Meggings: An Investigation of an Investigation

The Atlantic

In clothing with which menfolk might drape their lower halves, there is an important new(ish) contender on the scene. You may have heard of them, too. Though they don't yet merit a place in my favorite stock photo resource, where a search for meggings turns up instead mostly photos of several famous women named Meg (Ryan, Whitman), meggings are all over the Internet, in photos, with true-life "It happened to me" tales of wearing them, and even as a semantic item. Meggings was in the running for the American Dialect Society's "Least Likely to Succeed Award" in their Word of the Year rankings. It didn't win, but if phablet and YOLO hadn't been the obvious picks, it might have had a better chance of making it to the loathsome top. 

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It appears that meggings, which are supposed to be, essentially, "male leggings" — a slightly but importantly masculinized version of the thin stretch pants women have been wearing since the existence of thin stretch pants — have hit their stride; they're having their moment; they're part of the pantsgeist. Established news organizations and intelligent people are asking, "What are they, really?" "Should men wear them?" "Are men who do so just men in tights?" "Would Anderson do it?" "How do you say the word without sounding like a fool?" "Are guys really ready to squeeze in?" Certain men are having the wild and crazy notion to try on a pair (or they're being instructed to do so by wild and crazy-notioned editors) and walk around town, just like that, to see what happens. For instance, The Guardian's Patrick Kingsley ("They are, after all, quite warm"); Gothamist's Jake Dobkin ("these meggings are starting to overheat my junk"); and the New York Post's Chris Erikson ("If men’s corsets heat up in the fall, I’m drawing the line") have all worn meggings in public for the cause of deep inner wisdom and moderately amusing articles. If three marks a trend, know that there are still others. Being a man, putting on a pair of leggings, and writing about what happens next is the de rigueur experience of the season!

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Enter the weird new era of stunt journalism, when Hannah Horvath (yes, not a real person, but a character meant to convey things real people do) is told to have a threesome or do a lot of coke and write about it, a behavior also evidenced by many a female blogger who will partake in and report on such "adventures" in a quest for reader eyes. Meanwhile, men are ... putting on lady pants and walking around in them. What does this say about society, about journalism, about trends? Would Hunter S. Thompson wear meggings?, I wondered. 

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There are fashion and semantic questions, too. Are meggings anything more than just, well, leggings? Leggings are not lady leggings, or laleggings, or feggings! I get jeggings, that crucial portmanteau of jeans and leggings. But why add the m in meggings when leggings are just, well, pants, and pants are gender-neutral? We don't say munderwear, for instance. A man in a dress is not wearing a mress. Some people say murse. People should not say murse.

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Plagued with so many abiding concerns, I turned to some writerly friends for help parsing meggings. 

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Refinery 29's ever-patient and fashionable Connie Wang answered a few of my many queries. "There's definitely an overrepresentation in the media about the popularity of meggings -- because, as someone who works alongside many men who are more than comfortable to try out new runway trends, I've never seen anyone wearing them," she said. "For people on the outside, leggings might seem like a natural progression of the skinny jean trend, and there's definitely an element of 'Look at these crazy fashion people willing to expose their nuts!' that makes it an arresting media story. But the fact that its greatest supporter is flip-flop aficionado Russell Brand doesn't give me much confidence that we'll be seeing it on regular people anytime soon. You'll see someone at Buffalo Exchange wearing it once and be shocked and tweet about it, but that's the extent of its IRL reach."

She added, "What people are wearing with more frequency are fashion-forward athletic wear like tapered sweatpants and trackpants. Because they're slimmer on the bottom and are made in a softer fabric, they can be mistaken as a legging. I'm fairly sure that most examples of real people wearing meggings (like Justin Bieber) were actually just wearing pants like these." Bieber, touted as a meggings-wearer, may not have even worn meggings! Is anyone wearing meggings? "A few urban avant-garde Belgium/Japanese-leaning gentleman may be wearing them with oversized T-shirts and skate shoes, but they've been doing it for years," says Wang. "No one else is wearing them as-is." For the fashion record, she clarified that meggings are different than leggings — "the guy's version is baggier in the crotch, either through a drop crotch or a more tapered cut." Still, just because a man is wearing them doesn't make them meggings. "Russell Brand's ruched ones, however, are ladies' Sass and Bide leggings."

Outside of the fashion world, what do meggings do, exactly, for a guy? I took this to a twentysomething music industry professional who surely knows about such things. She said, "Sometimes when I see men jogging wearing leggings, I definitely look at their butts and think about whether their calves are stocky ... and if I'd like to touch their butt or not." There you have it: Meggings serve much the same purpose as a form-fitting dress, a skinny jean, or ... a legging.

