Women don’t have to look beautiful when they work out. But when given a choice between two pairs of athletic pants that perform equally well, I’ll choose the more flattering option every time. Who wouldn’t?
This spring, The North Face is launching women’s training tights that feature what the company calls Vision Science Technology. The idea is to use shading and patterning to fool the eye into seeing slimmer legs and butts.
The company learned its tricks from the Department of Cognitive Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. There, researchers specialize in understanding how our eyes process visual information. Colors, shapes, and patterns can all influence how we perceive an object. Hoping to translate those insights into its apparel, VF Corporation (the parent company of The North Face, Lee Jeans, Smartwool, and other brands) asked UC Irvine scientists to investigate how various apparel designs might influence our perception of our bodies.
That was back in 2010. In 2016, Lee Jeans launched the Body Optix line in Asia, where women overwhelmingly report a desire to be taller; the denim’s shading promised to create that illusion. The jeans debut in Europe this spring and will hit U.S. stores later this summer.
For spring 2018, The North Face is applying this technology to training apparel—specifically tights. That’s partly because tights are an essential, go-to element for many athletes. They can also be a real insecurity trigger. Tights highlight parts of the body that many women would prefer to downplay. Mostly, though, it’s because “the visual science works best on garments that are tight to body,” explains Brittany Beratlis, the North Face product manager for Run + Train.
For now, both brands are applying Vision Science only to women’s bottoms—which strikes me as a misstep. Men worry about appearance, too, as Helly Hansen knows. A Helly designer once explained to me how the company always puts shoulder-enhancing baffles on its men’s puffy jackets because guys love to see themselves as broad-shouldered supermen. I suspect that some variation of Vision Science could also make guys happier with what they see in the mirror.
But let’s concede that women care how they look in their pants. I certainly do, so to find out for myself whether Vision Science truly has the power to make my butt look smaller, I tested the Women’s Contoured Tech High-Rise Tights ($110). They definitely impressed me from a performance standpoint. The super-wide waistband felt comfy while running, and the fabric is great at handling sweat. I wore them to a hot yoga class and liked how they camouflaged sweat marks and dried faster than most bottoms.
Then, to evaluate the tights’ figure-flattering powers, I called in a trio of straight-talking friends and conducted a fashion show. I modeled my favorite black tights, a pair of solid-blue run tights from The North Face, and the High-Rise with Vision Science. Apparently, the lighter blotches in the center of the pelvis (framed by darker tones along the outer leg) should fool my pals into seeing a taller, slenderer version of me.
To my surprise, however, the High-Rise didn’t win the contest. Or at least, it didn’t stand out above the others as making me look more statuesque. Maybe that’s because the color black is famously slimming—it’s the one element of “vision science” that most of us are already familiar with.
So the jury is out on whether Vision Science can stroke women’s egos. I can attest that it’s not unflattering, so if you like the patterning, go for it. And if performance is your primary concern, you’ll get your money’s worth from the High-Rise.