What Are Leggings?

TEAM KNIX / STYLE WELLNESS

Everybody probably has a pair of leggings in their closet. Maybe you call them yoga pants. Basically, they’re 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).

For the most part though, when people say ‘leggings’, they’re thinking about a classic black neutral piece. Let’s explore more!

Leggings Vs Yoga Pants

Many of us use the term ‘leggings’ interchangeably with ‘yoga pants’ or other workout leggings, so I would say there isn’t much of a difference and these terms can be easily swapped.

However, yoga pants (or athletic leggings) are usually designed specifically for exercise so they might be made with performance-enhancing features in mind. For example, they might also be made of sweat wicking materials, have pockets for keys or devices or fit higher in the waist for bending and stretching.

Oftentimes these features also make them comfy and convenient. So if you’re guilty of wearing your workout leggings even when you’re not working out (or even every day) don’t feel bad about it - we’re right there with you!

Leggings Vs Tights

Tights 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.

8 Reasons Why We Love Leggings

1. Comfort

Due to the lycra content, leggings are the ultimate in comfort. They give you that second skin feeling. No annoying waistband or seams to contend with, they’re just an item of clothing that you can feel your most comfortable in. Different styles may offer some support or gentle shaping, but they should still not feel tight or leave red marks around your waist. Instead, you should just feel gently ‘held in’ and supported.

2. Dress Them Up!

You might assume that leggings are always casual, but they can be dressed up. As with any neutral, it’s all about what you wear with your leggings and how you style the outfit (shoes, purse, accessories). Leggings worn with heels, a silk blouse and blazer can look office ready. Or leather leggings can elevate and add edge to a daytime look and pull it into the evening.

3. ...Or Dress Them Down

Of course, you can go the other direction too. Who doesn’t love leggings and a tee or sweatshirt plus their favourite pair of trainers for the ultimate weekend comfort look. Of course, even this look can be taken up a notch with some designer sneakers and the right purse. The point is, don’t feel like leggings are confined to one look. They are an ultimate neutral, meaning they can go as dressy or as casual as you feel like!

4. They’re Great for Layering

Think of leggings as a “Best Supporting Actor” in your wardrobe. They’ll rarely be the hero of your ensemble, but they’ll quietly let other items of clothing shine. Whether you wear leggings with a great blazer, sweater, dress, crop top or a simple tee - they’ll support your ensemble.

5. They’re Amazing for Travel

Space is of the essence when you’re travelling. And so is comfort if you’re going to be sitting on a plane for long stretches. Leggings check all the boxes, giving you comfort for that red eye flight and taking up minimal space in your luggage. Which leaves more room for all the cute things you’ll want to bring home. Win-win!

6. Coverage Without Bulk

If you - for whatever reason - aren’t comfortable with a lot of skin on show, leggings offer coverage without bulk. Leggings are perfect for wearing beneath short summer dresses or sweater dresses, they’ll protect your modesty and give you a sense of confidence and security.

7. They’re Great for Transitional Seasons

Sometimes you want that extra coverage not for modesty reasons but because Mother Nature can be a fickle friend! Leggings will help make that summer dress fall-friendly. Or they’ll help lighten up a winter ensemble in spring...

8. They’re Basically a Cute Wardrobe Staple

Honestly, I can’t imagine a modern wardrobe without a pair of basic black leggings. Even for people who don’t like wearing leggings as ‘on-display’ pants, they can be layered under dresses, sweater dresses and more.

Basically, leggings are cute, timeless (and ageless) and they’re a great staple for every wardrobe at every age… though how you might wear them may change over time.

8 Features to Consider When Choosing Leggings

Even though leggings are a pretty simple garment, there’s a lot of choice out there and you might be overwhelmed when you start shopping for them. Here are some of the choices you’ll have to make.

1. Length

Leggings generally come in different lengths and different brands will label those lengths differently. Basically, you’ll have full length, ankle length, and cropped. But because what’s full length on one person may be too long on another (ankle length is often full length on my 5ft 2” frame), more brands are using inseam conventions. 

This means you’ll find length labelled the same way you do with jeans (31”, 26” all the way to a very cropped 17”, as an example).

Basically, be clear on the look you’re going for. Do you want to show a little ankle? Do you want to show a little bit of your lower calf? Or do you want full coverage?

When you find a legging you love, you might want it in different lengths. I love cropped leggings in the summer. But when I’m tucking leggings into boots, I want full length. Start with the length you’ll wear most often! Ankle is often the no-brainer length.