Moving on to questions of gender normative stunt-journalism: Is it a wee bit insulting that people think, in the year 2013, that it's inherently hilarious to wear lady-clothes, tight things that might be a few strips of cloth away from what they consider drag? (The joke inherent to the "I'm wearing meggings!" stunts, after all, is that these are traditionally considered pants for women.) But beyond that, the stakes are not very high in this game; it's been done a bunch, and the punchline grows weaker each time. Do all these meggings-outings signify the last gasp of any sort of decent stunt journalism? (Remember the good old days when people pretended to do coke in Starbucks?) 

The Cut's Maureen O'Connor reminded me that there are plenty of examples of the genre more hard-core than simply putting on a pair of maybe-pants and showing off your butt. "Jackass, for instance, is an empire built on documentary-style clips of men performing punishing, dangerous, and humiliating stunts. On the sex-writing front, there are guys like Tucker Max and theoretically respectable U.S. Representative Ben Quayle." However, she pointed to a difference in the way such stunt journalism may be taken, genderwise: "For a man, the pitfall of sex-writing is being an asshole. For a woman, the sex-writing pitfall is being humiliated."

VH1's Best Week Ever writer and Jezebel contributor Erin Gloria Ryan added, of current trends in confessional or "I did this" writing (meggings vs. threesomes-on-coke), "For men, it's a chance to put themselves at risk of ridicule; for women, it's a chance to put themselves at risk for death. Sort of like going home from a bar with a stranger. The annoying cultural critic who has lived inside my brain since college wonders if this is because women are already constantly mocked, and there's nothing novel about a woman making herself look silly because people make fun of ladies all the time, even when they're not trying to be ridiculed. Humor makes men interesting; tragedy makes women interesting. Actually the more I think about it, the more fucked up it seems."

It is hard to imagine what clothing women might don to try to do the same or a similar story. A fat suit, perhaps? A Lady Gaga meat dress, maybe?

But meggings stunts aren't sex-writing, not even close, and they're not that confessional, either, even if, yes, butts are involved. What are they, exactly? Just a joke? A lark? A spree? Perhaps we shouldn't take them any more seriously than an article investigating meggings stunts, which are "the equivalent of a female stunt journalist testing cellulite-removal techniques," says O'Connor. "Universally acknowledged as stupid, everyone knows how it'll turn out, but if the writer is decent it's enough to make you smirk during your lunch break, which is enough. We can't all be Hunter S. Thompson riding with the Hell's Angels. Some of us just wear meggings and giggle." She added, "If stunt journalism is in fact a genre where women systematically out-badass men, then I'm kind of more into it!"

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As for men who are not Russell Brand and have actually worn meggings for anything other than as fodder for their piece in, say, the New York Post or otherwise, I asked around, but couldn't find many. One responded to the hard-hitting question "have you ever worn meggings?" with a withering "Oh come on," and then refused to set a date for us to get together for drinks. Finally I found one, though, a real live guy who'd worn meggings as far back as 2010, when meggings wasn't even a word that was coming out of the mouths of anyone but the most terribly fashion forward. Here is his tale:

"I've worn leggings once. I was stranded in New York by Snowpocalypse '10. Crashing with old roommates out of desperation, the first thing they said to me as I came into their Upper-Upper-West Side apartment was, "we have lots of acid that we're going to take when it starts snowing and wander around, you want in?" And yes, I did. But I didn't have warm enough clothes for the situation. So my friend offered me a pair of her leggings, a stretchy cotton American Apparel pair in a particularly greenish teal, to wear under my jeans and wool socks, but over the garbage bags I had on my feet to "keep the whole situation dry" (I can't tell with hindsight if I was as ingenious as I remember myself being or if I was already tripping). Let me though say, the leggings were brilliant.

"We explored for a while, breaking into Grant's Tomb and an adjacent playground (where I went down a frozen metal slide, which, and again I don't think this is just the drugs talking, was the sort of idyllic slide experience that slides never deliver, where you become a penguin going down a toboggan, O.K., yeah, probably the drugs) and I never once felt cold. And then we got back and ordered food, because even though there were 20 inches of snow on the ground, someone would still come and bring us all 'Mac & Cheese BLTs' (which was exactly what it sounds like), and I stripped down to my leggings and an undershirt and watched Coen Brothers films for 8 hours (time estimate based on having made it through Fargo, A Serious Man, Barton Fink, and Burn After Reading, before falling asleep during O Brother Where Art Thou). My friend let me keep the leggings, but I never found another opportunity to wear them."

But ... Did anyone call them meggings? I asked.

"Oh, God no," he said. 

Inset via Flickr/JMGS/Jellymon.

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