Who Is Wearing the Trousers?

04 Sep Who Is Wearing the Trousers?

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – Cover date 28.8.23


My rule with clothing is that, if you buy something expensive, you’ve got to wear it every chance you get. Cost-per-wear is the equation that matters. And by “matters” I mean, “justifies spending silly money on something if you don’t save it for best”.

So there’s a good chance you’ll see me out for dinner in my yoga pants at some point because, honestly, those things cost the earth. On the upside, they last forever. I suspect two things that will survive a nuclear holocaust are cockroaches and Lycra. Plus the good ones (pants, not cockroaches) suck in your wobbly bits so well it’s almost like you don’t need to exercise once you’ve pulled them on.

I have been entranced with the latest brouhaha over whether yoga pants should be worn in public at all. I say “latest” because it is a perennial issue – yoga pants will be banned from schools, on planes, in workplaces. But this was novel – a call to ban yoga pants from actual yoga classes by ultra-conservative men who deemed them too revealing and immodest.

Social media, naturally, lit up in defence of being allowed to, gosh, I don’t know… Wear what we like and be comfortable? Illustrations were posted of men doing exactly that – wearing whatever they like as they go about their exercise – making the point women are held to a different standard. Picture scantily clad gentlemen in low slung short-shorts and no shirts at all. Hot flushes all round.

One could argue that policing what women wear is what makes civilisation great. You would lose that argument, of course, but along the way you’d find lots of examples of people giving it a jolly good go. Depending on the time and culture, women are admonished to cover up some body part or other, lest we fail in our responsibility to avoid tempting men, poor darlings.

Where does the propriety of athleisure wear fit in modern history? They like to tell you it is new, this wearing of exercise gear as a fashion statement. But hands up who wore hand-knitted legwarmers over shiny leggings to a nightclub in the 1980s? Putting both hands down again now so I can continue typing.

In the grand scheme of things, the yoga pant is less radical than women beginning to wear trousers in the first place. If the boys hadn’t been off fighting WWII, it would never have been countenanced. Even by the 1960s, it took some courage for my grandmother to buy her first pair of trousers, and she made sure she never wore them out somewhere nice, and never on a Sunday.

You don’t need to go that far back to find pants that shocked. In 2002 Prime Minister Helen Clark wore trousers – lovely designer slacks, they were – to a state banquet here for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip. Royalists and newspaper columnist were horrified at the informality.

Though at a fancy dinner days after this scandal I was embarrassed to find I was the only woman who hadn’t thought to wear trousers as a sign of solidarity with our PM.

Now I wear my yoga pants wherever I like. Mostly to and from yoga, to be honest, with a detour to the supermarket. Sometimes for warmth I throw a kneelength woollen Shearer’s Singlet on over the top and it amuses me that this very blokey garment might make the ensemble seem, to an ultra-conservative, more modest and appropriate for a lady.