January 29th, 2017

No, Kellyanne! Not stretch pants

Kellyanne Conway got some flak for this:

Kellyanne Conway is defending the red, white and blue military-style coat she sported during the inauguration after she was ruthless mocked on social media for the patriotic look.

In defending the $3,600 Gucci color block wool coat with metal feline buttons she sported during President Donald Trump’s inauguration ceremony on Friday, Conway told The Hollywood Reporter: ‘Sorry to offend the black-stretch-pants women of America with a little color.’

Well, I’m going to criticize Kellyanne.

But not for her outfit. For her statement.

Conway is 50 years old. In fact, she turned 50 on inauguration day. That means she was born in 1967. Too late—just a little too late—to understand what stretch pants were.

Now, I know what she meant. She meant those black tights or black leggings or black yoga pants thingees that are now the obligatory dreary and (mostly) unflattering uniform for women of all ages, sizes, shapes, styles, and at all occasions.

I cannot stand them. They are exercise wear. Believe me, I’m familiar with tights; I spent much of my life in them. But not walking around in the street, unless I also had a dress on.

Oh, I know, I know. If you Google “stretch pants” it will lead you to leggings and such. But those garments are not stretch pants. There is (was) only one “stretch pants,” and they had stirrups on the bottom and created an unbroken straight line that skimmed the leg but was neither leg-hugging nor leg-outlining. Stretch pants created the illusion of legs as tubes, cylinders that were slightly wider at the top and narrower at the bottom but were sort of schematic legs without clearly defined muscles.

Like today’s leggings, stretch pants were most commonly black, and they were one of the uniforms of the early 60s—although of course you could not wear them to school, because you weren’t allowed to wear slacks to school.

Considering their ubiquity at the time, it’s surprisingly difficult to find a good photo of a person wearing them. But here’s a perfect illustration (from a sewing pattern) of exactly what I mean, in the royal blue pants on the right. Note the tubular shape of the legs. Note, also, the hairdo, which was about as popular at the time as the stretch pants. You had to set it on rollers and tease it:

Here’s the site where I found the photo, and it has a lot of other tremendously evocative photos of pattern pictures that really capture that era of the early 60s— stylistically and psychologically the tail end of the 50s, right before the explosion of change that came to define the latter decade in people’s minds. It was the calm before the storm.

I was especially found of wearing my black stretch pants with a mohair sweater. Mohair sweaters were another popular fashion of the era, and I had several—some of which I had knitted myself. Something like these (in fact, as in the photo, I had a pink one and a coral one, and the pink was the one I’d knitted myself):

The nearest thing to stretch pants that survive today are stirrup pants for skiing. But they’re not quite the same; most of them look more like tights than the stretch pants of yore, although a few come close.

17 Responses to “No, Kellyanne! Not stretch pants”

  1. Alix Says:

    My sister and I used to see them on Mary Tyler Moore in reruns of the ‘Dick Van Dyke Show”. We call them ‘Laura Petrie pants’. Always thought they were so cute on her!

  2. Sharon W te Says:

    Last Monday my 6 year old granddaughter interviewed me for a school assignment and one of the questions was what style of clothing did I wear as a child. I had to laugh because I stood up and said pretty much what I’m wearing right now. I had a black aline corduroy skirt on, black tights and a light blue turtleneck sweater. But I added that after school and weekends we wore stretch pants with stirrups. I grew up in Chicago in the 60’s. Those pants were very serviceable for the amount of bike-riding we did and winter boots we wore.

  3. Ralph Kinney Bennett Says:

    You see, Neo? This is why we need you now more than ever! In the post-midnight hour, when many of us were asleep, you were on the front lines, and in your protean way, guiding us through the intricacies of immigration “vetting” AND steering us away from regrettable misconceptions regarding female waist-down vestments. I bow to your fashion knowledge, but I would aver that the shape was not totally “tubular,” and that one of the chief characteristics of stretch pants was the crisp crease that accentuated the narrowing line from hip to ankle. Not unlike the “pegged” pants worn by many “cool cats” (male, of course) in the ’50s.

  4. Sarah Rolph Says:

    Wow, does that trigger a lot of memories. That site is a lot of fun to scroll through. I remember stretch pants. I didn’t like the feeling of the strap on my foot. I remember that the new synthetic fabrics were considered rather a big deal. For a while they were known by their brand names — Quina was one, if I recall correctly — it was cool to have a shirt made of a certain thing. That seems so odd now. I often wore stretchy nylon body suits with my skirts, sometimes with matching tights (“The Total Look”). My grandmother was trying to teach me to sew at the time and she had nothing good to say about stretchy fabrics. I still have some of my Barbie dolls and their clothes, many of which reflect this era. Including a tiny mohair sweater, red with a white collar, knit by my mom.

