Saturday, March 7, 2015

A Brief History of Yoga Clothing


Once upon a time, I was a clothing designer in New York City. It was a rough world, where they loved you one day and wouldn't "buy you" the next. I'm lucky I got out of the rag trade before it ate me up. Yet I've always been fascinated with how folks adorn themselves and it's in my DNA to watch styles change and evolve (sometimes to my dismay), even in the yoga community.

Waaay back in the day, when only men did yoga, the

dhoti was the regulation garb. The dhoti required the ability to master a complex wrapping technique to arrange the fabric just so. Once it was on, it allowed great freedom of movement!

In the very first yoga classes that I attended in the 1960's, folks were wearing white yoga suits. This was a short lived style inspired by the Kundalini community, great for sitting and meditation, not so great for trying to get your foot behind your head.  There was an innocence and modesty to this style that I loved. But it didn't last long...

Along came BKS Iyengar, who modernized the dhoti into shorts, a radical move at the time, which went against the tradition of his teachers and peers. There was a teensy problem with regular shorts, though. In various wide legged and inverted poses, one's intimate parts were all too easily exposed to the world. Ergo the birth of the yoga bloomers, or as we used to call them, yoga diapers, made by Hugger Mugger and still available today. They feature a snug band around the thighs that prevents peek-a-boo in class. In the 1970's, virtually all yogis, men and women, wore this regulation uniform of t-shirt and yoga bloomers. Personally, I never wore yoga diapers because, with my skinny legs, they made me look like Minnie Mouse! 

Instead I was inspired by Jane Fonda, the budding fitness industry, and Flashdance, and wore leotards over tights, often with leg warmers. The problem of having to get undressed to use the bathroom was an impediment, until a dancer friend of mine imparted the secret knowledge of pulling all the material to one side to do the deed. A distasteful aspect of this fashion was the tendency for women to wear black tights with white panties you could see underneath their
This is the unitard we all wore, with the criss cross straps!
 leotards. I never got that one! 

There was the brief period of the yoga unitard, or what we dubbed the yogatard, and what I called my sausage casing. You really couldn't go to the bathroom without peeling this whole thing off! And, to my amazement, Marie Wright Yogawear still makes these! 

It was a real relief when the yoga fashion time machine marched on and we realized we could wear two separate pieces of clothing, unattached to one another. The era of the yoga capri was born, along with the great innovation of the foldover waistband. Super comfy; why didn't anyone think of this before?! When these waistbands first came out and weren't around much, I called Hugger Mugger and asked if they'd be making them. The woman there said, "No woman wants more bulk around her waist. These are a fad that will fade." She was epically wrong, as this waistband has become the norm for women's yoga pants.

I would be remiss in my history of yoga fashion if I 

failed to mention Be Present yoga pants, which everyone seemed to wear for about five minutes before yoga fashion marched on. They are made of cool stretchy fabric, move when you move, and are kinda dorky. Not many people seem to wear them anymore, but as I get older I become more and more a fan of awkward and dorky, so I still wear mine.

Currently, in the real world of the yoga studio we're in a phase of ankle length leggings for women, which I love because of the great variety of creative and unusual prints. 

In the alternate universe of the media and public figures, we've been treated to (or assaulted with?) some yogic style excess that is truly hedonistic. Tara Stiles being driven around New York in a glass box in which she does scantily clad yoga, and in the hot yoga subculture, I know the uniform for women is a bra and shorts. But that's not my subculture and I just stick my fingers in my ears and say: "la la la," and pretend I don't know that it's happening. I've got a healthy bit of discernment arising on the border between personal style and hyper-sexualizing the yoga room. We'll save that for another time.

In the men's department, it's pretty same-same. The biggest fashion controversy seems to be: shirts on or shirts off in yoga class? We actually polled our students a few years ago, and they overwhelmingly preferred that men keep their shirts on; even the men voted this way. 

We've come a long way from the dhoti and the baggy cotton yoga suit. Any predictions on what we'll be wearing to do yoga in the next ten years?





In the meantime, GET PHYSICAL however you can! 

Love and peace, Denise Benitez

14 comments:

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