Take a stance: Sloppy or stylish? Debate continues over popular leggings

At his Fall 2017 ready-to-wear show Monday in Paris, designer Giambattista Valli sent models down the runway in monochromatic black — Nike leggings paired with lace-up, heeled booties and embellished, structured jackets or ruffled blouses.

In praising his appreciation for the “melancholic allure of the city,” Vogue writer Chioma Nnadi described the look thus:

“The myth of La Femme Parisienne generally revolves around café culture — think: cigarettes and lipstick-stained cups of black coffee — and yet these days even the French aren’t immune to the idea of wellness and working out. Valli’s reimagining of athleisure was anything but sloppy; in fact, he seemed to be underlining the fact that the conventional lines in our wardrobe seem to be dissolving altogether. Where wearing running tights or yoga pants to brunch used to be taboo, it’s now totally acceptable. So who’s to say they can’t be reworked for cocktail hour?”

Yes indeed, who’s to say? (Besides pearl-clutching lifestyle pundits, hashtagging misogynists and every internet troll out there, that is.)

The pendulum has swung, friends, in the eternal, seemingly unresolvable debate over whether leggings are pants. It would seem that… sure! Possibly! You do you, girl! Or boy! No judgment!

This comes after last week’s kerfuffle over LuLaRoe leggings and customer accusations that they tear easily, sometimes within several hours of wearing them the first time.

According to the LuLaRoe website (lularoe.com), “Our leggings are ultra stretchy and super soft. They’re as close to your own skin as you can get with all the perks of, ahem, not being naked.”

Except a lot of angry-Tweeted and re-Tweeted photos of ripped leggings displayed a surprising amount of skin. Still not naked, though!

Which circles back to the essential question of leggings’ debatable pants-ness.

Let us turn to the oldest known pants, discovered in western China’s Xinjiang Province by Ulrike Beck and Mayke Wagner of the German Archaeological Institute. The approximately 3,000-year-old pants were made of three pieces of fabric, woven with geometric designs at the hips, knees and calves.

In detailing their findings in the Oct. 20, 2014, edition of Quaternary International, the archaeologists reported that the “invention of bifurcated lower body garments is related to the new epoch of horseback riding, mounted warfare and greater mobility. Trousers are essential part of the tool kit with which humans improve their physical qualities.”

It would seem that leggings fall directly in line with that improvement of physical qualities and enabling of greater mobility. It’s why people wear them to the gym. Which, the anti-leggings-as-pants faction would argue, is where they belong.

“Articles of clothing that fall into the not pants category, when worn at home or on the way to and from the gym, are perfectly acceptable,” wrote Kate Tagai in a Jan. 24 essay for McSweeney’s (mcsweeneys.net). “They don’t fall into the category of fashion so much as fulfill a practical role as the thing keeping you from being naked. You can’t wear jeans to the gym, or rather you can, but it gets weird and sweaty and you shouldn’t.

“Leggings allow for a range of movement that will keep you safe as you work out and provide mild compression to help muscles work with maximum efficiency. But while you need these qualities at certain, specific times, you don’t need a wide range of movement while walking the aisles of a grocery store or a restaurant.”

Fair enough. It seems unlikely that dinner at Chipotle would involve a set of deep lunges. If it does, the issue has evolved beyond leggings, it would seem.

For a voice of reason, turn to celebrity stylist Micaela Erlanger. Writing for Who What Wear (whowhatwear.com), her response to the question of whether leggings are pants is: It depends.

“I find leggings to be acceptable when worn one of two ways: as activewear or as a layering piece. When worn alone, leggings should be left for the gym or yoga class. In fact, a good pair of thick black leggings paired with a cute sports bra can make for very chic gymwear.

“Another great way to utilize leggings is as a layering piece. They can provide the perfect way to wear a sheer dress. Ultimately, leggings have plenty of uses — they just shouldn’t be worn on their own unless you’re planning to work up a sweat.”

Other stylists advise pairing them with tunics, long blazers and oversize sweaters. All of these looks can be deemed chic and stylish enough for not just a casual brunch with friends, but a dressier evening out.

The problem, say many who support leggings as pants, is that the debate becomes yet another one that tells women (since the vast majority of leggings wearers are women) what they can or cannot do, and shames them for not fitting impossible notions of perfection.

“You don’t owe anyone an explanation for why you like to wear the clothing you like, nor should you change how you dress just because someone else doesn’t think your body is ‘right’ for a particular garment,” wrote Sam Escobar in Good Housekeeping magazine.

She did add that leggings, however worn, should be thick enough that there’s no visible underwear — because really, that’s just tacky. And those are in fact tights, which definitely are not pants.

All of which is to say, in the immortal words of Nacho Libre, “Sometimes you wear stretchy pants in your room. Just for fun.”

And sometimes you wear them to the movies, or the mall, or sauntering down a Paris runway in sartorial homage to the melancholy of the city.


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