"I love how bold you are!" my friend from college said when she saw me step off a plane wearing leopard-print leggings.
"What?" I said.
"Get it, girl!" she replied, her eyes traveling up and down my legs like the eyes of a gawking stranger. I suddenly felt naked.
I wear leggings as pants so often that I forget it might be considered a bold move. It's my uniform. So if doctors stay in their scrubs when they leave the hospital to get lunch and firefighters wear their heavy, fluorescent fireproof jackets in line at the cafe, why shouldn't I, a work-from-home mother of two, wear leggings everywhere? It's not like I get to clock out at 5 p.m.
The list of where I think it's appropriate to wear leggings is very long. The list of where not to wear them: a high-stakes professional situation such as a job interview or deposition, a club, a funeral or wedding, or a fancy restaurant. Would I wear leggings to the doctor or dentist? Of course. Would I wear leggings around clients? Probably. Would I wear them to a graduation? Yes — I need to be able to stand up and cheer.
Before having kids, I never realized that as a parent I would not have enough time (or patience or strength or will) to zip a zipper, but that is the case. Zippers and buttons and hook-and-eye closures are quite cruel; the stickier, trickier ones assume you have someone around to help you wrangle them. Elastic-waist pants are forgiving; they're the anti-corset. You can twist and bend and breathe in them. It's liberating.
During my '80s childhood, aerobics queen Jane Fonda wore leggings as pants: white leggings, beige leggings, sheer black leggings. Maybe they were tights, actually. Pantyhose? Let's just say that Jane Fonda wore very tight leg coverings. But she didn't wear them all day. She wore them for her exercise videos; then she took them off and slid into high-waisted denim.
My mother, on the other hand, wore floral skirts or trousers with pleats. When she came into my second-grade classroom to volunteer, for modesty's sake she had to tuck her legs to one side, like a Victorian woman on horseback. My mom's clothing restricted her movement and looked uncomfortable. She seemed like someone who couldn't wait to put on her cotton nightgown at the end of the day. That's just the way it was.
But today's woman has another choice: wear leggings (or jeggings or yoga pants — I'm lumping them together here) as pants. All day long. When I first saw women doing it — clusters of sorority sisters getting frozen yogurt wearing leggings; my stylish mama friend dropping off her son at preschool wearing leggings and a BLAZER — I thought, "Oh! Would you look at that? That's not for me, of course, but good for them!"
See, I am pear shaped. Jane Fonda may not have had a motor in the back of her Honda (according to Sir Mix-a-Lot), but I do. Thick-thighed, big-bottomed, I spill over the edges of seats just a tad. I have an ample bum, backside, badonkadonk, tush, tail, trunk. I've heard it all sneered and whistled and cat-called since puberty. Pants off the rack rarely fit me — the ratio of waist size to booty volume is all wrong.
Admirers considered my shape an asset, but I learned early on not to overemphasize my lower half when dressing. Why call even more attention to my curvy self? I wore acid-washed, French-rolled Calvin Klein jeans. I wanted to blend in. Hide my problem areas. Leave something to the imagination.
But then, at age 30, I had a baby.
I gained over 50 pounds while pregnant. I thought I'd use some of my new "free time" during my maternity leave to get some regular exercise. I liked it. I went daily.
And I found that I never got the chance to change out of my exercise clothes. I wore my nursing sports bra, my tank top, and my stretchy leggings all day long, from 5 a.m to 10 p.m. This was the beginning of my clothing enlightenment.
In her December 2016 op-ed for The Washington Post, "Unless You're Doing Yoga, Put on Some Real Pants," writer and fashion editor Kerry Folan wrote:
What we wear sends a message to the world. An Hermes handbag makes a statement about wealth and luxury. A pair of four-inch Louboutin heels makes a statement about sex and power. Yoga pants make a statement about comfort and modernity. When we board a flight or run to the grocery store swaddled in cotton-lycra, we are saying to the people around us that our own comfort is our first priority. We are expressing a new kind of modern vanity where dressing down, rather than dressing up, is the power move.
When I read this, I thought to myself, "That lady doesn't have kids." Comfort is not my first priority as a mother. Survival is. Keeping the family alive is a full-time, full-body athletic experience. When our children are young, we spend an obscenely high percentage of our time sprinting to keep their bodies out of the street and their fingers out of wall sockets. I had to carry an infant in a baby carrier on my front and a toddler on my back while lugging groceries from the car, while throwing a Frisbee for our dog, while plunging the toilet and running the bath. And if wearing some cotton-lycra is going to make a mom's neverending marathon of tasks more doable, I'm all for it.
Leggings are a big business today. According to Forbes, activewear or "athleisure" will account for $83 billion in sales by 2020, "the lone star in a waning apparel industry." These aren't Jane Fonda's leggings — they come in every imaginable size, length, fabric, pattern, color, cut, and price point. You can buy leggings at Walmart, at the grocery store, at the precious hipster boutique. They are made well and they are flattering.
Yesterday I went from exercise class to lunch with a friend to buying a used car to picking my kids up from school to making dinner while wearing brightly colored floral leggings that look like a Mexican tapestry. I am nearly 40 years old, and I got no fewer than 10 compliments from strangers, despite my fleshiness . . . or perhaps because of it. Get it, girl. You get it.
Here's the word on the street from other women who have discovered the magic of leggings:
"I always thought leggings were awful. There was no way something meant to be worn under something else could take the place of pants. They are too tight and unforgiving. And leave something to the imagination, why don't you?! Then I legit pooped on a table in front of my husband while a man I had never met before stuck his hand into my vagina, and I was like, 'Damn, leggings are more comfortable than jeans. Panty lines be damned!'" — Lauren
"I always felt something was not just unstylish but also mildly obscene about exposing your privates in tight leggings with no cover. There's so much room for error. But I admit I wore them when I was knocked up until at least four months postpartum — as pants. I'm back to being mildly ashamed about it, but I'd do it again. I actually still wear a pair that are also bell bottoms because they remind me of my college rave gear." — Liz
"Leggings that you sleep in are pajamas. Leggings that you don't sleep in are pants. Leggings that you don't sleep in and paid over $85 for are formal wear." — September
"Working with kids outside, leggings are both comfortable and stylish, provide sunblock for my legs and warmth in cooler weather. Game changer! Very hard to consider other jobs when I am able to nanny in leggings!" — Christine
"I loved wearing leggings in the 1980s and 1990s. They suited me then and they suit me now. They remind me of being a cute eighth grader." — Emily
"Parenthood is the most active thing I've ever done. I'm constantly hoisting up a toddler, chasing after him, or diving to stop him from dropping toys into the toilet. My entire day is a workout; therefore, I'm constantly in workout clothes! And that includes leggings." — Claire
"I never thought I'd be THAT mom in yoga pants, pushing a stroller, sipping a latte. That's literally me every day now. Drink it in, neighbors. Also, it allows me to go commando daily. Less laundry? Yes, please." — Beth
"Leggings as pants forever. So casual, so comfortable. When you've had a baby and you're between sizes? Yup, leggings. When you must leave the house but still want to basically be in pajamas? Leggings again!" — Lindsay