Campus leggings: the argument against

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Two female students wear leggings in the University of Dallas weight room. Photo by Kaity Chaikowsky.

Those who argue against women wearing revealing clothing, like leggings, are not pushing beliefs that restrict women, but rather free them from the grip of an overly-sexualized clothing industry and culture.

One letter to the editor of the Notre-Dame student newspaper The Observer published on March 25 has sparked controversy and debate on college campuses, social media, and in news channels. Titled “The Legging Problem,” Maryann White’s article attacks the popular women’s fashion trend as something which harms both men and women by its vulgarity.

Right off, the Catholic mother of four sons says she is “not trying to insult anyone or infringe upon anyone’s rights” but that leggings are a “problem that only girls can solve.”

Maryann describes how she was sitting with her sons in Mass behind a group of women wearing tight leggings and crop-tops. White describes how ashamed she felt for the women who looked almost naked due to their revealing clothes and how sorry she was that her sons were forced to look at the less-than-edifying spectacle.

White explains that leggings are part of the sex industry which objectifies women and detracts from the respect due them.

“A world in which women continue to be depicted as ‘babes’ in movies, video games, music videos, etc. makes it hard on Catholic mothers to teach their sons that women are someone’s daughters and sisters,” White wrote.

White’s article received huge backlash from all sides, including from Notre Dame students of both genders who protested in a leggings pride day “in protest for rights and to spark conversations on women’s equality,” according to the Washington Post.

Feminists are claiming that White’s article is an attack on women and their rights, when in fact it is quite the opposite. In her article, White is pointing out that women deserve better than leggings. It is because women are equal to men in dignity and special in their femininity that they shouldn’t let what they wear be pushed on them by a fashion industry seeking to define women by their bodies.

The very women who say that White is trying to force women into antiquated standards have already been forced, by the fashion industry, into styles that popularize leggings and other revealing clothing that degrades their naturally beautiful figures.

Others say that White is wrongly blaming women for inciting men to lust. Among them, social media users are saying that women’s clothing choices are not made to attract men. One reason for the divide in the leggings debate is that women have no concrete guidelines for what is appropriate or inappropriate to wear.

Anyone who watches modern movies knows that a woman’s choice in clothing can certainly be used for sexual allurement. A person’s choice in clothing shows their respect for the people they are with and the place they are.

For example, who would meet the president wearing ripped jeans,or leggings, and a crop top?

White’s article is not just arguing about the modesty of leggings. She is questioning the appropriateness of leggings in general. Since there are no official modesty guidelines in society, these arguments about the modesty of leggings can go nowhere.

It is highly unlikely that everyone will agree on appropriate styles and measurements. More compelling of a topic than this, perhaps, is the question of how attractive and suitable for general wear leggings are, in terms of style.

In her article, “If Kindness to Men is Too Much to Ask, Can We at Least Save Fashion From Butt-Hugging Leggings?” Katya Sedgwick says that leggings represent a “move toward comfort and convenience in fashion” that degrades a true sense of style, a refinement in taste that both demonstrates and demands respect.

Leggings don’t contribute to the respect that feminists seem to so earnestly desire.

How much credibility does the sloppy but convenient outfit of leggings and a crop top add to one’s impression on others, for instance?

One of the Notre Dame students, a senior, dressed in a crop top with an elephant on it and tight black leggings, who is interviewed by the Washington Post in their YouTube video “Catholic Mom Terrified That Leggings are Corrupting her Sons,” frankly comes off as very unprofessional, devoid of class, unconvincing and childish.  

“A well-selected outfit signals maturity and restraint, command of social environment, and understanding of self. A toddler can roll out of bed and trade PJs for tights. College students can do better,” Sedgwick says.

Since modesty is no longer a matter of common sense, the argument about leggings should be made as an appeal to the dying efforts of fashion. The question of men aside, how desirable for women are leggings really?

As White points out, a pair of leggings truly is “such an unforgiving garment.”

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