#21. THE SEMIOTICS OF LEGWEAR: LEGGINGS VS. TIGHTS

by admin on February 6, 2011

tights by Hue (with feet)

leggings (note the absence of feet)

don’t worry—esme had to look this up too.  see: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semiotics).  anyway, esme’s friend whimsy tells esme that she really should address the difference between leggings and tights.  funny she should ask, as my husband recently posed the same question and it took some quick thinking to come up with a plausible answer. 

on the surface, a legging and a tight appear almost identical; however, their derivation, meaning, and uses are quite different.  i like to think of it as a kind of sartorial homonym (think of the bird called a “quail” vs. the verb “to quail”).  a legging appears to be a tight with the feet cut off (ballerinas have worn these for years). 

however, upon closer analysis, tights are derived from the now almost defunct stocking (thank goodness), while leggings are a variation on pants.  as a result they “read” quite differently.

leggings tend to be more substantial, less fitted, may be constructed of various knitted fabrics, and can have any number of decorative elements:  little buttons at the cuffs, zippers, different fabrics at the ankle and so on.  esme has had her eye on a crazy legging with three fuzzy strips in different fabrics/colors at the bottom (impossible to describe). 

tights, on the other hand, tend to be made of smooth lycra/cotton/poly in a solid color, with occasional stencilled designs.  tights should be worn with a dress or skirt, while leggings can be worn with skirts, tops, blouses, t-shirts, tunics or even long jackets. 

the crucial difference in esme’s mind, however, is really in the mind of the wearer:  in tights you are still supposed to keep your knees crossed, and your underwear is not supposed to show.  in leggings, you are permitted to do handsprings and somersaults without worrying about your panties or lack thereof.

standing on my head in my leggings, 

esme

leggings are good for kicking up your feet!

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