2. Rise

Similar to jeans, leggings come in high, medium and low rise. Again, this is a personal choice. Some women love feeling held in by a high rise legging (especially when they’re doing activities that involve a lot of bends, like yoga). Others like to show a little midriff and opt for a medium rise. 

Your taste in jeans is a good indicator here, as is the activity you’ll be wearing leggings for. When all else fails, go for comfort.

3. Material

Leggings come in lots of different materials, from mat cotton like materials (with lycra) to shinier more spandex-y material. The look you choose will depend on how you’re going to wear your leggings.

You can also find leggings in materials like leather (or faux leather) and this has become a popular look for fall fashion. And there are leggings that are designed to look like jeans but offer the comfort of leggings (nicknamed “jeggings”).

Leggings can also be made to offer gentle shaping (or compression) to give you a smoother silhouette. Regardless of shaping, many of us like the feeling of being a little “held in”, especially when exercising (but let’s be honest, also whenever).

Finally, there are leggings with sheer, mesh panels that show a little more skin (usually around the calves). These add visual interest while still keeping you more covered up than shorts.

4. Pockets & Seams

The classic legging is a very simple garment. Two legs. That’s about it. 

But leggings today might have more panels, seams and pockets to choose from. Some of these elements are pure design but some also add to the performance of the garment (gently shaping etc.) Athletic leggings, in particular, add practical pockets (for devices and keys) so you can be handsfree when running or working out.

Obviously, the more simple leggings tend to “fade” in an outfit - they’re a great supporting actor to another garment. Whereas more detail draws the eye in and makes the legging more the hero of the outfit. So decide whether you want the classic streamlined legging or one with more bells and whistles, know what look you’re going for.

5. Activity Level

If you’re buying leggings for lounging, WFH-ing or even sleeping in, no judgement from us!!

However, if you’re buying leggings for working out in, do pay attention to specific design features and how they might impact performance. There’s nothing worse than leggings that begin to slip down when you’re out for a run (has happened to me). Or leggings that are too low rise to bend over in your yoga class.

So think about when you’re going to wear them. If you’re a big outdoor adventurer (or live in a colder climate) you might want leggings that are thicker than you wear in the summer. 

6. Opaqueness

In our opinion, leggings should never be see-through. Indeed, a lot of their bad reputation comes from the fact that cheaper leggings can be see-through (or become that way after a few washes).

But good quality leggings should be solid. When you get new leggings, make sure you check that they’re not see-through. I know it sounds hilarious, but even bend over to make sure they don’t become see-through when stretched (ask a friend if you need to!)

7. Pattern & Color

It’s natural to default to thinking about black leggings. They’re classic and a mainstay in most of our closets. But, of course, leggings also come in different colors, patterns and materials. This includes leather (or its vegan lookalike equivalent), leggings with mesh panels, all manner of colours and patterns etc.

While a statement pattern might be great for a yoga class (and indeed practical if you’re - for example - running at night), most often these choices will come later. Our recommendation? Lay down the basics first with your perfect pair of black leggings.

8. Price & Quality

We’re all on a budget, so it’s natural to want to find a deal when you’re buying leggings. After all, what’s so difficult about making a simple pair of leggings? Shouldn’t they be relatively cheap?

Unfortunately, as with so many things in life: Buyer beware the cheapest option. Often, these are the leggings that will become transparent after a few washes. Or they will lose their shape, becoming baggy in the ass or legs. You may also find the color fades, so your perfect black leggings soon become a sad grey version of themselves

So, if you want leggings that will hold their shape, color and opaqueness, spend a little more. You’ll be the best judge here. But do try leggings on and keep an eye on them as they wash. Soon you’ll be able to separate the real deal from the pretenders.

How to Wear Leggings

Some people are self-conscious about the crotch / tummy / butt area of leggings. Leggings are usually skin tight, but it is totally possible to wear them and still cover any area you may not want exposed. Basically, this is your call… we’re no fashion police! But here are some suggestions of how leggings are commonly styled and worn.

Wear Leggings With a Tunic

Tunics are strange garments. Way too short to be a dress, too long to be considered a regular top. To complicate things further, they’re often also pretty boxy in their cut, some would say shapeless. When you’ve got something voluminous on one part of your body, it helps to put something more form-fitting with it. For example, wide-legged pants work best with a fitted top. And using that same logic, a tunic works great with leggings. They’ll help balance out the volume on top and give you a flattering silhouette.

