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By Amanda Loudin

Like many women today, Elizabeth Suever is active and on the go. The 36-year old attorney and mom of two young children is perpetually juggling multiple balls, moving at warp speed between a variety of activities. From work to workout and maybe on to a dinner out, she looks for clothing that can keep up.

While yoga pants have become the ubiquitous choice for any and all activities, Suever likes something a bit more formal when out of the house. Her new go-to pant, then, is the Sculptek jean, performance denim from women’s athletic wear maker Athleta. Increasingly, she’s in good company, as more brands are offering up this pant category.

Performance jeans bridge the gap between regular denim and active wear, and the resulting product is growing in popularity. “What we’re seeing from customers is a demand for versatility,” says Michelle Orr, general merchandising manager for apparel at REI. “Our customers love the look of denim combined with active stretch.”

The Sculptek, for instance, features an easy-to-move-in skinny leg that when cuffed, reveals reflective details. It also includes stretchy pockets designed to offer storage when on the go. As with many jeans in this category, the fit is designed with an athletic body in mind, too. This has been a real plus for Suever, who is a runner. “For my entire adult life, I couldn’t find jeans that fit that I wouldn’t have to constantly pull up because they were too big in the waist,” she says. “I won’t look back at traditional denim now unless someone comes up with a pair that fits the way I like.”

Orr says that REI customers often express an interest in pants that can come in off the trails or mountain walls and go on to the pub after. “We heard from customers that they didn’t want to stand out or look like they were wearing an ‘outdoors costume,’” she explains. “We have climbers, for instance, who love this pant category because it allows them some personal expression along with functionality.”

They're not just for moms

Men and women are equally enamored of performance jeans, says Orr, and brands are responding with models for both. Interested in trying performance denim? These are the brands and models busy, active people like Suever say make the grade:

  • prAna — The brand can trace its roots to the climbing world and as a result, has a big following from this crowd. It’s Bridger jean for men, and Kayla jean for women, are made of a combination of cotton, polyester and spandex. Both the men’s and women’s jeans feature five-pocket styling, multiple inseams and colors. Orr says these are top sellers at REI and are especially popular with customers who like to show their individuality. “They might wear these for a hike or a climb and then pair them with a logo tee and a flannel for that post-activity beer,” she says.
  • DUER — This brand is the essence of that everyday-wear/performance-wear combo and their performance denim rises to the occasion. A skinny fit that sits just below the waist, the DUER men’s and women’s models add in more lycra than most others, giving it more stretch and less weight than competitor brands. DUER also adds in COOLMAX fibers, which the company says serves to insulate in the cold and cool in the heat.
  • Toad & Co. — Offering up the Wingman denim to men, Toad & Co. bills its jeans as being able to take you “biking, hiking, running for the subway, and sitting in meetings.” The Wingman is lightweight, at 10 ounces, is water repellent, moisture-wicking, and has a C-O finish, which the company says translates to a low environmental impact.
  • Dish Denim — With more design options than any other brand—although only made for women—Dish Denim is a specialist in performance denim. The brand claims its jeans are 30 percent lighter and stronger than regular jeans and the pants incorporate COOLMAX and elastic to make them functional and versatile. The brand’s tag line: Clothes shouldn’t hold you back. They should adapt to your life.
  • Patagonia — Again hitting both men’s and women’s categories, Patagonia is well known for finding that sweet spot between performance and style. It’s performance jeans combine cotton, COOLMAX and polyester, and claims its dying process minimizes energy and water use. It features a water repellent finish, sits at the waist and comes with five-pocket styling.

If there’s a downside to performance denim, it is price. The cost can range from about $79 on up to near $200. The price tag, however, is right in line with traditional premium denim and makers of performance denim are banking on the idea that jeans with the right stretch are worth every penny.

Orr expects to see the category continue to expand, which is nothing but a positive for the consumer. “There’s so much versatility here, along with a comfortable fit,” she says. “The beauty of more options is that everyone can choose what is right for them.”

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