Reflections on a (Sweat)Pantless Life—Yes, Even During COVID


Stasis set in with lockdown last March, but wearing a dress or skirt was, and is, a way for me to counter it in some small way as fabric moves and brushes against my free and unbound legs. The midi is my preferred length, but I don’t mind going a bit longer, which allows for a skirt to be swept to the side and lifted so as not to drag on subway steps. It’s an old-fashioned gesture that sets the slide carousel in my head spinning. Think Fragonard and Boucher, Madame Bovary in a riding costume, Eugène Boudin’s beachcombers, El Jaleo by John Singer Sargent, and Tilda Swinton grabbing her skirts and running through the garden maze in Orlando.

Tilda Swinton as Orlando (1992). Photo: 12 / Alamy Stock Photo

To wear or not to wear a skirt was not a question for Orlando or Madame de Pompadour. They had no choice. A glimpse of leg was still taboo for Victorians; a few decades later hemlines had risen but Chanel preferred clothes that covered the knees. Legs have always been a symbol of women’s liberty, and sometimes of other things as well. In 1926 the economist George Taylor floated the idea of the hemline index, suggesting that skirts lengthen in a bear market, and rise in a bullish one. A Little Below the Knee clubs were organized in America in reaction to the fuller, longer skirts Christian Dior proposed in his 1947 “New Look” collection, reversing the mobility of shorter skirts women had enjoyed during the war. In 1970 FADD (Fight Against Dictating Designers) and GAMS (Girls/Guys Against More Skirt) protesters gathered on Seventh Avenue to decry the midi. Can you imagine anyone getting as exercised about sweatpants?

GAMS (Girls Against Maxi Skirts) on the streets of New York, circa 1970.Photo: Bettmann

Sweatpants (when not worn for sport) are for sofas; they are the slacker uniform. In 2020 they were the butt of endless late-night comedians’ jokes. They raised hackles among the fashion set—but they sold like hotcakes. Not to me, however. A creature of habit, I found comfort in wearing my chosen uniform. Ankles aweigh!

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