  5. CW Says:

    >>”I was especially found of wearing my black stretch pants with a mohair sweater.”


    I live in Texas. Nothing against my fellow ladies here but a lot of them are wearing yoga pants who shouldn’t be. Just saying.

  6. Frog Says:

    One speaks of a “pair of trousers”, though it is one garment. A “pair of legs” is a purely anatomical phrase and does not signify a pair of trousers.

    From thefreedictionary: “Trousers are a piece of clothing that covers your body from the waist downwards, and covers each leg separately. Trousers is a plural noun. You use a plural form of a verb with it. … Umar was dressed in a pair of black trousers. You usually use a singular form of a verb with a pair of trousers.”
    Grammatically, “pair” is singular, so that’s OK..

    From Wiki: “Various people in the fashion industry use the words trouser or pant instead of trousers or pants. This is nonstandard usage. The words “trousers” and “pants” are pluralia tantum, nouns that generally only appear in plural form—much like the words “scissors” and “tongs”. However, the singular form is used in some compound words, such as trouser-leg, trouser-press and trouser-bottoms.” Trouser-bottoms combines singular with plural.
    There is no end to the fascination of the English language.

  7. JuliB Says:

    I’m going to defend Conway. Language changes, and what she’s saying is very obvious. I suppose the original stretch pants aren’t bad (although most older fashions look odd regardless), but what we see now? Dreadful.

    I do wear my exercise leggings to the store now and then IF I’m running an errand or two either before or after the Y or Pilates studio, but it’s pretty obvious I’ve been working out. But the things you see people wearing to work, oh my…

  8. Esther Says:

    The stirrup stretch pants of yore also came in a puke-y ochre brown color and a queasy psychedelic raspberry/blue knit pattern. Someone’s mother insisted they be worn with white socks, leather saddle shoes and under dresses for school.

    The black ones with a black turtleneck and headband were kind of slick, but those white socks and dang saddle shoes wrecked the effect.

  9. Ray Says:

    I understand the wild Mo were hunted to extinction because of the demand for their hair.

  10. Oldflyer Says:


  11. Susanamantha Says:

    As bad as the ubiquitous leggings are, I must say I more despise the pajama bottoms that I see on women and men. Such a lazy disrespect for others (and themselves, if they only knew) is evidenced by their unwillingness to get dressed before leaving the house. O tempura o mores!

  12. Susanamantha Says:

    Uh, that’s tempora, unless one is in Japan. Auto correct strikes again.

  13. expat Says:

    I don’t remember ever having stretch pants. For me, it was always jeans.

  14. parker Says:

    I am all for wearing what one wants in public as long as too much flesh is being displayed away from the water, but I wonder why some women think they look good in yoga pants. And, I agree the pj bottom in public is worthy of disparaging stares.

    Cole Porter was prophetic.

  15. John Dough Says:

    While I enjoy looking at a trim fit young woman in yoga pants, there are too many not so trim fit woman wearing them. When they walk, their behinds looks like two wildcats fighting in a burlap sack

  16. SCOTTtheBADGER Says:

    During he Dick Van Dyke Show, the Petries would sometimes have people over for a gathering, and Laura would do a dance in her stirrup pants. Which proved that you could indeed be a squeaky clean, wholesome, clean cut temptress!

  17. TommyJay Says:

    John D. beat me to it. This man thinks some women look fabulous in their yoga pants.

    My recollection from the 60’s were the stirrup ski pants. I remember this combo: fur topped apres-ski boots; ski pants; a short, almost waistcoat length parka, and a Dior furball looking bonnet. Some of those pants hugged the leg and some did not.

    I also remember a period where women wore “tights” usually under other garments. These were of the Danskin type or brand. These were much more sheer than all of the other apparel under discussion here.

    Speaking of sheer, who could forget the brief period when the common stock of LULU plummeted because the company had to recall yoga pants? The manufacturer missed their spec. and the pants were too revealing when women bent over.

    And there was a brief fad of women wearing black bicycle shorts as general summer wear.

    I re-watched the movies “Back to the Future” 1 & 2 last year when the actual date matched the date of the filmed future. The first couple minutes of the first scene in the future highlights a couple of young women wearing nothing but a brightly colored zippered body stockings. Perhaps we really are header there.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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