The rise of sweatpants squeezes Spanx

The look.
The look.
Image: AP Photo/Nick Ut
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

The trend toward loose-fitting clothing is prompting a maker of form-fitting apparel to rethink its approach.

Spanx, a maker of bras and bodysuits and other garments, aims to assert its place in a fashion landscape that is defined increasingly by so-called athlesiure items, The New York Times reported Friday.

Helping women shoehorn themselves into clothing is becoming less of an imperative as consumers flock toward sweatpants, leggings and other clothes that are migrating from soccer fields and yoga studios to runways. That plus a generation of celebrities such as Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling who embody women of many shapes and sizes has, as the Times notes, prompted Spanx to relax its grip on customers’ midsections.

According to the Times:

Even company executives acknowledge that the thinly veiled fat-shaming that has long dominated its ads feels outdated. So instead of gut-squeezing agony, a new line of Spanx pants and bodysuits offers an easier, less constricting fit, something the brand says has more to do with smoothing the body’s bumps and curves and less to do with sculpting or shrinking waistlines or thighs.

Consumers worldwide spent $264 billion on athletic wear in 2014, up about 4% from a year earlier, according to Euromonitor International. As the Times reports, sales of shapewear fell about 3% during the same period.

Spanx, which likes to tout the tale of its founding by Sara Blakeley who, in a fit of inspiration (or exasperation), cut the feet off a pair of pantyhose when she couldn’t find the right garment to wear under white pants, aims to change with the times.

Last summer the company named Jan Singer, an executive in charge of global apparel at Nike, CEO. Blakely, to whom Singer reports, predicted in a statement that Singer “would transition from the locker room to the fitting room seamlessly.”

The reality may be the other way around, as teens increasingly prize stretchy sweatpants and athletic wear over such traditional staples as denim.

That’s not to say that Spanx is abandoning it’s commitment to compression entirely. The company, which also sells undergarments for men, recently retweeted an essay by a male customer, who chronicled the virtues of a Spanx t-shirt. “I felt myself beginning to understand the appeal of corsets, and thunder shirts, and maybe even kinbaku, the Japanese art of rope binding,” he wrote.