The Korea Herald


[Pressure points] Leggings in public: Fashion statement or social faux pas?

By Song Seung-hyun

Published : April 23, 2024 - 16:27

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The question of whether leggings are suitable for everyday public wear has been a globally debated issue, transcending national borders.

Since the "athleisure" trend took off around 2016, merging athletic wear with everyday fashion, particularly gaining traction among young Koreans, the appropriateness of wearing leggings outside the gym has been a recurring topic of debate in various online forums here.

On one side are those who perceive leggings as a provocative garment that clashes with social norms in Korea. On the other side are individuals asserting their freedom to wear what they want, emphasizing personal expression and the right to make independent clothing choices.

Adding to the complexity is a lack of clear standards on how leggings are classified in Korea.

The Korea Customs Service classifies imported leggings as either underwear or pants depending on the material, design and other factors.

"There's no single, definitive standard," a customs official said.

A recent online forum post on Nate Pann reignited the leggings debate. The post centered on a woman's frustrations with her mother-in-law, who favors wearing leggings in all settings.

"She always wears heavy makeup and leggings with a T-shirt, strolling around the neighborhood," the writer of the post said.

When her mother-in-law came to stay with her family for a month, the fashion choices became a source of tension.

"One day, (my son) cried and said he was embarrassed" by his grandmother in leggings, the writer shared, adding that the child’s classmates had seen his grandmother in leggings and teased him about it.

The writer said she reprimanded her child about respecting his elders but privately sympathized with his discomfort.

Those sympathetic to the mother believe leggings are strictly gym attire and cite two main concerns: perceived provocativeness and a clash with social norms.

"Leggings are for the gym. If you're heading to the gym, please wear something on top," one online comment read.

Another online user also agreed with this opinion, saying, "A girl wearing leggings at a cafe shocked me. I could see her butt and I was so uncomfortable. I was also surprised that her friends did not seem to be bothered."

Korean social norms are another point of contention.

"They may be widely worn elsewhere, but we're in Korea. People say they have the right to wear what they want, but we also have the right not to be exposed to what is considered inappropriate clothing in public in Korea."

There are also those who oppose the idea of wearing solely leggings but say that wearing another garment that adds a bit more cover, like a lengthy T-shirt or shorts, makes it acceptable.

"A long top can cover everything. Why are they not wearing them? Are they seeking attention?" a comment read.

Proponents of the right to wear leggings in public emphasize the freedom of self-expression in clothing. They also see Korean society as overly critical.

"Living in England, I witnessed Koreans gossiping about a woman's leggings in a supermarket," another commenter said. "They can be quite judgmental."

"Pointing out someone's clothing because it makes you uncomfortable is like 'kkondae' behavior," another commenter argued. "Besides, is it OK to stare and judge clothes? That's rude."

"Kkondae" refers to a condescending older person in Korean.

One commenter recounted a similar experience from her youth, suggesting societal acceptance may evolve.

"It's just fashion," the commenter said. "While I wouldn't wear just leggings myself, I have no problem with young people wearing them. When I was young, ripped jeans caused a stir like this. The same happened with crop tops, miniskirts and skinny jeans. Now, it's less of an issue."

Some believe physical fitness justifies wearing leggings anywhere.

"If I'm fit and confident, I'd wear leggings everywhere too. They're just jealous," a comment said.

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"Pressure points" delves into the seemingly trivial, yet surprisingly contentious topics that ignite debate in our everyday lives. -- Ed.