The Leggings Protest & Doris Lessing’s “The Summer Before the Dark”

What should women wear?  Pant suits? Jeans?

What about leggings?

Last week at Notre Dame University and St. Mary’s College, the student paper published a letter that sparked a protest. The subject:  leggings.  Maryann White, a Catholic mother of four sons, asked women students to renounce the  fashion of tight leggings with short tops .  She was disturbed by the sight of women’s derrières at Mass, and thought leggings too provocative in the presence of men and her sons.  She said it made it more difficult for her to be a good Catholic mother.

The students did not say “YES” TO Maryann White’s letter.  Instead, they protested by wearing leggings for two days.  Well, the energy could have gone into protesting the denial of global warming or the closing of Planned Parenthood clinics, but I don’t care whether or not they wear leggings.

I assumed from the mockery of the press that Maryann White was dotty.  Then I read the letter.  She makes some good points about the fashion industry’s exploitation of women.

She writes,

The emergence of leggings as pants some years ago baffled me. They’re such an unforgiving garment. Last fall, they obtruded painfully on my landscape. I was at Mass at the Basilica with my family. In front of us was a group of young women, all wearing very snug-fitting leggings and all wearing short-waisted tops (so that the lower body was uncovered except for the leggings). Some of them truly looked as though the leggings had been painted on them.

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.

Again, I don’t care who wears leggings, but it is true that clothes send a message.

For instance, in Doris Lessing’s novel The Summer Before the Dark, the middle-aged Kate has a kind of fashion breakdown. She has a makeover before taking a summer job as an interpreter, and is much admired.  When she returns to London, she rents a room in a young woman’s flat for the rest of the summer.  She doesn’t dye her hair and loses so much weight her clothes no longer fit.  When she finally goes out again in baggy clothes she is invisible to men.

All this changes  when she borrows a fashionable dress from her young roommate.

Mrs. Brown strolled in the park all afternoon. She had not at first realised she was again Mrs. Brown, but then she noted glances, attention: it was because she wore Maureen’s properly fitting shift, in dark glossy green, because she had done her hair with the twist and the lift that went with “piquant” features—because she was, as they say, “on the mend,” and the lines of her body and face had conformed? A man came to sit near her on a bench and invited her to dinner.

A woman walking in a sagging dress, with a heavy walk, and her hair—this above all—not conforming to the prints made by fashion, is not “set” to attract men’s sex. The same woman in a dress cut in this or that way, walking with her inner thermostat set just so—and click, she’s fitting the pattern. Men’s attention is stimulated by signals no more complicated than what leads the gosling; and for all her adult life, her sexual life, let’s say from twelve onwards, she had been conforming, twitching like a puppet to those strings.…

Doris Lessing is brilliant and articulates ideas the rest of us can’t.

I myself ignore fashion so didn’t even realize that leggings were the fashion.

Leggings or not?

4 thoughts on “The Leggings Protest & Doris Lessing’s “The Summer Before the Dark””

  1. I am so out of touch with what passes for “fashion”! Now here’s a question I’ve always wanted to ask but did not dare to. Does one wear underwear under the leggings, or is it just oneself, the leggings, and the Universe? How are they different from “pantyhose” except for color and opacity? Also, there seems to be a confusion of leggings with “shapewear”, as if the leggings automatically confer major weight loss (now that’s a superpower garment to have). I prefer invisibility now. Its less complicated.

    1. The fat actress on This Is Us (she’s very good, but must always say sad lines to her fiance like “It’s all about the weight.”) wears a dress over leggings, but even so it looks like a fashion mistake. Leggings do not look like tights. They make people look fat. I think you have to be a Size 5 to carry off this fashion. I always thought they were strictly exercise-wear, but I’ve read several articles this year trying to sell them to us women. Heavens, I looked horrible in stretchy bicycle shorts even when I was relatively thin. It’s the same principle, I think.:)

  2. I almost commented yesterday but I was afraid I’d get myself in trouble. It’s a fact of life that almost no women look nice in leggings, myself included; although I’m slender, I’m 66. I grew up when you could wear what you wanted, to some extent (you still dressed up for church and other occasions), but one wanted to wear clothes that were flattering.

    1. Yes, we all have different body types, and leggings are not for all of us. Oh, well, fashion is not my thing. Somehow even tight jeans look more comfortable.

      On Fri, Apr 5, 2019 at 7:43 AM Thornfield Hall: A Book Blog wrote:


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