Six years ago, in my Sunday column, I recounted a serious conversation I’d had to have with my daughter when she was 5 years old.
Back then, this is how it went down:
“Darling,” I began gently one day, crouching down to her level to make eye contact as I held her hands tenderly in mine. “Leggings are not pants.”
As her face registered confusion, I seized the opportunity to continue. “You see, leggings are more like tights,” I explained carefully. “That means they’re different to jeans or pants. We don’t wear them the same way.” She regarded me defiantly. “But I like these leggings!” she protested. I remained calm, maintained eye contact, and spoke kindly yet firmly. “So do I darling, your leggings are lovely. They just need a skirt over the top of them. Or a dress. Or even a long top.”
LISTEN: Is this the end of active wear? Post continues…
To my bafflement, this turned out to be – at the time – one of the most controversial columns I had ever written. One of the most polarising opinions I’ve ever had (seems quaint to think about now…..).
People lost their collective minds over the idea that leggings were not pants. They were outraged by the idea that I would impose my own fashion preferences on my daughter.
And this surprised me, I’ll be honest. In 2011, I just thought that the principle leggings-aren’t-pants was a guiding one among women. Widely understood. The same as, say, you don’t wear socks with sandals (again, this was before Gorman OK? God there really are no rules anymore. Hipsters have a lot to answer for. Hold me).
But no. Apparently not.
Admittedly, soon after having that conversation with my daughter, I began to doubt the wisdom of having it. I knew I believed in my heart that leggings were not pants but should I really be urging her to feel the same way? Should I not be promoting a curious mind, free expression and independent thought in my kids? Not just about fashion but about everything?
Was it wrong to impose my views about leggings onto my daughter? Had I crushed her little spirit? Or was it my duty as a parent, hell as a woman, to pass on a fashion philosophy I (then) swore by? Because surely that’s what parents do. Imprint our values onto our children. Share our wisdom. Pass on our beliefs. So what about religion? Politics? Sporting teams? Music? If you passionately love or believe in something, how can you resist passing on that enthusiasm, that point of view?
Before you have kids you assume they’ll see the world exactly as you do. It can be a surprise to discover they often don’t. And it can be difficult to decide which views are OK to graft onto your children and when you let them decide for themselves. And so at dinner tables, in texts and whatsapp groups, different generations are discussing and debating issues large and small. From religion to footy teams and, yes, fashion choices.