Is This The End of Leggings?
11:00 am, April 18th | by Meredith Lepore
It has been a really tough month for leggings. First Lululemon recalls it’s see -through yoga pants which turned into a huge company strategy failure. Then they were banned from this California junior high school because they are “too distracting.” And now workout guru and Gwyneth Paltrow BFF Tracy Anderson is getting major backlash for launching a line of leggings that aren’t, well, very cool looking. They are too colorful and busy. Could it be that America is done with leggings? Will we go back to the time when they were just worn as long underwear and for jazzercize? Can it be?
In order to explore the state of leggings now, we have to take a look at the history of leggings. Starting way back in the 13th century men wore the earliest versions of leggings, known as hose. These thin tights were worn for warmth and protection against you know dragons and trolls and stuff. The Native Americans (because they were always one step ahead of us) sported buckskin leggings around this time which I am pretty sure Vanessa Hudgens is wearing at Coachella right now.
In the mid-19th century girls and women started wearing linen pantalettes, the precursor to leggings, under crinolines. By the 1960s linens were officially part of fashion made popular by skinny ladies like leggings. It was like taking the capri pant one step farther. Then in the late 1970s Sex & the City costume designer Patricia Field took credit for inventing these pants that had been around since the days of yore. Well, actually she says she invented the modern-day legging (so if you want to blame someone, blame her.)
In the 1980s we certainly saw an increase of leggings in bright colors and fun patterns but they weren’t as much of the focus as they are today. And often they were worn strictly for aerobics (thanks Jane Fonda!) In the 90s they were still making the rounds but mostly under giant flannel shirts and those babydoll dresses everyone was obsessed with. The point was, leggings were usually treated like tights in that something was covering your ass. They were not the focus.
And then I am not sure when it happened but one day, circa 2005/2006, someone decided they didn’t feel like wearing a long shirt or a dress over their leggings. They were just going to wear them with their butt out in all its glory. I don’t want to point any fingers but a name that rhymes with Mindsay Mohan comes to mind.
Quietly women started pairing them with ballet flats, Converse sneakers, heels and of course, Ugg Boots. An entire fashion movement was born. Columnists across the country were fervently addressing it. Was it good? Was it bad? Are leggings still a privilege or a right? Was this a feminist move or were we letting guys see our butts even closer? Did we all look like we were in a dance group?
At the forefront of this movement was Nicole Richie, Lindsay Lohan and the Olsen twins. They were so skinny that leggings looked like regular pants on them but it caught on strong. The undergrad student uniform for sorority girls became black leggings, t-shirt or sweater, giant sunglasses, a Longchamp bag, coat (probably a Northface puffer or Burberry quilted coat) with either Uggs, flip-flops (Rainbows), Tory Burch Reva flats, Hunters or Converse sneakers.
Mothers were horrified, women were comfortable, it was a time. And then leggings started getting shiny and leathery. And zippers and with suede panels oh my. Somedays we looked like were about to go horseback riding other days, we looked like Sandy from Grease post-makeover.
Of course, then leggings tried to expand their reach to far with jeggings and meggings but it made for some very entertaining editorials and that time when Conan O’Brien wore a pair.
Though there was constant backlash, leggings were surviving and adapting despite fiascos. Celebrities were starting leggings lines. Everyone was happy even if my mom thought I looked like I was going to jazz class.
But this month may mark the decline of leggings and I for one will be sad. To me, leggings are a way to rebel against the system. They are saying “I want to be comfortable and have a cool silhouette and yeah, they technically may not be pants but that’s what I am doing.” I will also say that I think leggings are more appropriate for walking around than the pajama trend that is happening right now (I actually like some of the ones I’ve seen but I think it is promoting a culture of laziness.) And yes, maybe leggings are too distracting for teenage boys but isn’t everything? Leggings say I am ready to run a mile at a moment’s notice or do a Bob Fosse number.
On her blog, Miz Jenkins describes her love leggings with such passion and soul, it almost brings a tear to your eye:
“While it’s true that not every style of garment flatters every figure, leggings are extraordinarily egalitarian. That’s because the silhouette – another essential element of style – conforms to the silhouette of the leg. The human body itself is perhaps the penultimate object of art and beauty in human society, one that rarely needs as much modification as we subject it to. And as far as body image goes, the legs are one feature that most women are relatively satisfied with. To the extent this isn’t true, leggings are there to help you out. Lycra, especially when blended with thick-gauged cottons and wools, is an incredibly forgiving fabric that subtly slims and shapes the body. Think of it this way, what better way to camouflage lumpy thighs than wrapping them in compression bandages?”
So I think we should choose to look at these leggings problems as minor hiccups in a long journey. What other clothing has this kind of staying power? I don’t see anyone wearing gouching pants in a Hunger Games post-apocalyptic world. You know what they will be wearing? Leggings.