Dear People Who Think Leggings Are Pants,

Leggings are not pants. If they were, we would call them pants. But I want you to know this statement is coming from someone who owns no less than twelve pairs of leggings. I am not a hater of leggings. I wear them all the time with skirts and dresses or under pants but, and this is crucial, never as pants. Why is that? Because leggings are not pants.

Tunics provide the one fashionable exception to my leggings are not pants rule. A tunic by definition is not quite a skirt, but longer than the average shirt. In fact, leggings and tunics are the perfect match, because the long hem on tunics bunches up over jeans with pockets and the fabric of corduroys creates friction as you walk that reduces the efficiency of movement. So a not-quite-dress tunic worn with definitely-not-pants leggings takes two questionable pieces of clothing and makes them exceptional.

To explore how other people feel about leggings I did an unscientific survey of my friends. The swift and decisive reaction was “Leggings are NEVER pants.” But this initial response modulated as the conversation evolved. Qualifiers were added when I pushed a little and asked, “yes, but why?” In the end, the poll was split exactly down the middle, half in favor of leggings in lieu of pants and half solidly in the never as pants category. Though at this point I started to think of it as more of a leggings and pants continuum.

Why do we love leggings so much? Even those who never wear them alone, still wear them. Leggings cling to us like a hug. They keep us warm and hold our curves without passing judgment on the second piece of cake. They are the Oprah Winfrey of our wardrobes telling us that anything is possible. They empower our movement by making a wide range of it accessible.

Leggings are a celebration of comfort culture. The culture that says, “I want to be comfortable above all else.” Sweatpants, yoga pants, leggings, jeggings, and flannel jammie pants all fall into this category of comfort fashion. All these articles of clothing have a place in our closets. Someday, I will tell you of my love for flannel pajama pants, but they also fall into the not pants category beside leggings.

The very reasons leggings are wonderful — their comfort, casualness and stretch — are the very reasons why they shouldn’t be worn in public. Wearing them in public is an intimate act. They are too comfortable, too stretchy. You’ve invited me into your bedroom and insist on showing me all the hidden parts of yourself by wearing leggings. I’ve never been that good at intimacy with strangers.

Articles of clothing that fall into the not pants category, when worn at home or on the way to and from the gym, are perfectly acceptable. They don’t fall into the category of fashion so much as fulfill a practical role as the thing keeping you from being naked. You can’t wear jeans to the gym, or rather you can, but it gets weird and sweaty and you shouldn’t. Leggings allow for a range of movement that will keep you safe as you work out and provide mild compression to help muscles work with maximum efficiency. But while you need these qualities at certain, specific times, you don’t need a wide range of movement while walking the aisles of a grocery store or a restaurant.

A few men chimed in when I asked if leggings are pants, claiming they had no stake in the argument because they had never worn leggings before and why do we wear clothes at all? Indeed, we make our initial assessment of people based on their clothes, and plenty of value statements are being made about leggings even within the pages of this letter. What if men wore leggings in public as often as women did? Imagine it, the butter soft fabric clinging to their junk, their T-shirts not quite covering their butts. Would the argument about leggings as pants change? Or are skinny jeans just leggings for men and if so, are skinny jeans pants?

When I queried my friends, “leggings as pants or leggings are never pants?” one said, “I like how they feel and I like how I look in them, so fuck everyone else.” Indeed. This eloquently argues that leggings are not pants, but who said we have to wear pants anyway?

A solid leggings-as-pants friend qualified her position that because she didn’t have a rocking butt, she needed to keep it covered. “But who says you don’t have a rocking butt or that you shouldn’t let your butt shine even if it isn’t rockin’?” I asked. “Touché.” She replied.

We need to be championing body positivity and fierceness in our fellow women. The movement could start with leggings. Women across America will shout, “I will wear leggings as pants and damn the patriarchy.” In fact, in posh places like London and New York women are giving two middle fingers to the patriarchy and perhaps good sense by wearing black control top pantyhose. It takes the qualifiers many people give to leggings as pants — only if they aren’t see through, only if they are thick, quality fabric, only with long tops — and throws them out the window along with actual pants. These bold women are shouting, “We will wear any damn thing we please and call them pants.”

So, wear your leggings as pants, or don’t. Wear pantyhose and call them leggings, or don’t (actually, please don’t). If you can, say, look and feel like an Amazonian warrior goddess when you wear them, then I’m not going to stop you.

— Kate