How Accepting Leggings as Pants Made Me a Better Feminist
I’ve come around on leggings.
For years, I was one of the most adamant legging haters in the country. When I saw a girl/woman walk by wearing leggings “as pants” my stalwart go-to reaction was: eye-roll + “echh” + one or more of the following: “Leggings aren’t pants” / “That’s not even flattering” / “Does she think that looks cute?” / “Put some pants on.”
I was so proud of my patronizing disdain for this superfluous, sure-to-be short-lived, trying-too-hard-to-bring-back-the-‘80s trend. Except it turned out to be not so short-lived. It’s been a good seven years since my leggings-hatred hatched, because it’s been a good seven years since leggings “came back.”
I didn’t always hate leggings. In fact, I distinctly remember loving one particular pair that I had as a kid: white ones with neon purple, pink, and orange geometric patterns on them. (It was the early ‘90s. They were awesome.)
But something happened in my psyche sometime between 1994 and 2006 that totally altered my opinion of long spandex-cotton bottom-wear and made me believe they were unacceptable to function as anything other than thick tights. By the time I was a college freshman in 2006, my opinion of leggings was set in stone: Thou shall not wear leggings with anything but a skirt or a dress. Thou shall not even wear them with oversized sweaters or long button-downs. Thou shall especially not wear them with normal-length shirts, “as pants.”
And it wasn’t just that I personally rejected these fashions in my wardrobe. Nay, I judged every woman who wore leggings in any way I deemed sinful. I judged them hard. The wrath of my leggings-judgment poured down frequently via disapproving glares and silent head-shaking.
But then my slightly-younger, slightly-more-stylish cousin started wearing leggings as pants. She embraced the look and rocked it. My cousin made me realize that leggings created the option of simultaneous style and comfort.
On paper, it seems like such a simple revelation, but it was not. At the time, I was about to start writing my Master’s thesis on 1920s flapper fashions and Simon de Beauvoir’s theories of the “eternal feminine.” I was thinking a lot about the uncomfortable, often medically dangerous things women do to contort their bodies to fit some unrealistic feminine ideal. In the past: Chinese foot-binding, African neck rings, Euro-American corsets and crinolines. In the present: high heels, spanx, false eyelashes, tight (like, circulation-cutting-off tight) jeans, corsets (…still).
In contrast, I began to develop a soft spot for soft, body-hugging (not body-squeezing or -contorting) leggings. As Amanda Hess wrote for Slate’s XX Factor earlier this month, leggings aren’t pants, and they aren’t tights, either. She’s says they’re better than both because they’re more comfortable.
“Pants are great if you’re a woman with the perfectly-calibrated corporate-sanctioned ratio of waist to ass to leg. What are you, a ringer for the jeans industry? It’s time to stop squeezing our lower bodies into constrictive denim prisons and instead envelope them in a forgiving cotton-spandex jersey. Never again will we be forced to choose between visible ass-crack and bulging muffin top.”
As for tights,
“Tights have exerted their control-tops over our torso-crotch areas for too long. They snag on everything. They warp in the wash. They create itches that cannot be scratched. The discomfort of the toe seam is, frankly, egregious. But it doesn’t have to be this way: Sturdy. Footless. Washable. Leggings.”
Hess concludes that leggings have subversive power (my word, her meaning) because they’re not really meant to look good, but rather to feel good. When the fashion police and legging-haters of the world (AKA me pre-2012) look down their noses and scoff “Those aren’t pants. Put some real pants on,” what they’re really saying is “You’re not conforming. Women wear pants, skirts, or dresses. Leggings aren’t any of those. You need to conform.”
And, it’s taken me a long time — about seven years’ worth of judging women for wearing comfortable, trendy not-pants — but it’s finally, fully dawned on me: I was judging women for not conforming, too. All this time, I thought I was the system-bucker because I avoided this trend like the plague. But it turns out I actually missed out on years’ worth of system-bucking via comfy, trendy bottoms. OH GOD. Excuse me while I crawl off to a corner now and die of self-disappointment.
But no! No actual dying today, because I’ve discovered my conformity-based-judgment and I’ve reformed. Practically a 180-degree reformation! I’d say about 175; I sometimes wear leggings, and I definitely never judge other people for wearing them.
Sure, maybe it has something to do with the fact that skinny jeans and yoga pants have become norms, so after a while leggings seem to be just another part of the leg-hugging gang. Because I’m not the only one to come around on leggings recently.
But it’s definitely more than that. Because my leggings-conversion was the start of something bigger, something really significant for me: my journey to stop internally judging women for wearing things society considers(ed) to be “slutty.”
No, I never thought leggings were slutty. But realizing that I was wrong to judge women for wearing leggings made me realize that I was wrong to judge women for wearing other things. I’m ashamed (and frustrated) to say still haven’t quite conquered that mean girl (or is it a man?) in my brain, with her supposed high-standards and apparent Colonial fashion-sense, who whispers “slut” from the depths of my Repressed-Stuff Brain Cave when some a girl wearing stilettos, high heels, and a low-cut top walks by.
It’s an on-going process, beating internalized slut-shaming, but awareness is definitely the most crucial step. And I defy anyone to tell me that conquering internalized slut-shaming isn’t hard work, given that our entire culture judges women on what they wear, draws the line between “attractive” and “slutty” with invisible ink, and rarely questions slut-shaming, even in the case of a 16-year-old rape victim — it’s hard work, even when we’re feminists and uber aware.
But my leggings epiphany has shown me that I need to tell my Creepy Subconscious Slut-Shaming Cave Dweller to shut up. Judging a person based on what they wear is weird and wrong. And in the case of women, it furthers sexual objectification and the idea that appearance is a woman’s most important characteristic.
Leggings have shown me that judging women for “not wearing pants” is almost as bad as judging them for wearing pants instead of skirts, like they were doing 70 years ago. (Yeah, it hasn’t been that long. Weird, right?)
Leggings may very well represent a new level of comfort for the 21st-century young woman, who doesn’t let thick, tough denim hold her back, or uncomfortable, footed, seam-filled tights slow her down.
And leggings may also mark a new, subversive frontier in women’s fashion: where there used to be only skirts and dresses, there appeared pants; now, where there used to be only skirts, dresses, and pants, there appeared leggings.
Written by Jess Eagle
Reposted with permission from House of Flout.