by MIKE CHAIKEN
Remember when discussions about women’s fashion focused on whether to wear skirts or slacks?
In 2019, the debate is over leggings: To legging or not to legging?
“Leggings have become a year round fashion statement, thanks to the athleisure trend,” said Tanya Thauthong-Kass, a stylist with Lord and Taylor department stores. “They’ve become a staple in our everyday wardrobe.”
Versatile as they are, leggings are not without some controversy.
Some circles have questioned the appropriateness of leggings and the message they may send to men.
A woman recently wrote a letter to the editor to the student newspaper at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana decrying leggings worn by women to Catholic mass.
The woman wrote, “I wonder why no one thinks it’s strange that the fashion industry has caused women to voluntarily expose their nether regions in this way. I was ashamed for the young women at Mass. I thought of all the other men around and behind us who couldn’t help but see their behinds.”
To critics who feel leggings are too distracting to men, local yoga instructor and fan of leggings, Cassie McIntyre of Bristol said, get over it. “Imagine a world where women aren’t over-sexualized by men to the point where girls have to have a strict dress code in schools because some little boy can’t control himself.”
“If we weren’t teaching girls that their bodies are inherently sexual or inappropriate then men wouldn’t have a problem with women wearing leggings and they wouldn’t be considered a distraction,” said McIntyre, a Bristol yoga instructor, in an email interview.
“Clothing is a form of self-expression,” said Tanya Thauthong, a stylist with Lord and Taylor department stores. “I don’t think leggings should be avoided because some men find them to be a distraction.
“If said male cannot keep focus on their tasks due to another person’s clothing choice then they need to redirect their general mindset,” said Thauthong-Kass by email.
“No matter what article of clothing,” said Waterbury stylist Hannah Vitarelli, “a young woman or any woman should not be told what to wear because of what others think.”
Fashion designer Janelle Funari, however, said in an email, women can resolve questions about appropriateness by reaching for quality over low price when shopping for leggings.
“It is not tasteful to see panty lines or sheerness on areas of body that should be concealed,” said Funari, who is the driving force behind Janelle Funari New York.
Some leggings, said Funari, should only be worn at home or for your significant other.
“I think we as a society need to think little more about what the leggings we purchase If you invest in a good pair that’s $100 and up, you will not have these issues (or risk the)controversy that we all hear about,” said Funari.
Brand names like lululemon sell leggings for $100 and up. Chain stores like Target start at around $10 for leggings.
“Clients need to be more savvy when shopping for leggings and look for brands with higher Lycra contents and a heavier feel (for support),” said the designer.
Some women use leggings as the go-to apparel for all occasions.
For instance, if you mention lululemon most women will know what you’re talking about.
lululemon, in a press statement, said the brand can be used for all kinds of activities, including office travel commute, running, training and yoga.
“(Leggings) are great because they often are very durable so they can be sweat it, spilled on, and all sorts of crazy things and take the beating and still be great,” said Katrina Orsini of Naugatuck, the founder of Hartford Fashion Week, via text message. “’I think they are honestly ideal for running errands.”
“Leggings can be used for anytime apparel depending on the fit, fabric, and function of the actual legging itself,” said McIntyre, who has worked in the retail industry at chains that specialize in leggings.
“Most of the time when leggings are worn, it’s when working out, running errands, or just for lounge wear,” said Vitarelli.
“I believe that everyone has their own sense of style and comfortability level so there are no ‘wrong’ times to wear leggings,” said Vitarelli. “So many designers have come out with colored and patterned leggings that can be paired with a basic top to complete a comfortable yet stylish look.”
But Funari and Thauthong-Kass said all leggings are not created equal in terms of when best to wear them.
“The key is knowing when, where, and how to wear them,” said Thauthong-Kass. “Going to brunch, pair leggings with a flowy top and dress your look up with accessories.”
“There are very few places in which leggings are a definite fashion don’t,” said Thauthong-Kass. However, she added, “Don’t wear leggings to a formal occasion or an office job interview.”
“I would not advise a printed leggings for a work event or a cocktail hour,” said Funari. “These leggings should be for the gym only. This is why gyms have changing rooms so you can change into your ‘gym clothing.'”
Funari also cautioned against oversexualizing your leggings. “I do not agree with styling these elegant leggings with tight tops or shirts that are cropped and sheer.”
To keep leggings such as hers from devolving into something vulgar, the New York designer said leggings should be styled with clothing, such as jackets or tops that cover the buttocks and crotch. “Exposing these areas becomes risky and can create a controversy.”
Proper coverage for leggings is an idea she shares with many other designers,” said Funari. “We want our clients to look respectful.”
Thauthong also said proper styling is key to keeping leggings as appropriate everyday wear.
“When wearing leggings make sure your shirt choice balances out your leggings,” said the Lord and Taylor stylist. “Remember if you wear a tight shirt add a looser or longer layer over it – unless of course you are working out.”
“When a legging is designed well and is elegantly styled,” said Funari, “it is reasonable to wear it to work with the proper styling.”
“There are different quality of leggings that can be chosen to wear at specific time periods,” said Funari. “If you are buying a low-cost legging, this is something to be worn around at home in the comfort of your family. A true workout legging is designed for the gym.”
But Funari said leggings don’t have to worn just at the gym or at home if you shop wisely. “Many new… leggings lines (such as her own Janelle Funari New York) are pushing the limits with leggings and have created leggings that have a more of a formal hybrid look.”
“The concept is to be able to wear them day to night with the option of wearing them out paired with heels,” said Funari. For her clothing line, Funari offers higher quality fabric with “elegant details and couture finishes” to achieve that more fashionable approach.
“Spanx and Athleta make a faux leather legging that can make any top look chic (for parties or going out, as well),” said McIntyre.
“The only time I personally wouldn’t wear leggings would be to a wedding or super formal event,” said McIntyre.
One appeal of leggings is the view that they are body inclusive.
“Leggings are great because they can be worn by any body type and any age,” said McIntyre.
“Much like yoga,” said McIntyre, “leggings are designed for everybody and every body.”
Thauthong-Kass said, “Leggings are an inclusive apparel item, everyone can wear them.”
“Nobody should be influencing you in a negative way where you feel you shouldn’t wear something you feel comfortable in,” said McIntyre
As a designer, however, Funari said that not every brand of leggings is flattering to every woman.
“I do believe some of the lower (price point) leggings are made in cheaper sheer fabrics and should not be worn by women as it can look distasteful when the fit is too tight in areas that should not be accentuated,” the New York designer explained.
“If the legging is designed for the curvier girl in mind and teens (then they will work for those women)” said Funari. However, finding these styles can be challenging for the consumer.
“It’s hard to find a brand that can make everyone look good,” said Funari.
For more information about lululemon, go to lululemon.com.
For more information about Janelle Funari New York, go to JanelleFunariNewYork.com.
For more information about Lord and Taylor, go to LordandTaylor.com.