By Choi Kyong-ae
SEOUL, June 19 (Yonhap) -- When Kim Ga-in, a Seoul resident, climbed a mountain on Sunday, the 27-year-old woman did not wear hiking pants or shorts or other traditional trekking clothes. Instead, she went with a more comfortable option that would have been unheard of among hikers a generation ago: leggings.
Her sister, Do-hee, 20, who came along to Mount Inwang in northern Seoul, also chose to wear leggings instead of regular trousers as leggings are flexible and allow her a full range of movement.
"I came across leggings three to four years ago when I took yoga classes. I initially wore leggings only for yoga but last year began to wear the super-flexible yoga pants during my daily life and outdoor activities," Ga-in told Yonhap News Agency while walking down the mountain.
Leggings have transitioned into an everyday wardrobe staple, from athletic attire worn by gym goers and fitness types. For younger people, the preference is related to comfort. They also want to flaunt their body shape.
Leggings are not just preferred by women. An increasing number of men also find leggings to be affordable and comfortable.
Kim Min-kyu, one of several men who came to the mountain on the same day wearing the stretchy footless tights under shorts, said he was drawn to what he called "meggings" because of the comfort.
"I was wearing leggings casually around the house, but now I am venturing outside in them. I think more men will wear leggings under shorts as comfort is absolutely one of the first rules of style," he said.
Reflecting the growing appetite for comfort, sales of leggings at online shopping malls jumped sharply this year. Auction saw sales of men's leggings and sales of women's leggings jump 342 percent and 310 percent, respectively, from Jan. 1 to June 15 compared to the same period of last year. Sales of men's leggings at Gmarket rose 142 percent and sales of women's leggings grew 191 percent during the same period.
"Consumers purchased more leggings from online malls for mountain climbing and camping trips as the government recommends social distancing amid the coronavirus outbreak," an eBay Korea spokesman said over the phone.
For people in their 20s and 30s, who largely reject uniformity and traditional labels, leggings are simply a basic, the equivalent of jeans, he said.
The country's athleisure market is expected to reach 3 trillion won (US$2.5 billion) in 2020 from 500 billion won in 2009, according to the Korea Research Institute for Fashion Industry (KRIFI).
KRIFI forecast demand for leggings to rise further as people spend more time on trips, leisure and sports activities following the country's shortened workweek.
"Leggings will never go out of fashion simply because they allow for movement and are well suited to a number of different lifestyles and daily activities," Hwang You-jung, a researcher at KRIFI, said.
Advocates for leggings as casual wear claim that they can be worn for work and recreation, as they are built from comfortable, synthetic fabrics to be flattering and oh-so-comfortable.
The controversy over leggings in daily life was back in the spotlight in the United States last year.
In March, Maryann White, the mother of four sons, sent a letter to the school newspaper for both the University of Notre Dame and the nearby women's college St. Mary's, asking female students to stop wearing leggings because leggings made it hard for men to control themselves.
The letter sparked a debate over the merits and faults of the popular wardrobe choice. The debate of "are leggings pants?" is sure to continue.
Despite the popularity of leggings among young people, some still say leggings are too form fitting and suggestive, but Ga-in and Do-hee said they don't mind, that they will continue dress how they feel comfortable, regardless of whether men might ogle them.