A curious thing has occurred to me in the two weeks that I’ve been back in New Jersey. Nobody wears pants. Okay, this is obviously somewhat of an exaggeration, but not by much.
I first noticed it at the airport, the mall, the DMV, and in my favorite thrift store. No pants. Instead, in their place were, usually dark, stretchy polyester material commonly referred to as leggings.
Now, I am (just barely) old enough to remember when leggings were first popularized in the 80s. I loved my mother’s Jane Fonda workout VHS tapes. So much so that I have nearly every outfit Jane wore firmly implanted in my memory.
And I have even stronger memories of growing up in the 90s when the fashion gods reversed themselves. From then on, wearing leggings as pants came to be seen as a mortal (fashion) sin.
But the mid-aughts the trend returned with a bang. And the movement dovetailed into athletic wear and from there athleisure was born. At this point, everywhere you look there is someone dressed as though they are ready to do a set of burpees, or just work up from shavasana.
This is not how anyone dresses in Spain unless, of course, they are actually going to or heading from the gym. Instead, Spaniards wear clothes with zippers and buttons and fabrics comprised mainly of natural fibers. There are little to no messy buns or topnots in Madrid or anywhere else. Unless, of course, worn by a foreigner. Honestly, it is so uncommon there that one of the easiest ways to identify a North American is to look for sweatpants, leggings and/or uncombed hair.
Why is this? In Spain there is just a certain level of pride in presentation in that prevents people from looking like perpetual gym rats.
Every morning in any given city or pueblo in Spain, there will be a person standing in front of a storefront cleaning the sidewalk with a mop and/or broom. And every night, there will be a street cleaner who comes by to do their duty.
But Spaniards aren’t just clean in the streets. When I worked as a private tutor, I walked into home after home that was completely spotless. Not neat, not tidy, spotless. So much so that the wood shone on all the cabinetry as though it repelled dust instead of compiling it.
Americans aren’t necessarily dirty in contrast, but very generally speaking, we view tidiness as acceptable form of cleanliness. We don’t generally expect military grade white glove inspection for people outside of the armed forces. But standards are higher in the Iberian Peninsula.
It seems perfectly understandable then that a culture that placed that high a value on presentation would not deem it acceptable to walk around outside looking–comfortable. Instead, there seems to be an unwritten rule about taking pride in anything that represents you; whether it be your hair, your home or, most importantly, your pants.