Rant: It’s time to get comfortable with office-appropriate yoga pants
Athleisure companies are vying to normalize leggings in the office By Kim Bhasin and Rebecca Greenfield
Even in casual workplaces, can people wear leggings? “Probably not,” says Victoria Gutierrez, a 31-year-old management consultant in Atlanta. She’s largely right. Only 36 percent of employers surveyed in a 2015 Society of Human Resource Management report allow workers to go casual more than once a week. And offices that permit relaxed dress often barely tolerate jeans. Leggings? You’re loopy from staring at your monitor too long.
But if you want to be on the right side of history, this is the time to accept that leggings—and their parent clothing category, athleisure—are hitting a hot desk near you. Not just accept—celebrate. Already, brands such as Lululemon Athletica, Nike, and Athleta sell workout attire trendy enough to transition from SoulCycle to Juice Generation to wherever you’re meeting friends to continue drinking your dinner. Now a handful of companies want to make you as comfortable as you are stylish from 9 to 5.
Outdoor Voices sells performance gear in the same muted palette of black and navy you’re already buying for the office. (It will cost the same, too.) Worn together, its stretch crepe joggers and merino wool long-sleeve T-shirts and sweaters look more elegant than the blue jeans and fashion sneakers that dominate some workplaces today. On its website, the company recommends stress-relieving stretches you can do during a conference call or around the water cooler. Seriously, though: If our bosses are already paying for us to do yoga in the office as a perk to keep us there, why shouldn’t we dress as if we’re ready to do it anytime, anywhere?
Another seller, online shop Carbon38, offers a guide for wearing athleisure at work. Carbon38 employees pose in their typical work wear, outfits such as an all-black, snug neoprene dress with a matching jacket that has mesh sleeves. “A prep-inspired top paired with a cool, printed pair of spandex is my go-to look,” says one, outfitted in Carbon38’s $130 Polonium leggings, which feature a gloomy sea printed on a poly-Lycra blend. “Active wear is definitely work-appropriate,” says Caroline Gogolak, co-founder and president.
Of course, the co-founder and president of an active-wear company is going to say that. The sector’s weekend dominance hasn’t been enough to maintain its growth; sales have fallen 6 percent since the beginning of 2015, according to SportsOneSource, a data research firm. But that doesn’t make Gogolak wrong—brands have long spearheaded shifts in workplace fashion. This might be a painful memory, but in the 1990s, Dockers khakis became part of the business-casual uniform for men because of a marketing campaign by parent company Levi’s. Levi’s even created A Guide to Casual Business
Wear to promote looks that all happened to incorporate Dockers. It was mailed to 25,000 HR managers. There were seminars, fashion shows, and a toll-free number for anyone with questions.
Professionals have busy lives, and it should be easier to transition from work to play. How sad is it that a Nielsen survey found in 2016 that 75 percent of working women change into less oppressive clothing when they get home? “Without leggings, women are basically stuck with work slacks, which are not actually things women wear any place but work and are pretty much universally unflattering and uncomfortable,” says Elizabeth Coffin-Karlin, 27, a school adviser in San Francisco. So if athleisure in the office offends your sense of propriety, get into a shavasana pose and take some deep breaths. Everything’s going to be OK. <BW>
Jason Mejias, 33, is an aerialist, acrobat, and cabaret performer