Leggings vs Tights: Let’s Clear it Up!

TEAM KNIX / STYLE WELLNESS

Leggings are a basic garment that most of us have in our closet. Perhaps you like to layer them under dresses or longer sweaters. Maybe you wear them on weekends, working from home or lounging. Or perhaps you have the activewear variety, worn for everything from yoga to running, athleisure, gym or pro sports.

But although they’re literally all around us, some of us remain a little confused about what leggings really are. Are they a garment, or are they underwear? Are they the same as tights? Are they appropriate? Let’s take a closer look...

What Are Leggings?

Basically, leggings are opaque (not see-through) skin-tight pants. They usually pull on and off (no zipper or other fastening) and while they may have pockets and other accents, most are unadorned with any pockets or seams beyond the seam that runs around the inner legs.

Leggings are usually made of cotton and lycra, though they now come in an astonishing range of finishes (shiny, matt), lengths (ankle and cropped), colors, cuts and even materials (from plain cotton to denim-looking “jeggings” and even leather).

Key things to note about leggings:

  • They’re opaque (i.e. not see-through)
  • They come in different lengths, including
    • Full length
    • Ankle-length, also known as 7/8 length
    • Cropped
  • Leggings come with different waist rises (similar to jeans), including:
    • High waist rise
    • Mid-rise
    • Low-rise
  • Unlike tights, they do not cover the feet; they end at the ankle

What Are Tights?

Tights (aka pantyhose) are usually different from leggings. For one, they’re usually much more opaque (even thicker tights will usually have some degree of see-through). And of course tights encapsulate your feet too.

While both tights and leggings can be used for layering (e.g. you can wear leggings under a dress), tights are not designed to be worn as ‘pants’ the way leggings can be. The gusset and seams are not generally designed to be on display (never mind the fact they’re usually more see-through than you’d want your outerwear to be).

Tights are also usually more fragile than leggings. They can catch and tear more easily. For the most part, we think of tights as a finishing touch to an outfit, rather than part of the outfit.

At-a-Glance: The Difference Between Leggings and Tights

Leggings vs tights, everything you need to know about the difference between tights and leggings in this handy table:

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Leggings

Tights

Category

Clothing

Underwear 

Also known as

Yoga pants

Pantyhose

Wear with...

Wear leggings for everyday wear, layering with other clothes, wearing as pants, ath-leisure and workout gear

Usually worn under skirts and dresses for a dressy look or in colder weather

Wear when...

Year-round: Leggings often have moisture-wicking properties to keep you cool and dry

Usually worn under skirts and dresses for a dressy look. Wearing tights will also keep you warm in colder seasons.

Opaqueness

Not see-through / opaque

Some degree of see-through / not opaque

Design

Simple, skin tight, pull on “pants”

Pull ons that encapsulate the feet

Material

Thick, elasticized material cotton, spandex

Tights are made of elasticized polyester blends

Length

Usually ankle length, but also available in 7/8 length and crop (or mid-calf)

Full length, encapsulating the feet

Compression

Can have compression, either all over or in zones

Can have compression, either all over or in zones

Colors

Many options

Many options

Care Instructions

Machine wash, following care instructions. Skip the dryer.

Treat as delicate. Hand wash or use a protective laundry bag.

Where it Can Get Confusing: “Running Tights”

Okay, now we’ve established that tights and leggings are completely different things, let’s bring back the confusion. Some people call ‘leggings’, ‘tights’ or ‘running tights’ or ‘yoga tights’. They’re probably more likely to call tights, ‘pantyhose’. 

This naming convention is sometimes due to regional differences (the same way the Brits call chips, crisps and fries, chips).

More and more though, this confusion is clearing up and more and more people are calling leggings simply that.

Some Leggings FAQs

Why Are Some Leggings See Through?

Yep, we’ve all seen them. And maybe we’ve realized it’s even happened to us. Leggings can sometimes be see-through (or become see-through after much laundering). Usually this is the result of cheaper materials breaking down over time.

Leggings should NOT be see-through.

To protect your leggings, machine wash them on cold and hang them to dry. Dryers can cause a lot of damage to clothes that contain a lot of lycra, causing the lycra to break under the high temperature. You might also want to avoid using softener on leggings. Softener can coat the surface of synthetic materials, leaving a kind of residue on it that can also compromise the moisture-wicking properties of performance leggings. (Softener is best used for cotton and linen items, like towels and bed sheets.)

Why Do Leggings Have a Bad Reputation?

Ugh, hopefully they don’t! If they do, it’s likely because women’s bodies sometimes make people feel uncomfortable and leggings are form-fitting. In our opinion, these are antiquated viewpoints not worth consideration.

The only other reason leggings can have a bad reputation is because they can become see-through (see previous questions) and that’s definitely not a good look. To avoid this, invest in quality.

What Does 7/8 Length Mean?

Legging lengths similarly differ manufacturer to manufacturer. But the 7/8 length is basically 1/8 shorter than full length leggings. It is designed to sit just above the ankle (and therefore will show some skin between your legging cuff and your footwear).

The 7/8 length is most people’s preferred length of legging. Many say it is the perfect length to elongate the leg, whereas cropped leggings can make you seem shorter.

But again, where it falls on you, will depend on your height versus what your manufacturer considers standard. It’s best to look for inseam measurements (usually in inches) to be completely sure where 7/8 will sit on you.

Conclusion: Tights and Leggings, You Probably Need Both

Leggings are a wardrobe staple for many of us. Whether we layer them or wear them with a simple tee, work out in them or lounge in them, wear them to work, or reserve them for the weekends, leggings are pretty indispensable.

That doesn’t mean that leggings completely replace tights. Tights are a great undergarment, or finishing touch to an outfit. There’s a place for both depending on the season, the look you’re going for and your own personal style and preference!

Basically, leggings and tights are both here to stay!