spring fashion

Would You Spend $860 on These Stretchy Pants?

How High Sport made something so basic so coveted.

Photo-Illustration: Photo: Backgrid (Rodrigo); Laurel Pantin; Getty (hands); courtesy of the vendor (pants)

Depending on whom you ask, it started with Leandra Medine Cohen. Or stylist and newsletter writer Becky Malinsky. Writer Emily Sundberg first saw the High Sport kick flare pants on Medine Cohen, and so did Puck fashion correspondent Lauren Sherman (who later tweeted that she saw them on director Nancy Meyers, too). Ceramicist Isabel Halley noticed them on the writer and editor Thessaly La Force, then texted illustrator Joana Avillez about them. Natalie Ebel, co-founder of paint and wallcovering company Backdrop, saw them on stylist Juliana Salazar and happened to have bought them around the same time that her friend Mélanie Masarin, founder of the nonalcoholic-aperitif company Ghia, procured a pair. Then, this past December, Ebel and Masarin attended a party in Highland Park.

“I went to the Flamingo Estate holiday party and I see this girl and she’s basically doing splits on the floor — not fully split but stretching — and she was clearly showing her pants to someone. I was like, She’s for sure wearing High Sport pants,” says Masarin. (She — who turned out to be writer and editor Laurel Pantin — was.)

The High Sport pants cost $860 or $890, depending on the length, and are not particularly outstanding: pull-on with a seam down the front and a slightly flared bottom. They are made from a weave of 68 percent cotton and 32 percent Lycra and come in a range of Helen Frankenthaler–esque colors. Then there’s the more staid black, navy, and brown pairs, which one would be forgiven for confusing with similar cropped and flared styles from The Row, Proenza Schouler, or Theory. (And Everlane, Spanx, and Old Navy, which all offer comparable silhouettes.) Still, they have a certain set of stylish New Yorkers and Angelenos in their French Lycra grip. Fans evangelize about the pants’ sturdy fabric that cinches and smoothes. The marriage of a sharp silhouette with yoga-adjacent fabric lends them to school pickups, flights, and visions of going from “drop-off to the club,” as Halley puts it. Some compare the material — which, according to the brand, took four years to develop — to Issey Miyake’s Pleats Please textiles for its luxurious feel. Most of all, the High Sport kick pants have simultaneously become a curiosity — almost $900 for stretchy pants? — and seemingly ubiquitous on the timeline of anyone who follows a specific circle of fashion editors, Substackers, and microinfluencers who fall somewhere in the middle of the Odeon-Erewhon Venn diagram. (Incidentally, the pants, which are available only in sizes XS to XL, are largely advertised on thin white models; their fan base, including most of the people I spoke to for this story, seems to be mostly thin white people.) “If you’re with people who read Air Mail or whatever, they come up,” says Sherman. “People are often like, ‘Are those the pants?’ It’s like T-H-E in italics — are those the pants?” says Avillez, who made a flip-book featuring a woman doing cartwheels in red High Sport pants for the brand.

So how did a pair of $860 pants get to be everywhere? One answer is very savvy community building. Yes, the pants have been photographed on Chloë Sevigny, Olivia Rodrigo, and Katie Holmes, but what High Sport’s founder, Alissa Zachary, and brand consultant Nicole Cari have mastered is getting the pants on the radar — and sometimes on the bodies for free or at a discount — of a group of women whose taste is aspirational yet relatable. “Their team sent me a pair, and I was like, Oh no, they’re really good,” says Sundberg, who wrote about the pants in her newsletter, Feed Me, and posted them on Instagram. “When I posted about them, I think I got ten responses asking, ‘So are they worth it?’ ”

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“The team” is really Cari, according to some. “She has a history of making things a thing,” one writer says of Cari, who previously worked at Band of Outsiders for a decade and more recently for Attersee, Sophie Buhai, Entireworld, and Métier — all brands that have fascinated a similar New York–L.A. audience. “If she reaches out to me about something, I pay attention,” says Sherman. “She only works with brands that she thinks are good.”

Cari’s ability to get the pants into the hands of the “right” people has proved mutually beneficial. According to Charlotte Bentley, director of strategic communications at Moda Operandi, the pants were one of the company’s top-three best-selling items in 2023. Meanwhile, the people posting about the pants with affiliate links can receive kickbacks from Net-a-Porter and Moda Operandi as high as 15 percent — and on a pair of $860 pants, those kickbacks add up.

“Just from one post, I think we sold like 40 pairs of those pants,” says Jess Graves, a writer who purchased a pair and then covered them in her newsletter, The Love List, after receiving multiple questions from readers about their value. “That’s a lot for a $900 price-point item.” The pants have become so ubiquitous among Substackers that Magasin founder and editor Laura Reilly dubbed them “Newsletter Pants” and dedicated a newsletter to quotes from other newsletter writers who own and love the pants. Meanwhile, at least five different sources I spoke to for this story likened the fervor around the pants to that of a cult. Chalk it up to being friends with the brand’s founder (which many of High Sport’s most avid followers are) or not wanting to “yuck anyone else’s yum,” as Marie Claire editor-in-chief Nikki Ogunnaike puts it, but the more people you ask about the pants, the more you get the sense that there’s a kind of in-club hesitation to speak ill of them. “I feel like they’ve drunk the Kool-Aid,” says writer and editor Yolanda Edwards.

And so that leaves the question: Are the pants actually worth nearly $900? For many of the people I spoke with who bought the pants without any brand discount — some of whom had forgotten how much they paid for them — the answer was “yes.” “A hundred percent. A hundred percent,” says Aliza Fischer, a communications and brand consultant who lives on the Upper East Side and owns four pairs. “They hold up so well I can wear them, wear them, wear them.” Cost-per-wear justifications are extremely common among fans. “They’re a good investment,” says fashion editor and boutique owner Nancy Ghobary, who has three pairs and lives in Kuwait.

Others are less impressed. Ogunnaike ordered a couple of pairs and returned both. “I’m a size 8 on the bottom,” she says, “and none of the women I’ve seen them on have my body type. So I’d been wondering what they’d look like on somebody with a slightly curvier bottom for years.” As it turned out, one size was too large, another too small, and she didn’t love the kick flare on her body. Cosmetic-product developer Alexis Page maintains that they were worth the price but has found them “a bit precious of a look” for frequent wear. “I forget I have them all the time,” she says. For Edwards, a splurge became a regret after she ran the pants through the wash (she air-dried them, since they’re labeled DRY CLEAN ONLY). They ended up faded and without their original shape. “I was so mad,” she says. “I think I got five days of wearing them before I washed them, and now they literally sit at the bottom of my pants drawer — I won’t throw them out, but I won’t wear them either.”

To somewhat settle the question of the pants’ value, I figured I needed to touch them myself. So one afternoon, I had coffee with a friend who brought along her kick flares so I could feel them — nice, I thought, but probably not worth the price of a round-trip ticket to Europe. Fortunately, we happened to run into another friend who works in textiles and wasn’t familiar with High Sport. I told her I was writing a story about an expensive and very popular pair of pants and asked her to guess how much they cost. She considered the cut, touched the fabric, and thought about it: “$250? $300?”

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Would You Spend $860 on These Stretchy Pants?