What are Leggings?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Leggings scarcely need a definition for those who live in the western world. Especially in the US, and in the early 1990s, leggings were extremely popular wear for women and competed with jeans as some of the most popular pants styles. The trend of wearing these close-fitting pants died down in the mid-1990s, but as of the mid-2000s, the pants are once again becoming popular wear.

Leggings can be short or reach the ankles.
Leggings can be short or reach the ankles.

Today, most leggings contain some Lycra, and either cotton, cotton/poly, or other blended fabrics. They fit close to the body and may be ankle or mid-calf length. Though they seem trendy, this style is really straight out of the past. Through the Renaissance, men wore hose, which were tight fitting, and might be more like tights, reaching over the toes. Other similar clothing to the modern pants might fit over each leg only, such as the leather stockings first worn in some Native American tribes and adapted to use by a number of fur trappers.

Leggings can be dressed up to make a fashion statement.
Leggings can be dressed up to make a fashion statement.

Women’s tights have to be understood as a form of leggings, and often these pants served a more utilitarian than fashion conscious purpose. They were ideal for providing extra layering under clothing and keeping people warm, especially if made out of wool. The close fit did have other uses and before Lycra, achieving pants that would stay neatly in place was often achieved by adding stirrups, a strip of elastic fabric that went over the foot, and kept the pants legs anchored in place.

Stirrup pants are still used in a variety of sports settings, such as ice-skating, dance, gymnastics and equestrian sports. In the 1980s when leggings hit the scene as a fashion statement, stirrup pants did have a devoted following. They also may be on their way to a comeback, so there is one thing to bear in mind with these stretchy, fitted pants. If you are tall, stirrups will frequently cause your waistband to sink, creating opportunities for some very embarrassing moments. Try to purchase these in tall sizes only, if you are well over average height.

In the 2000s, leggings are often paired with loose or empire waist baby doll tops. They can also be used with big sweaters, worn under mini-skirts or in a variety of different ways. They still do add extra warmth, and if you enjoy wearing longer skirts, consider using these pants to keep warm during winter months. There are also leggings for men, though these aren’t as popular.

All who wear these ultra-skinny pants must find underclothing that helps to avoid the dreaded VLP or visible panty line. New undies that are close fitting and don’t ride up may be a help, and thongs can avoid this issue. Of course if you’re wearing these pants under longer shirts or tunics, you really don’t have to worry about anyone seeing a panty line.

Leggings offer comfort and warmth for outdoor workouts.
Leggings offer comfort and warmth for outdoor workouts.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Take it from a guy, leggings are not cool. They make fat legs look fatter, for one thing.


@christym: Well, they aren’t any leggings made of blue jean material that I know of. However, there are leggings that are made to look like blue jeans. They are just as comfortable as regular leggings and they fit just the same, but they look exactly like blue jeans of your choice.

Some even have pockets stitched to the butt if you prefer that. They’re a great choice for baggy sweat shirts and even to wear under a skirt. They add a little edge to any look in an instance. Blue jean leggings are very popular and used by women of all ages to pull off any look.


I really think a large sweater and leggings look great together. However, I’m too shy to wear them because I feel too nude even with the darkest of leggings. I feel like people think I look ridiculous even though everyone wears them. Do they make blue jean leggings for people who are a little self-conscious?


@dinoleash: Absolutely not. There is no age limit on when you should start or stop wearing leggings. As long as they make them in your size, then you’re welcome to wear them without feeling ridiculous. From kids in diapers to women of age, leggings are a great choice of style for anyone.


My daughter wears leggings a lot and I think she looks adorable in them. Also, I’ve seen many teens and young women wear them. I really like them, but I don’t know if I’d look foolish wearing them as an older woman. Is there an age when you should stop wearing them?

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