018.

Figure 5: Funsighs. Peaceful Protest of Christian Extremists. Imgur 22 May 2015, 28 November 2018

Folan, Kerry. “Yoga Pants are Comfy. They’re Also an Assault on Manners and a Nihilistic Threat.” The Washington Post 15 December 2016 30 November 2018

Komar, Marlen. “Everything You Didn’t Know About the History of Leggings, The Greatest Clothing Item of All Time” Bustle 6 April 2017  30 November 2018

Payer, Allyson. “The Little-Known History of Leggings” Who What Wear 25 September 2018 30 November 2018

Pratima, Ali. “How to Wear a Legging the Right Way? Everything You Need to Know.” Style Craze 25 April 2018  30 November 2018

The Bible. Authorized King James Version, Oxford UP, 1998.

Watts, Lauren  and Chi, Ting. “Key Factors Influencing the Purchase Intention of Activewear: An Empirical Study of US Cnsumers” International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology, and Education. 2015, vol. 4 no 1.