I was belly-up on my couch, minding my own business, scrolling through Facebook—engagement announcements, Spring Break pictures, etc.—when I saw a ranty status posted by a friend. In this particular day and age, I've gotten pretty used to taking some ~deep breaths~ and clicking away, ignoring whatever said person happens to be bitching about. But this particular one caught my eye. It was blatantly hating on one of my most favorite things: leggings. (If you agree, you'll love these reasons leggings are the best thing ever invented.)
"Dear New Yorkers...Leggings are not pants," the post read. "You are outside of your house and you are not wearing pants."
*Screeching tire sounds.* Legging hater say what?
I know the parents and grandparents of the world aren't exactly keen on skin-tight fabric showing the exact outline of their child's lower body. (Flashback to high school–age me, being told by my mother that, no, I couldn't go to school in leggings with my butt out for everyone to see. Hi, mom!) But the person who wrote the post—a young guy residing in New York City? I thought he'd be super chill with the whole spandex-counts-as-clothing stuff.
This sent me into a sort of apparel crisis—I thought that, being in the unofficial Age of Athleisure, everyone had silently agreed that leggings are now cool. (Except Kellyanne Conway, of course, who's not on board.) After all, sneakers and tights are almost as welcome on the street, in the bar, and at the office (depending on the industry, obv) as they are at the gym. As of October 2016, leggings sales were basically overtaking denim sales, and athleisure is even in the freaking dictionary. Are we still debating the State of Leggings the same way we used to debate the whether the world is round or Taylor Swift's relationship status?
Even the #ShapeSquad—perhaps the most leggings-friendly group of coworkers you'll ever find—had a smattering of opinions across the Legging Acceptance Scale. Some squad members insisted that butts be covered, others insisted that they're always a solid choice, and some said they'd never wear them to the office on purpose.
To my shock (and a little dismay, considering leggings are pretty much the only thing I put on my lower body without a fight) I had to accept the fact that the great legging debate is far from over. Thus, I embarked on possibly the most important research ever done in journalism: asking people what they think about stretchy pants.
"The only bad thing I can say about leggings is nothing."
I went straight to the belly of the beast (Facebook) to get people's uncensored opinions. A call out to my 2K "friends" found that most millennials are strongly in favor: "The only bad thing I can say about leggings is nothing because leggings are superior to all other pants," says MacKenzie Baker, a 24-year-old from Pittsburgh. But most millennials agreed that they're not welcome in the office (understandable). Some endorsed the long shirt + leggings = outfit, while others said even that's a no-go at work. Nearly all leggings aficionados agree that attention to fabric is key (you know, like the squat test), ensuring that they're thick, cover everything they should, and are far from see-through. All in all, very fair.
However, anyone older than millennial age was slightly less spandex-friendly; my high school Lit teacher agrees that leggings are the bomb, but only qualify as pants with a long shirt covering the ~goods~, while another mysterious mom I'm friends with (seriously, no mutual friends... not sure how she found my post), says that leggings are, "Very cute . . . on little girls eight years old and under. Not pants. NOT." Even my cool aunt says "not pants," and that she supports that finger-length-top rule for pairing with stretchy pants. (You know, like in high school when they measure to see if your skirt or shorts are long enough.) The one exception? My badass, nearly-90-year-old Italian grandma who says, "whatever is comfortable" (and, yes, she knows how to use Facebook).
My mother (also on team Not Pants) had some valid points about the older generation's side of the athleisure aisle; she argues that women (including herself) worked hard to gain respect from men in the workplace, and to avoid being seen in a sexualized or objectified light. Maintaining that position includes dressing professionally and modestly, she says. In her opinion, traipsing around in skin-tight mesh-paneled pants is essentially sending women's social progress backward.
All right, ma—I hear that. But what about the flip side? Women should be able to wear whatever they please and not have to worry about guys being total animals about it, right? Just because men can't keep their eyeballs in their heads for five seconds doesn't mean we have to sacrifice our comfort. That's like saying no one should wear shirts with a pizza picture on it because it'll make other people hungry. (And there's more where that came from; the nuance of the feminist + legging argument could be discussed for literal days. Just ask these hundreds of women who recently protested one man's sexist anti-legging comments in Rhode Island.)
Then I polled the male population, and they confirmed that they are indeed visual creatures and might benefit from leggings more than the wearers themselves: "Nothing like a nice butt in a pair of leggings," says Ex-Boyfriend Number One. (Because, yes, all great investigative journalism requires talking to your exes and current love interests.)
But hey, we broke up for a reason, so I asked my current love interest the same Q: "The vast majority of girls that wear them are at least in decent or great shape," he says. "So you have the most desirable girls in society wearing pants that leave little to the imagination."
Le sigh. Come on, guys—you had the chance to not be creeps for like one sec. (So, yes, Mom, you're kind of right. Per usual.) But if dudes love checking out girls' butts in leggings so much, how do they feel about their girlfriends, wives, or daughters wearing them? If they're such animalistic beings, does it stoke some protective instinct to not want "their girl" (gag) showing off their bodies for other guys to see?
"I wouldn't ever think (to myself or out loud) that she should change out of them," says Ex-Boyfriend Number Two, about the legging-wearing habits of his current GF.
"I wouldn't want my daughter to just wear leggings though," says Ex Number One. "Doesn't leave much to the imagination." Meanwhile, my dad agrees: "Not pants."
And then he took it one step further, saying, "What would you think if your brother and I wore skin-tight long underwear-type things as pants?" *Squirms uncomfortably in chair.* All right, point taken. But can I add that we also house our reproductive organs inside our bodies, so we're comparing apples and oranges—er, grapes?—here.
"Some girls probably shouldn't wear them." (Ugh.)
That's right—there's a body confidence angle to this, and it's not just coming from guys; I was just with a female friend who took one look at a curvy woman in plain black leggings and whispered, "Ugh, I hate when people wear leggings as pants." I looked down at my own Lululemon-covered legs and said, "Um, I'm wearing leggings, and you didn't say anything." Her response: "Oh, but they're fine on you." Ex-squeeze me?
While I'm totally on the "I work hard for this body so I can show it off if I want to" team, I'm also on the "everyone should feel comfortable wearing whatever they damn well want" team. Maybe this lady isn't a profesh fitness model, but she's totally entitled to wear leggings to run errands on a Monday night if she feels like it. What makes any one person more or less worthy of wearing stretchy pants that feel like permanent hugs wrapped around your legs? This is where the leggings debate ends and the body-positivity movement begins—so Imma let #LoveMyShape takeover from here.
So while there's a lot in-play here, the consensus of my social network—and the overall takeaway—is that, if you're concerned with being widely socially acceptable, 1) wearing full-on athletic clothes, 2) a top that covers your butt and lady parts, or 3) making sure your leggings are high quality, are your best bets. But if you want to wear leggings? No one's stopping you (and plenty support you). If you don't want to? No worries. There are plenty of other things you can use to cover your lower body.
But let's bring it back to the core question here: Are leggings pants?
I pressed my mother for more of an argument: "What about wearing them to work out? If you pair them with sneakers, does that magically make it okay?" Her answer: "If all the clothes look like athletic, it seems okay to me." And my dad agreed, "Unless we are talking a workout scenario, I don't think they are pants." But the last time I checked, leggings look the exact same on my body whether I'm at the gym or walking through the grocery store. Flawed logic, people.
Thankfully, Merriam-Webster has the *official* answer: Pants are defined as "an outer garment covering each leg separately and usually extending from the waist to the ankle."
So, yeah, haters—they're freakin' pants.