A Trend Without A Leg To Stand On

By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 27, 2006

Leggings have been touted on must-have lists as one of the surest ways for a woman to announce that she is acutely aware of this season's fashion trends. They identify her as someone who keeps track of hemlines and silhouettes, probably has at least one subscription to a fashion magazine and may have, upon occasion, even put her name on a waiting list for a particularly desirable handbag.

The fashion industry desperately needs this trend-conscious shopper -- even as it mocks her.

Leggings -- or their lighter-weight cousin, footless tights -- were revived about six months ago when designers debuted their fall collections. Right away, eager early adopters headed to the hosiery department and stocked up on footless tights to wear with their sundresses and flouncy skirts throughout the summer. A fall runway fad had been embraced. And for a brief time -- perhaps it was on June 21, the summer solstice -- leggings were cool.

By August, stores were well stocked with leggings for fall. They were prominently featured on Saks Fifth Avenue's "Want It!" list of items that the fashionable woman should have in her fall wardrobe. Hue brand leggings were $18. Wolford offered "velvet de luxe" opaque leggings for $38. At Barneys New York, one could buy cashmere leggings priced at $195. Prada had leggings for an unspeakable sum.

And yet, one would have been hard-pressed to find a single high-ranking fashion editor or retailer at the runway shows earlier this month wearing a pair. A fashion director in leggings? Are you mad?

By the time the fall collections had actually arrived in stores and customers began to earnestly consider grandpa cardigans, romantic blouses, wide-leg trousers and the delicate task of layering one on top of the other, industry insiders had not only ceased being charmed by leggings, they had started to gently malign them in conversation.

Why? Beyond the fact that they can be profoundly unflattering on the wrong figure, in the wrong proportions and with the wrong skirt, dress or tunic, they are also too obvious. From 50 paces they shout: TRENDY.

The problem wasn't that the streets were clogged with women wearing footless tights, miniskirts and ballet flats. The problem was that insiders expected leggings to be omnipresent. They had been hyped as the dominant accessory of the season. They weren't that expensive. There were no waiting lists for just the right pair. Anyone and everyone could wear them.

Leggings aren't a status item, not like a designer handbag, which can be prohibitively expensive, difficult to come by and especially adept in telegraphing wealth and prestige. Instead, the lure of a pair of leggings is that they allow the wearer to project an iconoclastic, bohemian style. They are a little artsy. Quirky. But if everyone is wearing them, they're just part of a uniform.

After a brief summer dalliance, most fashion insiders, whose livelihood depends on their ability to express personal style, elan or inventiveness, steered clear of leggings. Instead, for fall, they focused on mini-dresses, skinny jeans and platform shoes. All of which only whisper trendy.

The few who have worn leggings have done so judiciously. It looked more like duty rather than desire. One editor at the runway shows apologized for them: "I packed the wrong pair of tights!" A retailer excused herself from wearing them by saying, "Oh, I wore them the first time they were in style."

It is always instructive to inspect the audience at runway shows. They are filled with some of the most stylish men and women anywhere (although there are also no small number of fashion victims, as well). It is intriguing to see how quickly they embrace a trend, but more telling is how fast they leave it behind. (Which designers do they tout in the pages of magazines? Balenciaga. But which do they always seem to have on? Marni.) Trendiness can be measured by what one chooses to wear. Style is determined by what one chooses to ignore.

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