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Yoga's outer self, all dressed up

October 28, 2002|Jeannine Stein | Times Staff Writer

One look around the "yoga flow" class at Yoga Works in Santa Monica and it's obvious this is no regular workout crowd. No saggy sweats and stained gym T-shirts here. Instead, there are lots of skimpy camisole tops and fitted tanks decorated with Buddha images or tie-dye patterns, and body-hugging leggings worn mid-hip to reveal intricate lower back tattoos.

As yoga's popularity has zoomed and studios have sprouted like Starbucks franchises, yoga has eased its way into the mainstream, losing its funky, incense-scented reputation. Along the way it has spawned a plethora of related products, including yoga mats, yoga bags -- and clothes galore.

This proliferation of clothes may seem to be the antithesis of yoga principles, such as focusing on one's inner being, but not everyone is bothered by some of the new aggressive marketing campaigns.

"There will always be companies that will see how far they can go in exploiting something," says Max Strom, director of Sacred Movement Center for Yoga & Healing in Venice. "If they start making sexy lace tops for yoga, I think that would be an intrusion on what we're doing here....But we do need clothes, and there are now things just made for yoga, and it's good. I don't see anything wrong with it."

Independent L.A. yoga instructor Barbara Simon has noticed yoga clothes appearing in almost every catalog that lands in her mailbox -- including Victoria's Secret. "If people want to take advantage of what they see is an opportunity, great," she says. "Some people come in tights and a T-shirt, and some wear the most fashionable clothes. If the clothes are what it takes for people to do yoga, I don't care. We have to be realistic. We're living in a contemporary society, and it doesn't matter what we wear, it matters what we do and how we feel about ourselves."

How people dress for yoga varies greatly, depending on the type of studio and where it's located. Victoria Gregory, a production accountant from Marina del Rey who takes classes at two Yoga Works locations in Santa Monica and at Angel City Yoga in Studio City, notices a distinct difference between the studios. "At Yoga Works on Montana Avenue," she says, "it can be quite a scene. At Angel City people dress down more, they'll wear sweats. In the past couple of years I have noticed a change in how people dress. They're wearing some cuter things, tops with little straps or halters. It looks like they spent money on their clothes."

While fashion may not be the first thing one associates with yoga, yoga clothes are being produced by everyone from Target stores to Nike to Donna Karan, and labels such as Hard Tail and OMgirl are popular items in yoga studio boutiques. It is its own full-fledged niche, and includes camisole tops decorated with sophisticated Asian- and Indian-inspired graphics, low-rise boot-cut stretch pants and cropped T-shirts. Pieces such as hooded jackets, wrap skirts and even shoes are meant for after-class gallivanting to coffee, work or errands. Prices range from $25 to $80 or higher. Athleta, a women's athletic wear catalog, has seen its yoga-friendly Essentials line grow from four pieces in 1996 to more than 15 in its current catalog.

"People like to have fun with yoga clothes, and they're looking for some type of individuality," says Jodi Petlin, general manager of Yoga Works in Santa Monica. "People are wearing a lot of bright colors -- reds and blues and yellows, and some look tie-dyed or have things like a Buddha image on it. Sometimes classes look like a Crayola box. But the clothes are extremely functional too."

Proper construction and fabrics are integral to yoga clothes, which are often sold at yoga studio boutiques. Stretching and holding various poses demands clothes that don't bind, that reveal the body without revealing too much, and allow the wearer to feel cool and comfortable. In Bikram yoga, for example, the thermostat is turned up to sauna levels. Yoga wear is available in natural fiber blends, such as cotton/Lycra, as well as moisture-wicking microfibers.

"We take into consideration what women need when they're practicing yoga," says Tara Scully, head of design and merchandising for Van Nuys-based Carushka, which specializes in dance and exercise clothes. "If you had pants with a very wide, full leg, that could get in the way of holding a pose. As for the neckline, you need some support so you're not falling out of your top, but the fabric needs to be softer than a lot of active wear so it can move with you when you're doing poses. Some workout tops tend to ride up when you move, so if you're tugging at it you can't hold a pose."

Spaghetti-strap camisoles and sleeveless tops, popular items, often come with a built-in shelf bra to eliminate the need for a sports bra. Pants have drawstring or elastic waists that can be folded down to hip level. While comfort is one goal, so is being able to show the body's line.

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