5 rules for styling leggings as pants

leggings as pants outfit

A long cardigan is a perfect piece for good coverage when wearing leggings as pants. It’s usually best to also have length in the front, but these leggings are extra thick, providing more of a structured fit.

A few years ago, leggings exploded on the casual wear scene, and the debate was RAGING–can leggings be worn as pants?? Strong opinions from both sides were flying. I distinctly remember my oldest daughter (who now constantly wears leggings as pants, mind you) that in no uncertain terms were leggings to EVER be worn as pants. Major fashion faux pax! Disgusting & ridiculous!

Whether it’s the work of savvy marketers or herd groupthink (or maybe just comfort) there’s no doubt now that women of all ages, shapes and sizes wear leggings as pants All. The. Time. Spend 10 minutes people watching anywhere and it’s a confirmed fact. Heck, even my 80-year old mom wears leggins as pants! p.s. that’s not a typo…that’s how she says it: “leggins” 😉

stylish leggings

For the majority of my trip to England this fall, I wore the Tema Athletics leggings as pants. They’re comfortable, easy care, and simply chic when styled appropriately as casual wear.

dress over leggings

It was a fun challenge to style so many leggings outfits for my England trip. This is a summer dress but it was one of my favorite combos over leggings–a little of the dress peeked out under the long gray sweater and the booties gave an urban touch. I felt stylish, which is hard to do when living out of a suitcase!

There’s just certain times when we’re all relieved to have that option–travel, casual weekends, quick trip errands. And that’s the key thing to remember…leggings aren’t really pants, so they’re the exception rather than the rule for most situations. Wear them appropriately and no one will judge. But inappropriately? Well, you won’t be alone, unfortunately. Rise above the fray, however, and remember they’re not for the office, professional encounters, or classy situations like holidays or events.

5 leggings as pants RULES:

  1. Priority one: Cover your bum. Left uncovered, you might be mistaken for being half-dressed in a pair of tights or on your way to the gym. Whether it’s a long top, short dress, or longer jacket, definitely keep your backside covered at all times. As a general rule, we usually keep it longer in front also.
  2. Think long & LEAN. A long top or jacket over leggings provides the most flattering silhouette, creating a column effect that is slimming and pleasing to the eye. That’s also why tall boots look so great with leggings–anything smoothing or elongating is a win! If you’re shorter, keep the top length mid-thigh or above and add heel height, if possible.
  3. The length and the shoe count. Longer or ankle-length leggings look best (think column again). Capri leggings tend to stunt your legs. They’re fine for the gym or a hike, but not for an outfit. The best shoes are sporty sneaks, booties, or tall boots. Stay away from rounded-toe flats–they have the unfortunate effect of making it look like you’re standing in a puddle.
  4. Emphasize top over bottom. Leggings conform to and emphasize shape, so the rest of your outfit needs to work hard to counteract that. Anything with a loud pattern or eye-catching color should only be on top. Oversized tops and jackets work well because of the slimming illusion of larger over smaller.
  5. Good quality & forgiving fabric. Overly soft and stretchy leggings may feel great on, but they’re best kept in the pajama drawer. To keep leggings outfits looking chic and any jiggles under wraps, they need to be dark in color (preferably black), thicker, and not faded or baggy around the knees. Select higher quality options and wash often to keep them looking in top shape.
patterned leggings

Dark leggings are the most flattering, but a subtle pattern can be a fun change. Plaid is a great option and on trend for fall!

Since they’re only a step above sweats, leggings have never been our go-to pants option, but there’s certain times when they’re perfect. Worn occasionally and appropriately they can look super chic at any age. Do you have any rules for wearing leggings as pants that we haven’t covered? We’d love to hear!

–Julie

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