Balenciaga S/S 2017. Photos: Getty
Not all runway looks are meant to be worn on the streets, but some of them are just begging to to be taken for a test drive, anyway. Such may be the case with much of Balenciaga’s rainbow-hued, spandex-filled Spring 2017 collection. Is it fun, interesting, and exciting to look at? Yes! Does it make for a exciting editorial or magazine cover shoot? 100 percent. Can someone whose last name isn’t Jenner or Hadid get away with wearing it in public for longer than 10 seconds? That we weren’t so sure about.
After watching all those shimmering leggings (many with pointy boots attached) glide past us in Paris last fall — and then studying the subsequent jewel-toned campaign that’s currently filling our glossies’ ad pages — we couldn’t resist trying out the potential future trend for ourselves.
Anyone who’s ever watched “The Devil Wears Prada” knows a thing or two about fashion’s tendency to set off a trickle-down effect: First we see something on the runway, then we see it on celebrities and/or Instagirls, then it’s in the window display of every Zara in NYC, and eventually, it weasels its way down into the ‘burbs and the Bible Belt.
With that in mind, it isn’t so crazy to predict that, within a few seasons’ time, many of us could be trading in our denim kick flares for some shiny, stretchy bottoms. Add in the fact that Balenciaga’s current Creative Director is Demna Gvasalia — the same man who’s turned the Vetements aesthetic into a cultural phenomenon. Clearly, this guy knows a trend when he sees it (and can start one easier than most).
But could I — an almost-30-year-old lady with thickish thighs, a decidedly un-curated Instagram feed, and only six inches height-wise on Danny DeVito — pull off wearing iridescent leggings without totally losing the fashion street cred I’ve theoretically earned throughout the years? And moreover, could I do it without looking like an extra who didn’t make the final cut of a Jane Fonda workout tape or Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” video?
Either way, I was certainly up for the challenge. Read on to see how I did.
I’ll be honest: As soon as I pulled on these leggings, I felt fierce as fuck — like a missing member of Spice Force Five (albeit, an older, more sophisticated version who now shops mainly at J.Jill). They were also surprisingly stretchy and comfortable!
But as sassy as my shiny pants made me feel at home, I wanted to tone things down a bit when it came time to mingle with the presumably non-shiny clothed members of the public. A cozy cashmere turtleneck sweater in gray seemed to do the trick (and cover my tush), along with a low ponytail and some classic black pumps. I was ready to go out into the world, but was the world ready for me?
Ehh… that’s still up for debate. Walking 20 minutes to the subway in east bum Brooklyn after work on a Friday, I got way more attention from guys hanging out around bodegas than I normally do. Yes, the comments erred on the positive side, but I still wasn’t thrilled by all of the praise my robo-legs were suddenly receiving — especially when some dude started trailing me down the block. I felt like I had a “CAT CALL ME, PLEASE!” sign stuck to my coat; I will say that I was far less afraid to cross the street at night knowing that my leggings were so reflective. (A silver lining, quite literally.)
Waiting for the train wasn’t much better: Even when I couldn’t hear anyone actually talking about me, I assumed everyone was either silently judging or taking Snaps of me with text on top like, “NYC, please never change.” When I finally got on the C, I almost jumped down a guy’s throat when he started to compliment my glasses because I just assumed he was about to make mention of my metallic extremities. OK, so maybe I was the slightest bit insecure.
Of course, when I actually arrived in Chelsea for my friend-date, no one batted an eye at my unusual ensemble. It was as if I were wearing skinny jeans — which, in some ways, made everything that much more confusing. I concluded that, in the borough of Manhattan, my shiny silver spandex gave me a super power that not even the Spice Force Five possessed: Invisibility.
Would I wear this outfit again? Probs, maybe to a party or something. But definitely not to stock up on Cosmic Brownies at the corner store.
About a week after my semi-traumatizing romp with silver leggings, I decided to go for the gold — this time on a weeknight at a cocktail bar near Union Square.
This outfit was definitely less excellent. Let me tell you, there’s a reason we all get stuck in that blue jean rut. Figuring out what to pair with ultra shiny spandex is hard. In an attempt to lessen my leggings’ crazy, I went with the safest option I could conjure up: all black everything. Unfortunately, I think that adding a long-line boyfriend blazer and loafers may have veered my getup straight into leprechaun territory. Who needs a pot of gold when you’ve got gold pants!
The weird thing about this night was that no one commented on my shininess — at least not to my face. Then again, I did purposely avoid bodegas. I also found myself experiencing a serious lack of confidence: Every time I began talking to someone new (I talk A LOT, so this happens quite often), I felt the need to mention that I was only dressed like a business casual C-3PO for a writing assignment, thus rendering the entire experiment pretty much pointless. It’s weird — I generally consider myself a fairly confident person, but there’s something about wearing ridiculous pants that made me feel very vulnerable, and also self-conscious about my lack of a thigh gap. Demna, give me strength!
Would I wear this outfit again? No, unless I someday get invited to a sexy St. Patrick’s Day party.
My final Balenciaga-esque outfit was not only the hardest to wear, but also the hardest to get my hands on. The first two pairs of leggings were both from American Apparel, but since the retailer is nearing the end of its hospice stay (sad!), it no longer had any of its more colorful shades in stock. And if I was going to truly channel Balenciaga, my tight pants needed to be full-on prismatic.
It was with an anxious heart that I ended up ordering shiny, emerald green leggings from a Korean (I think?) website called W.S. Dear. They only came in one size, and quite apparently, that size is not mine. I actually couldn’t even pull them up high enough to cover my tush. So this last ensemble, which I wore out to a work dinner, needed to include a skirt by default.
I tried to do the tonal thing again, and this time ended up in a forest green mock neck top and pleated black skirt beneath a black blazer. For shoes, I went with my favorite square-toed Chelsea boots. It was all very “Peter Pan Does Disco.” Needless to say, I looked awful and felt even worse — these legging would just not stay up. And strangely enough, I didn’t really love feeling the subway seat on my bare caboose. My crew of all-female coworkers tried to lift my spirits, promising me repeatedly that they didn’t look “that bad.” One even said she was weirdly into my froggy legs. (There’s pretty much no way she meant it, but thanks, babes!)
Overall, I felt confident enough because I was surrounded by a group of friends, therefore proving to the world that, yes, I may wear very shiny green leggings from time to time, but at least people like me enough to be seen with me in public. But let’s just say that these leggings were no longer on my person by the time our appetizers had arrived… and they definitely did not make it home with me.
Would I wear this outfit again? NOPENOPENOPENOPENOPE.
As you’ve likely gathered, I have some feelings about wearing shiny leggings. If they fit, they can be really comfortable and even a fun, unexpected way to make an outfit pop — like I felt they did with my first ensemble. But they’re also tricky, both as far as styling goes, and in terms of how much attention they can draw to the wearer. (That’s not necessarily a negative thing, but it’s just something you might want to keep in mind if you don’t love feeling like everyone’s staring at you funny.) Wearer, beware-er!
Looking back, I also wish I’d tried wearing one of the pairs with a more structured top. If I get brave in the future — and if this Balenciaga-inspired look actually becomes A Thing — I’d try that out, instead.
Oh, and one more point: I personally find it to be interesting timing that Balenciaga debuted this collection just as lamé mainstay American Apparel was wrapping up its tenure on Earth. AA was the first place I turned to stock up on technicolor leggings for this story, so the fact that a high fashion house has now released its own far-less attainable version feels like a strange mini-tribute. If only AA could’ve stuck around for the trickle-down cycle to take effect… who knows how things may have been different.
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