Scrap The Pants? Consider Making Room For Leggings

As Tim Gunn once tweeted, “No, leggings are not pants, for men or women!” The Project Runway style guru has long held a grudge against the leggings-as-pants phenomenon. But despite his admonitions, the trend does not appear to be going anywhere. At the Claremont Colleges, it has reached monumental proportions. So, where do we go from here?

I have flirted with the leggings trend. In seventh grade, I purchased a brown, lace-trimmed pair to match a charming tunic that I bought on the sound advice of my grandmother. Last summer, I found a pair in the sporting department of the local Walmart that perfectly suited my needs as a camp counselor. But I never considered wearing them to class until I got to the Claremont Colleges and saw the amazing array of leggings-clad students. 

Andrea Green PO ’17 had a similar experience. She said that while she had not before considered wearing leggings as pants, enough people at the 5Cs did to make her feel comfortable with the decision.

“I would probably feel less comfortable elsewhere,” Green said. “I don’t feel as bad wearing leggings because I know people won’t be like, ‘She puts no effort into what she wears.’”

However, for Marianna Heckendorn PO ’16, leggings are not a sign of a lack of effort; Heckendorn said that she finds that leggings simply complement her outfits better.

“If I’m wearing a long sweater or a big button-down, leggings look better with the outfit,” Heckendorn said.

However, she added, she has not worn, and does not plan to wear, leggings interchangeably with pants.

Other students find that leggings occupy the confusing gray area between workout clothes and everyday clothes. Laurel Estes PO ’15 recalled wearing running leggings to a team practice only to end up swapping jerseys with a smaller teammate and suddenly feeling extremely exposed. Although she did not feel inappropriate in the athletic setting, she cannot see herself repeating the experience in everyday life, she said. 

The problem that arises with discussing the appropriateness of leggings, of course, is the issue of freedom of expression. As with all clothing, it is the decision of the wearer whether or not the item is acceptable in a given setting. 

Green said that while there are shirts she would not wear leggings with, on the whole, leggings are “really, really comfortable” and a suitable alternative to pajamas. The pants hierarchy for Green starts with jeans, then progresses to leggings and yoga pants, and ends with sweatpants or pajama pants “at the bottom of the totem pole.”

Since college students are often stereotyped as wearing sweatpants or pajamas to class, perhaps the advent of leggings is a blessing. While Tim Gunn may not think we can “make it work,” leggings are at least sartorially superior to sweatpants because of their ability to be dressed up or dressed down, depending on what is worn on top.

I have never worn leggings to class, and I do not expect that to change. However, Estes, Heckendorn, and Green raise good points. Leggings are comfortable and can be worn with almost everything. In an open-minded, leggings-loving environment like the Claremont Colleges, the risk factor is low. But given Green’s pants hierarchy, I think I’ll do my best to stay at the top.

Yet the question remains: Since we no longer see pants as a necessity, what’s next? Given that the crop top continues to threaten the traditional shirt, and flip-flops have almost overtaken the traditional shoe, I think that I’ll hit the gym in preparation for a nudist future.

Sadie Renjilian SC ’17 is from Atlanta, Georgia. Her favorite shoe is the clog. 

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