Lessons to learn from leg-wear
22 July 2008
Even those the magazines said no, the girls said yes
Last summer, the big women's leg-wear trend was black leggings — mostly worn under skirts and dresses. The item transcended consumer segments, worn by those from "clean" styles like Oneekei to more trendy looks incorporating high fashion. The popularity of leggings in summer then paved the way for the color tights boom of last fall. Women's tights sales went from 3.45 million in 2006 to 10.65 million in 2007 (data from NRCIK). Stores could barely keep color tights stocked during winter, and nylon undersupply became a huge problem for manufacturers.

This summer, the core fashion magazines advocated a "bare leg" (nama-ashi) look, rarely, if ever, acknowledging the option of black leggings. Some fashion commentators on television announced that women "should not wear leggings this year." (Stores, however, mixed in leggings with their mannequins and shop girls.) In spite of such strong media messages against leggings, however, the streets of Tokyo are again filled with black leggings — worn in the exact same style as last year. The leggings slowly rolled out on a few women in May, but now have become part of the de facto summer look again.

There are three lessons to draw from this year's leggings trend:

1) Japanese women find something intrinsically pleasing about black leggings, related to the function of covering the legs.

2) Women are happy to ignore "seasonal trends" if those trends clash with personal comfort or attitudes towards exposing the body.

3) Once trends reach a critical mass on the streets, they are "in style," even if the magazines don't agree.

Leggings give women a sense of relief. When women wear leggings, there is no longer a need to worry about wind blowing up skirts, revealing too much skin while sitting on trains, or leering from men. They are chic, yet make the outfit more conservative and wearable in more serious environments. Working women especially feel the need to cover legs at work.

Black leggings also make legs look thinner, and unlike color tights (which tend to exaggerate Japanese female's X- or 0- shaped legs), black tends to cover up and make legs look straighter.

With these functional issues at hand, the "bare leg" trend had an uphill battle. Magazines do have a big impact on styles, but women ultimately are fine with bucking trends for comfort.