Dan Edblom is the father of two teenaged girls in Marin County, California. We work together, and I have heard him complain mightily about his daughters' obsession with black leggings, and not just any black leggings, but brand-name pairs that cost $65, $75, even $100 dollars. He's got a point: d
Don't all black leggings look alike? Do the expensive ones feel that different when you are wearing them?
To try to find out, I purchase a bevy of inexpensive and expensive black athletic leggings. I ask two teenaged girls from Marin County to help me with a very unscientific test. We head to the Town Center Corte Madera, an upscale mall just minutes away from the Golden Gate Bridge.
I start by putting my smart and very brave teens in blindfolds. I ask each of them to try on a pair of leggings and tell me just by how the tights fit and how they feel and whether they can guess which price range the leggings fall in: expensive or inexpensive. Ella Luchel is wearing an expensive pair that cost $82, and Marcela Matheus is wearing a pair that cost just $35. They feel the pants with their hands, tug on the waistbands and then make their guesses: They BOTH get it wrong.
Marcela: "The fabric feels really nice and it's kind of tight on my skin. So, I'm going to go with the expensive pair."
Ella: "I think they're inexpensive because they're sort of rough and they're kind of scratchy."
Amazing -- but what about looks? Can anyone looking at the tights tell the difference?
I pick out two very similar-looking pairs and, for sizing reasons, I put Marcela in an $82 expensive pair this time, and Ella in a $24 pair. I cover all the labels with black tape navy leggings and put similar tape in the same areas on the inexpensive pair so the placement doesn't give away the brands of leggings being worn.
You haven't lived until you've walked up to total strangers and asked them to inspect other people's pants, but that's what we do. Of the 40 or so people we talk to, almost all of them say they can't tell the difference between the leggings, and then they guess which is expensive and which is cheap. Some get it right, some get it wrong; it adds up to a roughly 50/50 odds lesson in guessing.
To the average observer, the two pairs of leggings are indiscernible. I said to the average observer, one subset of the population nails the expensive inexpensive question with almost superhuman leggings knowledge: other teenaged girls. Every girl younger than 20 pointed out the expensive pair in fewer than seven seconds and justified their pick based on a knowledge of seams, fit and (this one kills me) "sheen."
One adult who worked in fashion retail asked to feel the leggings and she guessed correctly which was which. "I can tell the higher quality fabric," she said.
Sure enough, there's a difference: The expensive pair is made of nylon and spandex, while the less expensive pair is made of polyester and spandex. We also talked to one longtime buyer of brand-name tights who said that distinction makes a difference.
"I've had one pair of expensive tights for seven years. They have worn incredibly well," the buyer said.
Our fit, feel and looks test has nothing to offer to the durability question, but it does have our teen tester, Ella, rethinking her obsession.
"I feel like the only people who would notice are you and a couple of your girlfriends," she said.
What do you think: Are expensive leggings worth the splurge?