Younger girls often wear them as pants with little fuss. But as those same girls approach middle school, leggings have become a clothing accessory that's increasingly controversial — and seemingly, the favorite new target of the school dress code.
Haven Middle School in Evanston, just north of Chicago, took what turned out to be a contentious stand: If you wear leggings, you need to have a shirt or skirt over them that reaches at least down to your fingertips. In other words, girls need to cover their behinds.
I can't necessarily disagree with this. Sometimes leggings are made of different materials and, if they are not thick enough, can show underwear. As I used to tell the boys at Roosevelt who had baggy pants, I'm not interested in seeing your underwear.
But is a distraction factor or an expectation of what students should wear to school? (I always told prospective Roosevelt students on tours - you don't have to dress as if you are going to church or to see your grandmother but don't dress like you're going to a party.)
Clearly frustrated with the debate, Haven Middle School teachers posted this statement on the school's website to explain the reasoning behind the leggings policy: "We believe, through years of experience and professionalism, that it is essential to our school's climate that we set a standard of expectation and decorum."
They denied that they acted because leggings distract boys, as has been alleged by some parents.
"The notion that girls' clothing affects the way boys learn is not, and never will be, our message," the statement said.
At least one former teacher who's now an expert in education law advises schools to continue to focus instead on safety — and to ignore students' unusual dress, if it's not disruptive or disrespectful in some way. Beyond that, Nancy Hablutzel, a professor of education at the Chicago-Kent College of Law, says consistency is important.
CNN has a story on prom dresses which I think is a far trickier issue. It truly is a dress-up night and NOT a day at school. As well, girls have different bodies and some dresses might be more showy on one girl than another. But again, it's an evening out.
For Holly Manson, a mom of three teens in Oakland, Maine, one simple saying has made the difference between absolute dread during prom season and actually welcoming the rite of passage.
"'I always told my girls to 'dress classy not trashy' and so when they make their clothing choices, they tend to go towards the classy stuff," said Manson, who responded to a request for comment on CNN's Facebook page.
One school sent home a notice, complete with acceptable and unacceptable dresses. It is kind of funny because the "good" dresses are mostly flouncy while the "bad" dresses are either very tight or tight and shiny.
Here's what Seventeen magazine is suggesting; looks good to me.