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.
This is how things change. How we evolve as a society. Open up. Not just by parents inoculating children with their opinions but with the education process going back the other way. It’s about kids nagging you to turn off the lights to save energy and turn of the taps to save water. Or begging you to quit smoking or stop sunbaking because they’re scared you’ll die. They’ve seen the ads.
There are some principles and values in our house and family that are non-negotiable. Feminism (ie: the belief that men and women deserve equal rights). Marriage equality. Science. A zero tolerance policy for racism or discrimination of any kind. Kindness and compassion towards animals. A belief in the efficacy of vaccinations and the responsibility to be vaccinated to protect not just ourselves but everyone in the community.
The rest is pretty much up for grabs. Especially clothes. Because as someone whose own fashion sense is best described as 4yo-let-loose-in-the-dress-up-box, I’ve long abandoned the idea of imposing any fashion restrictions on my daughter – or my sons. Wear your leggings as a hat for all I care.
Also, I’ve learned that whatever you hate your kids wearing is the thing they will devotedly wear every day until it disintegrates. Just to troll you. My youngest son’s favourite t-shirt is one that our dog chewed and buried in the garden. It was discovered six months later when she dug it back up and with holes and indelible stains, he now insists on wearing it at every opportunity.
Six years later, as I write this column on a Saturday afternoon, my daughter and I are both wearing leggings as pants. My mother-in-law has just arrived for a cup of tea and she is also wearing leggings as pants. As is my son’s girlfriend. Three generations of women all happily wearing their activewear just like millions of other women in homes, shopping centres, cafes, streets and even workplaces around Australia do every day.
But wait. Breaking news. I read this week that we have officially reached peak activewear. According to reports out of the US, millennials are moving away from activewear and towards………denim.
Everything old is new again. I feel good about this. My children are horrified. They don’t wear denim. I’ll have to teach them how.
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