...Or a Long Shirt

Long shirts can create the same dilemmas as tunics and if you love an oversized shirt (whether it’s a crisp, white classic shirt or a soft cosy flannel number), you’ll find a perfect pairing in leggings. If you want to dress the look up, you could opt for leather (or leather look) leggings. Don’t forget the work that accessories, hair and make-up can do either. That crisp white shirt legging combo can take on a whole different look if you accessorize it differently. Basically, it’s your perfect neutral palette.

A Short Dress

Ever buy a short dress and get it home and find it’s just a bit *too* short? Or struggle to find the right day to wear your favourite short dress because you’ll be running around, or it’s windy, or you want to ride your bike? The sad result can be an item you loved on the hanger languishing at the back of your closet. Leggings to the rescue! Throw on a pair of leggings beneath that dress and give it another chance! Bike rides, sudden breezes and bending over will be no issue to you!

Or a Long Dress too…

It might sound strange to wear leggings under a longer dress and indeed it is a little trickier to pull off. But long dresses with leg slits or asymmetric hemlines can be worn with leggings. This is a great way to dress the outfit down a little for day or office wear.

Try Them With Knee High Boots and a Sweater

One of my personal favorite combinations is leggings with knee high boots (or over-the-knee boots)  and an oversized sweater. The leggings really do just fade into the background here and I always find this look makes me appear taller too. This look always feels easy, cosy and still pulled together.

Leggings Also Look Great With All Kinds of Jackets...

If you love the simple combo of leggings and a tee or simple sweater, shake that look up with different jackets. The combination will take on completely different looks when you pair it with a blazer, as opposed to a jean jacket. Or with a biker leather jacket, compared to a cargo jacket.

Or With Tees and Trainers

Sometimes, it’s the simple things… a perfect white tee, a great pair of sneakers and you’ve got a great look. Top it off with a crossbody purse and a pair of sunglasses and you’ll have a look that’s timeless, ageless, with clean lines for an always chic look.

And (Of Course!) They Make Great Activewear

Whether you’re doing downward dog or running 10k, or just going for a gentle stroll, leggings are the natural apparel to reach for. Indeed, we all fell back in love with leggings via yoga pants (which quickly became non-yoga pants too). But they’re still there for that. Pair with a light top or even a cropped sports bra and look for moisture-wicking materials to help keep you dry and free from chafing.

Basically, You Can Wear Leggings Any Way You Like!!

Truth be told, you’ll probably come up with lots of other ways to wear leggings! There’s no wrong way really. As long as the leggings fit you well and are opaque, you can style them any which way you want. The key is that you’re happy and confident in the clothes you wear, not that anybody else approves of it!

Other Leggings FAQs

For such a simple garment, leggings get a lot of attention. Part of this is because they were at one time more controversial than now, when they seem like such a staple in our closets. But let’s look at some of the common questions:

Are Leggings Inappropriate?

Some have an idea that leggings cannot be worn in certain situations or at certain events, but we’re not big fans of policing what women wear or where they can wear it. 

If your workplace has certain dress codes, you should be aware of them. And, of course, you should let your own comfort and confidence-level be your guide. 

As previously mentioned, some prefer not to reveal their bottom or crotch area when wearing leggings. But that’s purely a matter of personal choice.

Can You Wear Leggings at Work?

It’s so difficult to paint all workplaces, in all cities and regions, with the same brush. We’re inclined to say heck ya, you can wear leggings to work, but we have a casual office policy. Other workplaces come with dress codes that need to be observed. 

So, in general, make sure you’re aware of your own office policy and let what others are wearing inform you about the level of casual-ness permitted.

As we noted throughout this piece, though, leggings can be dressed up or down really easily. So an office that objects to leggings with a tee and trainers may take no issue with leggings worn with a blouse and blazer. That can make it confusing, so you may have to figure out where the line sits at your individual workplace. Maybe don’t show up in leggings on Day 1, just to be safe.

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.

Conclusion: Leggings Are Here to Stay

Especially during the last year of a global pandemic, people have embraced the comfort and convenience of leggings. But even before that, leggings had transitioned from yoga to weekend-wear, weekend-wear to everyday wear. 

Everything in fashion comes in cycles and as we emerge from the pandemic, we’re likely to want to dress up a little more than we have been. But leggings will always be here, precisely because they’re so flexible and comfortable. Like jeans, a great blazer or biker jacket, a white tee, they’ll always have a place in your closet.

If anything in fashion is worth investing in, it’s a classic piece. Leggings are here to stay, so a good pair will always be a great investment.