RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Sales of blue jeans were down 6 percent last year. Part of that appears to be jeans losing a battle with gym clothes. And one item in particular caught the eye of NPR's Sam Sanders.
SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: My last three or four times out shopping in Los Angeles, I've noticed more men walking through malls not in blue jeans but in sweatpants - sometimes very fancy sweatpants like the ones Lee Davis is wearing.
How would you describe these pants?
LEE DAVIS: They're like a jogger. So they...
SANDERS: So they've got, like, an elastic leg.
DAVIS: Yeah, at the bottom - and they're kind of in between a sweatpant and a dress pant.
SANDERS: The material is upscale, and the fit is tailored. He's wearing them with a white T-shirt and a professional black cardigan.
DAVIS: Denim sometimes can be really looked at as just casual. This makes it a little more dressy because of the material.
SANDERS: How much were those?
DAVIS: About 195.
SANDERS: Worth it?
DAVIS: Yeah (laughter).
SANDERS: So how did we get here? Well, it's part of a trend called athleisure - clothes that used to be gym-only replacing things like jeans and button-up shirts. Workout wear is now 17 percent of the entire closing market. H&M, Urban Outfitters, Aeropostale and Topshop have all launched athleisure lines. Will McKitterick is a retail analyst with IBISWorld. For him, two big factors explain the athleisure movement. First...
WILL MCKITTERICK: A change in what's appropriate to wear.
SANDERS: Women led this charge. Over the last decade or so, they've made yoga pants and tights and leggings acceptable just about anywhere. McKitterick also thinks some of it's linked to the recent fall of the blue jean.
MCKITTERICK: Men and people more generally have a lot of jeans.
SANDERS: He thinks we're all a bit jeaned-out.
MCKITTERICK: Jean sales have done really well over the past 10 years. But fashion denim is cyclical. We're in a downturn period right now. And that's not too surprising coming off the large amount of sales that we've seen over the past 10 years.
SANDERS: McKitterick actually has his own pair of fancy sweats.
MCKITTERICK: Wearing them outside will be the next step. But I don't know if I'm there yet.
SANDERS: Hi, Tyler. I'm Sam.
TYLER KANTOR: Sam.
SANDERS: Good to meet you.
KANTOR: Now, have you been in the shop before?
SANDERS: I have not.
SANDERS: Tyler Kantor manages the Bonobo's menswear store in Los Angeles - a store that sells $100 sweatpants. Kantor says all kinds of guys buy them.
KANTOR: You're going to have your fashion-forward guy who's going to come in here specifically looking for the jogger-type sweat. And then you've got your customers who - it catches their eyes.
SANDERS: And then are guys who didn't even know they wanted sweatpants.
KANTOR: Those of the fun one for us, where we get to kind of guide them towards the sweat, get them outside of their comfort zone.
SANDERS: I tried on a pair myself.
All right - putting them on (laughter). They're little snug.
They felt good. But honestly, I had my doubts about wearing them in public. So I asked Washington Post fashion critic Robin Ghivann how to pull it off. Ghivann says blend the sweatpants casual with a bit of professional because that's how the whole trend started - urban men wearing half their closet out of necessity.
ROBIN GHIVANN: The guy on his way to the office - but he's going to stop at the gym beforehand. He's got on a pair of sweatpants, but maybe he's got his blazer over the sweatpants because he doesn't want to put the blazer in a gym bag.
SANDERS: For Ghivann, it's simple.
GHIVANN: You don't dress down to the sweatpant. You dress the sweatpants up.
SANDERS: As someone who's tried them on himself...
They look plush. I want to just, like, put them on and go watch Netflix.
Trust me - dressing these things up may be easier said than done. Sam Sanders, NPR News.
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