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Remember Your Manners: Leggings Are Underwear, Not Pants

Last month, in an open letter to Notre Dame uni students, a Catholic "mother of sons" pleaded with young women to stop wearing leggings on campus.

"Leggings are so naked, so form-fitting, so exposing," she penned.

"Could you think of the mothers of sons the next time you go shopping and consider choosing jeans instead?"

Sigh. It’s 2019 and Catholic boys are still overwhelmed by leggings. Surely you would think they had gotten a grip on it by now? Or perhaps their mothers, instead of chastising their sons' female classmates, would instead sit the young men down and explain that women can and should wear what they like, without having to moderate for the feelings of others.

Not surprisingly, the letter sparked outrage and soon went viral  -- with students -- both male and female -- staging 'leggings protests' -- some cladding themselves in head-to-toe lycra.

Let's be clear: women can, and should, wear whatever they like without worrying about the supposed effect it might have on men in their environment.

Regardless, I must admit, part of me also thought: for goodness sake, leggings are not pants.

Now, I have not always subscribed to this way of thinking. And I must also admit that I have (recently) been guilty of chucking on a pair of leggings to leave the house (in my defense, I was going to the gym.)

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But a couple of weeks ago I was mindlessly wandering along a shopping strip near my home and saw some young women dressed in their bras. Bras, my friends, are not a top. They are undergarments. Lingerie, if you will.  Not outerwear. Like how you would not wear thongs to the theatre, bras are not appropriate attire for a Saturday afternoon grocery run or a late arvo Sunday sesh with friends.

Likewise, bathers. I grew up in a small coastal town with some of the most famous beaches in the world at my door. It was completely normal, and is still completely normal, to see people wandering around the esplanade, ducking into the fish and chip shop and grabbing the paper in their bathers.

But grabbing dinner in a restaurant? You would think it is common sense to chuck a dress over your togs, but it is a courtesy not often extended to fellow patrons in the summer months.

I hate to say it, but leggings -- while yes, super comfortable, and becoming more and more stylish -- are only appropriate in the right context.

At the gym? Fabulous. Doing a sun salutation? Perfect.  Lounging around the house on a Sunday morning? No problem.

But as a replacement for pants?  I'm not so sure.

For goodness sake, leggings are not pants. (Image: Instagram)

Leggings were actually never intended to be worn as pants -- they were originally designed as an undergarment for Scottish men in the 14th century, to keep their legs warm under their kilts, and remained an ‘undergarment’ of sorts until the 1960s.

The original fashion trend. (Image: Getty)

DuPont created the first prototype of the legging we know and love today, and styled them with platforms, miniskirts and shift dresses.

Leggings were fab under a skirt in the 1960s. (Image: Getty)

A cropped version was popular for exercising in, and it was in the 60s that women really began participating in exercise classes, like yoga, stretch classes and light aerobics.

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Modern leggings' humble beginnings. (Image: Getty)

It wasn’t until the late 70s, when Olivia Newton John wore that iconic black lycra suit for the final number in Grease that we really saw women wearing leggings as pants.

But even then, and throughout the 1980s, they were usually worn as exercise clothes.

A Jazzercise must-have. (Image: Getty)

Post the lycra/aerobics craze, they became undergarments again, and in the 90s and early noughties came in a variety of colours and were designed to be worn under miniskirts.

Leggings done the 90s way. (Image: Getty)

It wasn’t until the mid-noughties that leggings as pants in everyday life really became a big thing.

The leggings-as-pants phenomenon took hold in the mid-2000s. (Image: Getty)

Yes, fashion is continuously evolving and reinventing itself -- styles change, reflecting (or sometimes even setting) cultural shifts -- and yes, people should feel no shame about their bodies, or what they choose to wear.

But somehow in 2019, we have forgotten what it means to dress appropriately for the situation we are in.

Leggings were never meant to be outer garments.  And while I'm all for people wearing whatever they like, leggings, like everything we put on, have a time and place.  I hate to say it, but underwear is underwear.

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According to market research, Australians will spend 2.3 billion dollars on active wear this year alone, so our obsession with leggings (many of which will be worn as pants) is not going anywhere anytime soon.  I myself am not perfect, and can certainly see their appeal -- they're comfortable, maintenance-free and easy to chuck on with a t-shirt. Even though I don’t think leggings are pants, I can promise you that due to pure laziness, I will be wearing them to nick down to the café at some point during this year. But that doesn't mean I should.

So, wear whatever you like. Wear clothes that make you happy, that are comfy and make you feel like Jameela Jamil if you like.

Wear them without giving a single thought to how they may make men (or their mothers) feel or think -- their reaction is their problem and their responsibility -- not yours.

But also, remember your manners.

Just like wearing bras as tops to go shopping, wearing bathers to a restaurant, or wearing thongs to the theatre, wearing leggings as pants might not be the most appropriate choice.