Are Yoga Pants Really Pants?

Yoga pants — that is to say, leggings but with a higher waist and made from thicker material than actual leggings (sometimes, though not necessarily, with a bit of flare at the ankle) — are garments that, especially during pandemic lockdowns, became something of a joy to wear.

Prioritizing both comfort and movement, they allowed us to have our cake and snack on it at home, too. Little wonder that, given the focus on health and wellness and our increasingly dressed-down day, they have become a basic part of many wardrobes.

But as the return to work has picked up at least some steam, so has the debate about the actual “pants-ness” of yoga pants. Do they or do they not qualify? This is in part why they are sometimes known as “boot-cut leggings” or “flared leggings” instead of “yoga pants.” By borrowing the language of pants, they edge closer to that category.

But let’s be honest: Yoga pants are not pants. Pants are there to reshape the body in some way. To tailor it into a different silhouette — straighter, longer, more flowing — in the eyes of the watching world. To provide a modicum of protection or social camouflage. Yoga pants, on the other hand, are much more about revealing the body in some of its glory. And revealing the body in the workplace or on the street is a complicated decision.

Happily, the stylist Tina Chai said, there is a middle ground. First, try to understand what exactly it is you like most about your yoga pants. Is it the element of stretch? The elastic waist? The fact that they sit close to the legs but don’t constrain them? The way they announce your workout regimen to the world? Then decide which of those values is most important. Most likely, there is a real-world substitute.

Indeed, an Italian brand called High Sport has pretty much made its name by offering very expensive stretch pants with a bit of a flare. (It calls them the Kick pants.) They are made from technical fabric and derived from pretty much the same genetic material as yoga pants.

Not to be outdone, brands like Alo Yoga have expanded their offerings to include pantlike styles that nevertheless share many qualities with yoga pants (and are more affordable than High Sport versions).

Wherever you shop, Ms. Chai advised that you look for “pull-on pants — no buttons or zippers.” Then, she said, choose a “knit that is tightly woven and compact so it gives the pants structure, which makes them flattering, but with a bit of stretch, which makes them comfortable.”

Finally, for some styling oomph, she suggests pairing your yogalike pants with a top or jacket in the same color for a monochromatic look. “It can take you from the office to a party or the plane, all with the change of a shoe,” she said. And maybe a sun salutation or two.

Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can send to her anytime via email or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.