05/27/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT
The rookies can be seen puffing down jogging or bicycle paths in their shiny Lycra spandex tights decorously topped by shorts. But the hard-core-tights types thunder by, wearing the new unisex, body-hugging leggings as they were meant to be worn: gloriously and revealingly alone. "They show everything...even your bikini panty lines," says Sandy Triebold of Marinette, Wis., 28, who dons "running tights," as they are generally called, for bicycling. "Anyone with enough nerve wears them," concurs Tom Phillips, 23, who sells the stirrup-footed getups every day in the Nike store he manages in Westwood, Calif.
Running tights are turning up in aerobics classes, dance studios and on disco floors. Adherents claim that the elastic fabric "breathes" and gives with their movements. Jaclyn Smith, Jayne Kennedy, Madonna
and Cher like to strut about in tights, high heels and a loose top. The New York City Breakers, a break-dance crew of youths aged 14 to 21, perform in them—even when they entertained at President Reagan's inaugural last winter. "They gave us a superhero look, like Spiderman," says the group's creator, Michael Holman.
Running tights were introduced by swimwear manufacturer Hind-Wells Inc. in 1980, but they failed to catch on. Then Carl Lewis, four-time track-and-field gold medalist, slipped into a pair of orange and black "Muscle Tites," a version made by Nike for the 1984 Olympics. His sleek look on TV screens caught the eyes of viewers, and soon sales were racing. Now other sports figures like Willie Gault of the Chicago Bears and the entire Detroit Tigers team have taken to wearing them under their uniforms on the field.
As the style catches on, the tights, which range in price from $15 to $40, are blossoming in colors from shimmery silver to fuchsia, and in designs from floral to zebra skin. Undoubtedly the look will get even more exotic—and the wearers more secure in baring every bulge from waistline to ankle. "They make my 86-year-old legs look like 25 because they cover my wrinkles," says marathoner Paul Spangler of San Luis Obispo, Calif. "The girls like them on me. I like them on girls."