Wearing leggings was one of those things I said I’d never do — like walking the dog in pajamas, or sporting athletic shoes with a business suit.
It’s not that I considered leggings too revealing. I just thought they weren’t formal enough for professional settings. Also, I didn’t think they were especially flattering.
I’m old enough to have lived through the first go-round with leggings, in the 1980s and ’90s, although they masqueraded as stirrup pants back then. At that time the fabric technology — or lack thereof — meant a lot of saggy knees and droopy bottoms. Fine for a workout, less acceptable for a social setting, and definitely too sloppy to command authority at work.
I had a nagging fear that they indicated the beginning of the end: First you wear leggings to work, then you wear polar fleece to the opera, and then, inevitably, civilization crumbles.
Athleisure: more menacing than climate change.
But now I’m converted, bordering on evangelical. My dependence on leggings determines how frequently I do laundry. I have three pairs, but there is a Most Valued Pair that I pull directly from the pile of clean laundry to wear. They never see the inside of a drawer. Everyone has that item of clothing, the one that you reach for again and again, the one that you pack first in your suitcase, the one that you hope no one notices you wore yesterday and also a couple of times last week. My Lou & Grey Supersoft green leggings are that piece of clothing. They are freakishly comfortable. Civilization may go ahead and crumble; I will be cozy for the downfall.
I’m a singer by profession. My leggings turnaround started when I was singing a church gig one Sunday morning — a relatively casual service, no choir robes, nothing fancy. But still church. Still a work environment for a musician like me.
The other woman singing — a high school teacher during the week — was wearing leggings, a drapey tunic and riding boots. She looked great. Polished, professional, comfortable. I complimented her on the outfit.
“Aren’t these terrific?” she said. “We aren’t supposed to wear leggings at school, but I thought this outfit looked like I made an effort. I function better when I can breathe and move.”
I asked where she purchased them. And then I stopped and bought my own leggings-and-drapey-tunic ensemble on the way home from the service.
A quick note to clarify what leggings are, at the request of my partner, who claims that “most people” — by which he means “men” — don’t understand what leggings are and aren’t.
They are: lightweight, stretchy, form-fitting pants that stop at the ankle. They rarely have pockets. They can be made from a variety of materials, but usually a cotton/Lycra blend, which makes them soft and stretchy. They are not the same as footless tights, which are sheerer, more restrictive and about as comfortable as sausage casings. They are also not the same as yoga pants, which have more structure at the waist and usually flare at the calf.
And they are not the same as skinny jeans, which are made of thicker, stretchy denim and have more seams, pockets and rivets. Jeggings, however, are the same as leggings, but styled to look like denim jeans, in a sort of sartorial illusion.
But women readers already knew that.
Leggings, as they say, are not pants. So true. They are far, far better than pants.
I gave up on pants a while ago — I don’t know whom they’re made for, but they are always wrong somewhere in terms of fit. Women’s bodies have a lot of variation below the waist. I have spent an entire day at the mall trying on pants only to purchase a pair that still comes up short — literally.
Leggings, with their stretch and ease, are more forgiving, more likely to fit in the various places where women’s bodies differ. When I turn my back on colleagues to sit at the piano, I don’t have to worry about leggings gapping open at the waist, the way jeans or other pants made of stiff fabrics do. I can breathe enough to sing, even after lunch.
I still feel apologetic when I wear them, though. I recently wore leggings to a bridal show with a friend who’s planning a wedding. Before we hit the first vendor, I was already explaining why I wasn’t dressed up.
Her response? She started rhapsodizing about leggings and where to buy her favorites.
I’ve asked my partner, “Do these look too casual? Or obscene?”
To which he replies, confused and hopeful, “Wait, does what look obscene?”
I’ve cautiously worn them to rehearsals, only to find a colleague in bike shorts and cleats from his ride across town.
I work at a music school, where I teach some classes to students age 55-plus. Administrators have advised us not to dress too casually for this student group. But I’ve learned they can’t be fooled with business suits or high heels or other sorts of power dressing. Their respect must be earned with expertise and patient instruction. They want a supportive learning environment where they feel safe enough to fail or ask “stupid” questions. They are old enough to value comfort over style.
And so am I.
Andrea Leap is a musician and music teacher based in the Twin Cities.