Before You Bash the Fashion Industry, Remember It Gave Us Leggings

Women born before 1985 well remember the "dance" you had to do to dress your legs in tights. Leggings are as liberating as the "divided skirt" that allowed women to first ride bicycles more than a hundred years ago.
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Last month's Fashion Week might have been a total wash with contrived pop-arty styles on the backdrop of real revolutions in the Middle East. But women do have a debt to pay to the fashion industry for leggings.

Leggings are as liberating as the "divided skirt" that allowed women to first ride bicycles more than a hundred years ago.

Women born before 1985 well remember the "dance" you had to do to dress your legs in tights or, God forbid, pantyhose. If you were over 5' 3", they didn't reach your waist, though you pulled them tight enough to splay your toes, and you spent the whole day worrying about being involuntarily pantsed.

Even if you weighed 103, your legs feel like trunks, your waist felt tourniqueted and your feet froze all winter.

On rare occasions when the tights fit -- came up to your waist and stayed there -- they would run in the feet, "reinforced" heels and toes notwithstanding. When L'eggs pantyhose used to come in a plastic egg, comedian Joan Rivers joked that you know it's going to be a bad day when you crack an egg over the skillet and pantyhose come out. (You also knew it was going to be a bad day when the tights or pantyhose you washed by hand the night before -- risk tears with the washer? -- were still damp at 7 a.m. and you had to wear them anyway.)

Nor did tights lend themselves to working out, despite being the Olivia Newton-John "Let's Get Physical" look in the 1980s, replete with V-shaped briefs to take the eye away from the billboard space known as your hips. Not only were your toes splayed and your circulation cut off at the waist, your range of movement was nil and you couldn't sweat through all that Spandex. No wonder dancers always wore "footless tights," which became today's leggings.

The other great invention is yoga pants. Whereas sweatpants, their functional predecessor, could not be disguised under a blazer for work without raising doubts about your respect for the position (I tried), yoga pants can. (Was it the drawstring?) Yoga pants can be paired with a cotton blend blazer with 2 percent stretch for a pajama feel all day long.

Women's outerwear has also improved from the days when you could choose between "coats" and "better coats" in the department store. Even though three out of four late fall and winter days are wet and windy, the fashion industry used to offer women cloth coats which resembled wet dogs after a day in the elements. Nor did the coats have hoods forcing a lame hat and muffler combo that exposed your neck. The hat and muffler looked even lamer on fur coats (still does) which made women look culturally exiled, fat and heartless at the same time.

(Why, when thousands are losing their homes and no one has a job, are they still selling furs? Is cruelty recession proof? And what's up with the huge "trapper" fox hats that probably kill the same number of animals? Anybody?)

Today the fashion industry offers us nylon zip-up coats with hoods, nee parkas, in black and don't forget black. They are warm, lightweight and rain and sleet-proof, albeit a little overplayed. But why did it take the fashion industry decades to "discover" what was always on the ski slopes? And to discover that "water resistant" boots weren't (adding to our already damp pantyhosed feet) and replace them with plastic or rubber shrimper style boots?

Still it is really men who should be bashing the fashion industry. Even though they are now permitted to carry formerly taboo messenger bags (once too purse-like), freeing their briefcase hand for their cell, their outerwear is still stuck in 1980. They're still wearing the cloth coats we jettisoned years ago -- that resemble wet dogs after a day in the elements -- and their heads and feet are left out of the fashion equation altogether!

Look at the winter headgear choices for businessmen. Newsboy caps and fedoras that don't cover the ears and blow away in the wind, earflap and trapper hats that look Elmer Fuddy and knit caps and bandanas that are as welcome in the office as, well sweatpants.