Athleisure’s promise to save precious minutes in a jam-packed calendar won over Laura Braden, senior director of communications for theSacramento Kings and co-founder of the blog Girls on the Grid. She has worn Betabrand’s Dress Pant Yoga Pants to her job, to run errands, to lounge and, in a pinch, to a Pilates class. “It is hard enough for me to make it to the gym after work, so if I can save five minutes changing and, if I’m comfortable all day, I’m in,” she says. “We all have insanely busy lives, and anything that makes the day more efficient, we are all for.”Lindland argues that the work/after-work distinctions carries little weight now, and he is in good company with a slew of high-end fashion brands. Michael Kors, Rebecca Taylor, Rag & Bone and Alexander Wang, among others, have been breaking through that barrier with baggy pants priced more like designer bags, notably a $995 pair from Michael Kors that took sweatpants to the stratosphere in 2010.
There’s no particular reason why French terry, a fabric used in sweatpants, shouldn’t be used in work clothes or, in the same vein, rayon standard in yoga pants should be ostracized from the office, Lindland says. For work pants, “it is just that wool had been choice for a long time. You will see more and more brands applying technical fabrics to practical situations.”Although Braden doesn’t believe that flip-flops will ever be work-appropriate, business attire has been evolving from business casual to simply casual. Within that context, the spread of athleisure from Bikram to boardroom seems inevitable. “It is not only acceptable, it is actually desirable to be more comfortable,” says Phelan. “Comfortable doesn’t mean unkempt. A lot of the items in this segment are quite beautiful. They are just not traditional dressy sportswear.”
Among younger women, Melloney Birkett, vice president of women’s design at Gap Inc.-owned retailer Banana Republic, a destination for women’s suits, has sensed a shift in career dressing away from classic suiting, leaving an opening for the sweatpants-esque bottom style to clock in at offices.“The new generation is definitely all about separates, and this is the perfect way not to wear denim to work, but to have the ease of a more formal pant without the stuffiness of a more formal pant,” she says, adding, “I feel like this softer pant is a category that is coming to the forefront and is replacing the suiting trousers of the past.”