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Sheer Madness: The Definitive Lululemon Yoga Pants Controversy Roundup Featuring Stephen Colbert and the ‘Worst Apology Ever’

in Lululemon Pantscapade


Many of us have moved on from the sheer madness that is the Lululemon Pantscapade, which, much to everyone’s chagrin (especially Chip Wilson et al), is still carrying on and just seems to be getting worse. It’s safe to say this has been the biggest thing to happen to yoga pants since neon spandex. But we’re over it. We’re so over it that there’s been a wave of anti-luon articles offering lists of lulu-alternatives, and we cheer them on, especially the ones featuring smaller businesses and less well-known names giving everyone else a chance to shine.

It’s true there’s been lots to talk about here. And, yeah, we’ve heard people say that yoga isn’t about yoga pants – be naked or whatever, that’s cool! While that’s totally true, we also know that yoga pants can stand for so many other things from comfort to sexualization, to social status, to stress relief to body image and self-doubt/confidence to true transparency.

Not everyone who wears yoga pants practices yoga, but when you have an item of clothing called ‘yoga pants’ that are typically worn to yoga class where judgement and discrimination are intrinsic and ideally left off the mat, the connection is hard to deny. They’re just pants, sure, but when combined with yoga they tend to take on more meaning on a personal, cultural and societal level. Especially when they cost close to $100 a pair and the founder is an ideology pushing knucklehead who says women’s large thighs are the problem, among many other questionable utterances and marketing decisions.

So here it is, your Post-Yogapantsolypse News Round Up. It is by no means conclusive, and heaven knows it won’t be soon, but it’s an interesting collection of the reactions from this whole mess, and it leaves us with much to mull over as a yoga community in observation, and in many ways, participation:

The Pantscapade Saga, in brief:

March 2013 – Lululemon recalled more than 17% of their yoga pants due to complaints of sheerness. The “bend over” tests made everything worse. Inventory is still on the struggle list.

lots of stuff happens in between

Fast forward to October 2013 – Complaints still pour in about quality of pants and pilling. Chip Wilson, when asked about fabric quality issues, goes ahead and says the pants “don’t work” for some women’s bodies because their thighs rub together, which is pretty much like saying fatties need not apply, or you know, anyone with thighs that touch. The he apologized. His apology has been called “the worst ever.”

Already on thin ice, will this be the straw that broke the ustrasana’s back? Will we ever get tired of cheesy yoga puns? The world may never know.

The Colbert Bump

Stephen Colbert takes on Chip Wilson’s faux pas once again on The Colbert Report and with such wonderful humor and aplomb. If you’re so super over it and just can’t bear to read anything else, this is really all you need to see.

The Other Side of the Pants Size Story

This one dude who lost 200 pounds not the way Subway Jared did went ahead and tried on a bunch of yoga pants to find his actual size, which was a size 20 one helpful saleswoman at a plus-size clothing store informed him. He was upset with this discovery and it’s for reasons you may not think:

…I thought about how unfair women’s sizes are to men’s sizes. I do not wear anything that is considered a large. No one makes comments about my size anymore. I have not ripped or gone through a pair of pants in years.

Yet if I was a women I would have to shop at “plus size” stores. I would be too large to be a true “plus size” model. I would be looked upon as the problem for obesity instead of the solution that some see me as.

And that bothered me.

There is a double standard for men and women. Chip Wilson is way wrong about his pants. They are made wrong; it has nothing to do with the thighs or the hips.

Take it from me. I am a plus size women who has never ripped a pair of pants.

The Open Letter

MSNBC’s Melissa Harris hands it to Chip Wilson in her open letter:

In order to achieve the “thigh gap” that you apparently think Lululemon customers should have–which, by the way, is an obsession some experts have said is causing eating disorders in young women–to get that thigh gap, one must not only be thin, but have especially wide hips. Someone like me would have to rearrange her skeleton to achieve it.

So, instead of blaming our bodies for your poorly-made pants, Lululemon would do well to design clothes to accommodate our bodies. The thighs wear out too fast? Reinforce the fabric there. Make your expensive pants withstand all that rubbing.

Or maybe, despite the cult-like devotion to your products, women will take our big ol’ thighs to another retailer–one who won’t expect us to pay exorbitant prices for the privilege of being body-shamed.

The Cultural/Societal Analysis

Noreen Malone writes in New Republic that it isn’t really about Chip Wilson, but about all of us, and how Wilson is just the guru this holier-than-thou yoga-pants-wearing pricey juice culture deserves.

In fact, Lululemon has been so successful because, not in spite of, its founder’s combination of woo-woo New Age-iness with a sharply competitive spirit. It’s the same approach many American women (and men) bring to buying organic, to drinking fresh-pressed juice, and yes, to yoga. There is a boom market in ostentatious wellness these days, one that is underpinned by the same synthesis of seemingly opposite impulses—to achieve, and to bliss out—that drives Wilson. His customers are much more like him than many would care to admit. If you seek spiritual enlightenment through yoga and fasting, go to India or the 1960s. If you want to have the best-looking ass in line at Starbucks, try Lululemon’s free Saturday class and a pair of $82 Wunder Unders.

The Financial Analysis

The latest controversy is just the latest in a slew of debacles ever since Lululemon reached star status, and yet they’ve remained stock market darlings. This could change, and quickly, as financial analysts warn of more danger ahead pointing to lack of inventory and any sign of clear leadership. “Given the ongoing problems at Lululemon, it may be smarter to put your investment dollars to work elsewhere,” The Motley Fool advises.

The Alternatives

But without Lululemon, why, we will all be pantsless! Well, no. And other non-lulus may have their day in the spotlight as articles like 11 Places to Buy Yoga Gear That Aren’t Lululemon and 10 Alternatives to Lululemon start to fill up the newsfeed.

And nope, none of this needs to affect your yoga practice at all.



16 comments… add one
  • While I am an advocate of yoga and wear a size 2-4 depending on the season, I can honestly say I am not a fan of overpriced yoga pants sold on marketing hype. For those of you who truly enjoy yoga, pilates, or just comfy fitting pants, there are many other companies who make yoga pants which are flattering and neighbor friendly when on the yoga mat.

  • kelly

    I can get yoga pants for 10 bucks and do just fine, and they are more comfier than lululemons. You shouldn’t have to pay an arm and a leg for a item that can be bought else were for cheaper.

  • Perhaps it’s a sensible call to make to Yoga Alliance to see if my insurance covers against wardrobe malfunctions…..if the transparency of my teachings cause a drop in my class numbers!

  • Vision_Quest2

    In New York City, head just a few blocks north of Union Square… to the Athleta store on 5th Avenue at 18 Street, that just opened today, November 20… classy yoga pants (and a lot of other active wear) without the assorted bs …

  • Annie

    Cyclists have to deal with “rubbing thighs” all the time, but it’s against the bike seat. Cycling clothes manufacturers have managed to deal with the problem, why can’t Lululemon? This is why I shop at Mountain Equipment Co-op. They have good quality clothing for reasonable prices, yoga, cycling, swimming, men & woman & children. Everyone is included. 🙂

  • Allison

    I think it’s adorable that Stephen pronounces the name “Pan Tan Jolly”.

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