What to Wear with Leggings: Choose and Style Them

Like 'em or loathe 'em, leggings are a part of our permanent sartorial vocabulary. These simple styling tips will help you keep your legging game looking fabulous.

There is probably no single item of clothing that causes as much disagreement as the humble legging. People are generally divided into two camps: legging lovers and legging loathers. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to confess that I have always counted myself as a card-carrying member of the latter group, with the odd exception for such activities as running and yoga. However, that was then.

I have since had a sort of…let’s call it a “legging epiphany”, based mostly on the research I have to do for my job as a fashion writer. As it turns out, as with so many other things in life, leggings are one of those things that are as good or as bad as you make them, and fit and styling have everything to do with the overall look.

The following tips are some fool proof, real-life tricks of the trade that I have discovered in my fashion field research. These simple tips make excellent guidelines on what to wear with leggings and how to choose a pair to buy, whether you’re trying them out for the first time, or a die-hard fan with multiple pairs in your wardrobe.

1. Materials matter when choosing leggings

Leggings material is very important

No matter how well a pair of leggings may fit you, if they are made of inferior fabric, they’re probably going to end up looking cheap. Thin, heavily lycra-based fabrics with a lot of stretch tend to thin out when stretched to capacity, and can reveal a little too much about what you are (or aren’t) wearing underneath.

A cheap pair of leggings may also look shiny when stretched to capacity, putting emphasis on parts of you that you would rather the world not linger on.

To avoid this all too common pitfall, look for fabrics that are luxe and opaque, especially when stretched. Fabrics that are blended with cottons, silks, and modal usually offer more feel and opacity, and leggings that are styled as trousers (think “jeggings”) and have actual sewn-on pockets and button closures are always the best choice.

Jeggings tend to have that little extra material in places that tend to see the most stretch like the rear and crotch areas.

Choosing an unexpected material is also a good idea, provided the material has enough weight for it to appear expensive. This season, leather leggings (either real or “leather look”) are still very much on the scene, and make an excellent choice provided they are not too shiny or tight.

Jacquard or other brocade-type leggings may also be a good option, but be aware of the fact that the bolder the pattern of the fabric, the larger your bottom half is likely going to look.

To style a pair of luxe leggings, try pairing them with an oversized white or chambray button-down, and a boyfriend blazer, moto jacket, or oversized sweater and boots. The idea here is to use the legging as a layering piece, and build upon it, creating a multi-layered look that has depth and texture.

2. Fit is essential if you want to look good

Four different leggings fashion outfits

Before we go any further, I think it’s important to note one thing; leggings are not pants. No matter how well a legging might fit, it is not meant to be a substitute for a proper pair of pants.

If you really want to wear that cropped top or that pair of platform stiletto heels, you’re better off choosing a pair of skinny jeans, or risk looking a bit cheap. There, I’ve said it.

With that in mind, you want to choose a pair that fits just right; looser than a pair of tights or pantyhose, but tight enough to hug the body and provide a slim line.

Leggings also should not bunch anywhere on the body, and should be extremely comfortable, allowing for complete freedom of movement. A legging should maintain a body-conscious fit over the length of the entire leg.

If you find that they are a bit tight in the calves, and a bit loose in the waist, or even just a fraction “off” in any other way, abandon them for another option; if they’re a bit off in the dressing room, it will only get worse once you are going about your daily life.

The only way to really know if a pair of leggings fits you properly is to try, try, and try. Be your own worst critic when assessing the fit of a pair of leggings. Try them on as you intend to wear them, layering up in the dressing room to see if they will work with your existing wardrobe. Do a few deep knee bends, sit down, and move in any other way that you might in your day to day life.

Make sure that the leggings don’t slide down when you bend over, causing you to have to continually hike them up throughout your day; not a good look.

3. Always check your rear view mirror

Wearing proper laundry under leggings

Really, tip number three is an extension of tips number one and two, but after much thought, I came to the decision that it was just too important not to give it its own space.

Let’s be honest, there isn’t a single one of us that has not, at some point, found themselves standing behind someone at an airport or grocery store, who was wearing a pair of leggings that gave us…let’s say, “too much insight” as to what is going on underneath the leggings.

Whether that includes the fact that you favor thong underwear or perhaps need to replace your leggings with a pair that is not visibly straining at the seams, this kind of revelation pretty much always falls into the “too much information” category.

Assuming that you have attended to the concept of proper fit, you still have a bit of due diligence yet to do. What you wear underneath your leggings is of great importance. Even if you are planning on layering a tunic-length or other slightly oversized top over your leggings (and I hope that you are), it’s a good idea to make sure that you are wearing a foundation garment (that’s fancy-speak for underwear, gals) that leaves no trace as to its presence.

Avoiding the dreaded “VPL” (visible panty line) in a pair of leggings is the difference between looking chic or cheap, so make sure to have a few go-to pairs on hand that work under your form-fitting clothes.

Need a recommendation? Lightweight, microfiber boy-short undergarments are actually one of the best ways to avoid unsightly panty lines, and are about as comfortable as they come. Choose a pair in a flesh-toned shade if you’re worried about anything showing-through, although if you’ve paid attention to tip No. 1, it won’t be a problem.

Leggings may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but as a recent convert myself, I can attest to the fact that when done correctly, they are a versatile and comfortable option that doesn’t necessarily have to look undressed or sloppy. Using these simple tips as your guide, you can avoid many common legging pitfalls and give yourself yet another wardrobe option in your sartorial arsenal.

About the author

Kristin Buchholz-MacKillop

Kristin is an American writer based in the Scottish Highlands. She is a saxophonist, an obsessive tennis player, a U.S. Air Force Veteran, and holds a Master's degree as an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner. She is the author of the online style blog highlandfashionista.com

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment