One of the paradoxes of Me Too-era fashion is that while our society is clearly over the sexual revolution, many women still insist on wearing something revealing. Maryann White, a Catholic mom, recently questioned University of Notre Dame female students’ habit of wearing leggings constantly:
A world in which women continue to be depicted as ‘babes’ by movies, video games, music videos, etc. makes it hard on Catholic mothers to teach their sons that women are someone’s daughters and sisters. That women should be viewed first as people — and all people should be considered with respect.
…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. My sons know better than to ogle a woman’s body…They didn’t stare, and they didn’t comment afterwards. But you couldn’t help but see those blackly naked rear ends. I didn’t want to see them — but they were unavoidable. How much more difficult for young guys to ignore them.
I’ve heard women say that they like leggings because they’re “comfortable.” So are pajamas. So is nakedness. And the human body is a beautiful thing. But we don’t go around naked because we respect ourselves — we want to be seen as a person, not a body…We don’t go naked because we respect the other people who must see us, whether they would or not.
Student activists and gender studies majors (but I repeat myself) responded to the letter with “Leggings Pride Day,” uploading pictures of themselves in tight exercise pants on social media. In the future, everyone will display some sort of pride about something for 15 minutes.
What are we proud of, however? In “The Lost Art of Dress,” Linda Przybyszewski put forward an interesting thesis. In the first half of the Twentieth Century, she writes, American women were considered best dressed in the world. Back then, American women were able to sew, and understood the general principles of fashion. Each had the skills to pick the right outfit or play her own couturier. The 1960s youthquake destroyed that culture.
If college girls wear stretchy tights these days, it’s largely because they simply don’t know that a well-placed dart creates an outfit infinitely more flattering and sophisticated. Lacking the ability to figure out aesthetics of dress, they default to comfort.
Men’s Attraction to Women’s Bodies Is Their Problem
White noted that men are distracted by near-naked rear ends, but the students seem to think there is a “double standard” for female dress, and that there is nothing inherently sexual about a form-fitting stocking. If men get attracted to the female body, then there is obviously something wrong with them.
Years ago, Camille Paglia has observed that teenage girls walk around wearing short shorts without apparently having a clue about how that affects those of the opposite sex past puberty. That college girls continue in that vein is very interesting to me: somehow, after years of sex ed, young women emerge from public schools without grasping the fact that men are visual.
Not that it’s necessary, or even advisable for young people to get this type of information from sex ed. We can try poetry instead. Here’s Alexander Pushkin:
I remember the wondrous moment,
You have appeared before me
As a fleeting vision, as a genius
Of pure beauty.
(Admittedly, my translation doesn’t do justice to some of the most graceful verses in Russian language.)
Today’s educators appear committed to concealing this truth about basic heterosexual romance from our children. According to the latest line of thought, adolescent girls’ self-esteem is forever damaged when they are required to abide by middle school dress code. If girls elect to wear skimpy tops and ultra minis even though they are developing, then be it.
Breasts and Hips Mean You’re Not a Kid Anymore
Adolescence, to be sure, is full of insecurities and painfully uncomfortable moments. In our age of helicopter parenting, parents try to micromanage their daughters’ puberty. Instead of teaching teen girls to enter adulthood responsibly, we curate their environment in the name of self-confidence, pretending that revealing styles bare no erotic meaning.
To ask a twelve-year-old to put a skirt over her tights is to remind her that the opposite sex is now looking at her in a particular way. She might get the idea that there is something wrong with her body, which will damage her for life.
We succeed in extending childhood. These cotton-blend leggings young women are wearing today have been their style since two years of age. It’s been their playwear, their PJs, and their undergarment for formal occasions. They grew up with leggings, and it’s all they know about fashion.
The most recent feminist trend in fashion is a move toward comfort and convenience. That’s all on the assumption that once women don’t feel the pressure to dress for the heteropatriarchy, we end up with authentically female-driven styles.
But women don’t really dress for straight men. The heteropatriachy may admire an LBD, but is perfectly happy to observe a gal’s butt in yoga pants. Women get pretty elaborate to impress each other, and enlist gay men’s help in the process.
Maybe Pockets Will Save the Sexually Harassed Men
I’m not saying anything new here, of course. A few years ago, the fact that world of fashion is ruled by women and gay men, and that straight men simply don’t have what it takes to appreciate triennial sartorial mutations, was common wisdom. In the Age of the Woke, however, this knowledge seems lost. Instead, in quest for matriarchal fashion, millennial feminists are issuing demands to designers.
The latest thing mainstream feminism decided to demand on our behalf is pockets. Vox, for instance, produced a video explaining that for centuries women have been longing for pockets in skirts and pants, as these are infinitely more practical than purses, for which we only shop when pressed. That’s how purses are like shoes.
So now Anthropologie has come out with a “practical,” form-fitting dress with large pockets. It was an interesting challenge for the designers, but I’m not sure that the pockets, right at the tummy level, will get much use. Use them, and ruin the silhouette.
The next challenge, at least according to the Vox video, is to create leggings with pockets. Again, I have a hard time imagining how usable pockets will work with form-fitting stretchy styles. Perhaps White will get her wish, and the too-tight styling will give way to something entirely different to accommodate these prized pockets.
Try Thinking About Other People Instead of Yourself
My wish is to take fashion beyond comfort. I’d put everyone in corsets if it were up to me, but compromise on LBDs. It’s nice to be comfortable, but to deny oneself a certain level of comfort is to show respect. Consider that one of White’s complains was about women wearing tights to church. She should check out what people wear to places of worship and schools on the West Coast.
If a young woman can go for months without finding herself in a situation where she needs to get a nice dress and a pair of heels out of her closet, if nothing breaks the monotony of her legging days, perhaps she should be wondering what she’s doing wrong. Visit a temple, an opera house, or even a nice restaurant where one is expected to look nice because she has to show that she understands she’s partaking in an important activity. Do so not as a slob who is regularly commended for merely getting out of the house, but as an adult.
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.