I have worn leggings every day this year except for four days. This is my leggings manifesto. It was a snowed-in evening in late January, when New York was basically incapacitated due to a series of blizzards. I was homebound like everybody else, blanket-wrapped on the couch with a frozen Trader Joe’s dinner, bottle of wine, and buckets of free time. That free time inevitably took me to the vast world of online shopping — because when even Seamless won’t deliver, guess what still works? Your credit card. And it buys all the leggings. Let me back up for a sec. I had been a fairweather leggings-wearer (and a low-key pants-hater) my entire life. Sure, there were impossibly colorful stretch pants during my early-'90s childhood (when phrases like “stretch pants” still existed in the stylesphere). Then, the Dark Ages of Leggings dawned in the late '90s, lasting until the mid-aughts. During this era, I wore flares all through high school, dutifully changing into snap-button track pants for sports-related activities, as if there were no other way. But I had always harbored a bit of an aversion to pants-pants; I may have been traumatized by the black Forever 21 party trousers of my youth, you know, the kind with the fake pockets. So tight, such flammability. A few years later, while plenty of girls at my East Coast college started wearing leggings to class, I stuck to jeans and skirts. More recently, I began to flirt with the fashion legging á la Rachel Zoe, coincidentally a fellow alumna of said East Coast college. I found a pretty pair of leather leggings at the Piperlime store in Soho (RIP) in 2013, and for years, wore them constantly with ankle boots and sweaters, long coats, jean jackets, and even an actual dress once or twice. I also paired standard athletic leggings with longer, tunic-like shirts to dress them up. But, save for these at most once-a-week outfits, I lived a relatively leggings-free existence. Yet during that snowy night, something called to me. Maybe it was the fact that I was cooped up inside my apartment. Maybe I was bored with my existing wardrobe. Maybe I was jealous of the yoga girls on Instagram for being on SoCal beaches rather than in the middle of a blizzard, doing forearm stands in their wildly printed sports bras and leggings. But hours later, I was no longer just a casual dabbler in all things Spiritual Gangster. I had confirmation emails in my inbox for a matching sports bra and leggings from Onzie (I could write a paean to those prints), some black mesh Motopants, and a tie-dyed pair from Alo Yoga with holes up and down the legs. Altogether, I probably bought five pairs, both long and cropped — a full week’s wardrobe, basically. I had browsed Beyond Yoga, Carbon38, Electric & Rose, and discovered a few other fun indie brands. Oh, and I found tons of ridiculous deals on YogaOutlet.com.
In this day and age, the leggings-versus-pants debate has pretty much been settled, and a clear winner has emerged. Celebrities are wearing leggings to fancy dinners, regular humans are keeping them on post-workout for brunch, and the demand for athleisure is at an all-time high. But despite this widespread social acceptance, there’s still a stigma when it comes to pulling them on for work (unless you’re a group-fitness instructor) or school. Teenage girls are routinely getting sent home from school for “distracting boys” in them. This happened in 2015 in Oklahoma and this year in both Delaware and Florida. Regarding leggings in the workplace, a quick Google search leads to a plethora of articles questioning the trend: “Leggings and workout clothes at the office: OK or not OK?” one article asks. “Leggings in the workplace? Yay or nay?” another reads. When I started wearing leggings to work, though, I (thankfully) didn’t experience any of this back-and-forth. And while my office was totally cool with it, I realize most workplaces are not. (If yours isn’t, get some styling tips for how to make leggings work-appropriate right here.) But the true deciding factor in my daily leggings-wearing may very well have been joining a new yoga studio in mid-December, which I loved so much that I immediately started going every day. It was partly born out of necessity, and partly out of lazy-girling. What started as a habit turned into fashion. At first, I sort of apologized for it; I couched it in disclaimers. “Oh yeah, I just went on this crazy leggings shopping-spree, so I needed an excuse to wear them outside the gym.” “I’m running to the studio right after.” But after a while, I couldn’t imagine not wearing them to work — or anywhere else. And I mean anywhere: birthday dinners, grad-school class presentations, cocktail parties with my future in-laws. For a while, it all felt a little bit True Life: I’m Addicted to Leggings, but I didn’t care. For the first time ever, I was dressing exactly the way I wanted to. People always seem to want to put a disclaimer on their leggings-wearing. In any discussion about leggings, someone will inevitably croak that they’re not pants. Fashion publications, including ours, often note that they’re more comfortable than truly fashionable — but if Beyoncé and Gigi Hadid can pull them off, why can’t we? We praise Leandra Medine for making them look super put-together outside the gym. (PSA: Gyms can be chic, too.) We explain that they can look cool by showing models wearing them in subtle ways at the Céline show. Yes, it can be done! You can look cool in your bomber jacket and leggings, and not like that sweaty monster who just spent an hour working her butt off at hot yoga! Yes, yes, yes.
If Beyoncé and Gigi Hadid can pull them off, why can’t we?
Soon, my leggings obsession became an in-joke among my coworkers. I am Leggings Girl. But my daily leggings-wearing habit became more than a funny quirk — it made me realize two important things: 1. I was becoming more confident in my body and athleticism. Until a couple of years ago, I was a fairweather yogi. Now, my daily yoga habit has nicely dovetailed with my daily leggings habit. People often conflate “tight” with “sexy” when it comes to clothes — and it made me feel powerful to wear revealing clothes with zero intention of being sexy (especially at work). It made me realize there’s no one “type” of body that can “pull off” leggings. They’re for every size and every shape — including mine. 2. I felt like I’d discovered a Third Way of dressing myself — not quite fashion-girl, but not full-on Instagram yogi, either. And though, in the summer, I will likely go back to skirts and dresses, it feels practical to wear leggings with lining when it’s cold. Plus, while some leggings-wearers have no intention of ever making it to the gym, I sure as hell do — but that still doesn’t mean I have to look like it all the time. Through my online lurking for activewear, I’ve also discovered plenty of cool brands — like VPL, a luxury athleisure line that advocates for sustainable production and offers chic, minimalist activewear separates. I’ve also found labels that I’d never before thought of coveting, but now really do. (Damn it, Sweaty Betty, why do you have to be so expensive? And why is that palm-tree print so cute?) So, let’s start a leggings revolution together and change the conversation. Let’s stop apologizing for wearing leggings, questioning whether or not they’re pants, and worrying about pulling them off outside the gym. And next time you open your closet, leggings-lover, feel free to ask yourself: “What pair should I wear today?”