They come in different colors and patterns from a modest navy blue or black to a metallic snakeskin or flannel pattern. They are worn with running shoes and high heels, with sandals and Uggs. Like any garment, their attractiveness is debatable to some and unquestionable to others.
They are leggings.
Fashion trends often resurface years after their initial conception. Wedges made a recent return on fashion runways, and chunky cocktail rings became a staple accessory to a new generation. Leggings are no exception. The difference in the resurgence of leggings is how they are being worn.
Leggings, it seems, now can be worn as pants.
The trend has trickled down from the fashion editors of Vogue and svelte celebrity legs to retail giants such as Target and small towns across the country.
Some prefer them with a skirt or dress.
“I like to wear shorter skirts, and I like the style of sweater dresses and tunics with short skirts,” said Stefanie Veneziano, a junior international affairs and theater major at the University of Maine. “I won’t wear leggings if it’s warm. I have no problem in minus 10 [degree] weather wearing leggings, as long as I have boots and a thick coat.”
Would she wear leggings as pants?
“Only if I’m at the gym, or if the top I’m wearing covers me,” Veneziano said. “It looks awkward to wear a shorter top with leggings.”
Others aren’t fazed.
“I think I wear them because they are soft and stretchy,” said Abbey Pelletier, a freshman at UM. Pelletier said she wears leggings two or three times a week. “I feel comfortable wearing them as pants because they are pretty thick and very comfortable. I guess you look a little better than wearing really baggy sweatpants every day.”
Wearing leggings as pants has sparked activity in fashion magazines and on the Internet in positive and negative ways. A now notorious website, www.tightsarenotpants.com, has a manifesto against the new trend. The first three lines of the manifesto read, “Let’s be clear. The wearing of tights as pants is an abomination. TIGHTS ARE NOT PANTS.” The manifesto goes on to list ways in which tights as
pants are acceptable — hair metal, ballet, etc — and the website offers printable fliers with its logo: an equal sign with a slash through it sandwiched between the words “Tights” and “Pants.”
Heather van Frankenhuyzen, the owner of Bella Luna, a women’s clothing boutique in downtown Bangor, said her store carries a significant stock of leggings and thinks they are a great staple to have on hand. As pants, van Frankenhuyzen isn’t a fan.
“I really don’t like leggings as pants and sometimes feel the need to tell people they are not. But I try to restrain myself. Fashion is, after all, individual expression,” she said.
Van Frankenhuyzen, who holds an Associate of Applied Arts in Fashion Design degree from the Art Institute of Seattle in Washington, says leggings have changed in various ways, including the materials used to make them.
“The big difference between the leggings of the ’80s and the leggings of today has to do with technology,” she said. “Back then, they really didn’t have the synthetic fabrics that wear and feel like ours today. So often in the ’80s, the leggings tended to be slightly baggy or loose.”
Leggings have a history extending back to the 15th century, which makes their current use even more interesting. During the Renaissance, men wore stockings known as hose or chausses that were similar to tights and made out of sheep wool.
American Indians wore long buckskin leggings that resembled boots, and cowboys wore buckskin to protect their legs from the elements.
Before switching to combat boots during World War II, United States soldiers wore a form of leggings known as puttees to keep their legs dry and to provide basic ankle support.
In the mid-19th century, women in France began wearing a form of leggings known as pantalettes, which most resemble modern leggings. Pantalettes, worn under skirts to fully cover the woman, were often made of linen and eventually found their way into British and American dressing rooms. While pantalettes were the grandmother of modern leggings, they looked nothing like them. Pantalettes resembled a pair of oversize linen pajama pants — with lace.
Leggings worn with skirts and simple shoes became mildly popular in the 1960s. In the ’70s, American designer Patricia Field claimed she had designed the modern legging.
The 1980s transformed leggings from a practical garment worn by both sexes into a skintight garment worn, well, whenever. Originally worn as exercise clothes, leggings became “street wear” and were worn with long sweaters and skirts. The cotton-spandex blend was worn by ’80s celebrities such as Madonna and remained popular well into the ’90s.
When leggings appeared on fashion runways in the early 2000s, the trend peaked again. Clothing stores such as American Apparel and Urban Outfitters became popular sellers of the product, and it’s hard to find a retailer that doesn’t sell them today.
The evolution of leggings, from cowboys and dainty French women to gyms and grocery stores, could be approached from different perspectives. Does a shift from utilitarian to aesthetic say anything about either generation? Do leggings as pants suggest high physical self-esteem among women or just a need to follow trends?
“I do think some girls wear them [as pants] to show off their figure, but I also think some wear them because they are really comfortable,” said Pelletier.
Van Frankenhuyzen said, “I will admit that some girls can pull them off as pants, but they are few and far between, and honestly, who really wants something that shows every dimple or jiggle? Just wear a longer shirt when in doubt.”
Lynnsay Maynard is a junior journalism major at the University of Maine.