Nikki’s Inbox: Leggings 101

Hi Nikki! So I know the weather’s still a bit warm but I’m already starting to look forward to the cooler seasons. I read your earlier post about layering but there was one thing that I was hoping you could explain more and that is leggings.

I want to buy my first pair for when it gets colder but I wonder what do I wear with them. Most of the girls at my school wore them like pants (which in my opinion looked terrible). What kind of tops and shoes would look best with leggings and is it okay to wear them under shorts?

If it helps, I’m very short (at 5’1) and I have an hourglass figure. Thanks so much!

Crystal, 18/California, USA

Leggings used to be popular in the 70s and 80s and were pretty much a fad, mainly worn by dancers and athletes. However, they came back in the mid-2000s and are now considered a staple. I don’t really see it going away anytime soon, because there are now even leggings for men.

Your email raises a very valid point: can leggings be considered pants? If you’d asked me this question about three years ago, I would have said absolutely not. And to be clear, if you mean that the girls at your school tuck shirts into their leggings, leaving their bums and thighs exposed, then yes, that is a terrible look. Gossip Girl‘s formidable Blair Waldorf once said, “Tights are not pants!” and I’d like to add that leggings aren’t, either. However, if you style them correctly, they still aren’t pants, but they absolutely are a fashionable staple throughout colder months. Leggings have gone far beyond their athletic and dance origins and designers have incorporated leggings into everyday, wearable outfits.

Let me share some basic things you should remember about leggings:

  • They’re figure-hugging and tight. By virtue of their elasticity, leggings really conform to your body. So if you’re very self-conscious about your body especially from the waist down, then leggings might not be ideal for you. Try slim-fit or skinny pants instead as an alternative.
  • As much as possible, leggings should be wash-and-wear. Because they’re tight, leggings also trap moisture (such as sweat) from the body. For hygienic reasons, do wash your leggings after you wear them.
  • Tights are not leggings. Tights are also called pantyhose, which usually has a waistband and is usually banded, making them easier to distinguish from leggings. However, I’m sad to say a lot of women still make the mistake of wearing tights as leggings despite the higher risk of fashion faux pas. Tights are sheer from the waist to the upper thigh, and when it’s sheer, there’s always the possibility of an accident waiting to happen.
  • Read on for my suggestions on how you can wear leggings!

    Choose a top that goes past your bum. Simply put, whether you’re a petite, average or tall girl, the best top to go with leggings is one that goes past your bum and preferably your upper thighs. The easiest way to check whether a top is long enough is to bend over and try to touch your toes. If it doesn’t amply cover your behind, then it’s too short. While leggings can highlight nice legs, they may also require that you wear special underwear to avoid visible panty lines or VPL.

    “Long” does not equal “oversized” or “super baggy.” I’m still waging a relentless campaign against wearing oversized clothing so I feel this has to be mentioned. A longer top doesn’t mean you have to look like a homeless person in leggings. Oversized tops can make you look shapeless and unbalanced – bigger on top, smaller at the bottom – which is not a look I would recommend to anyone. To avoid that, layering pieces will help you look more proportional. Team a long-sleeved button-down shirt with a slightly shorter V-neck sweater or a hanky-hem tie-waist vest.

    Patterned leggings go with plain tops and vice versa. This is a basic and I think easy rule to remember, Crystal. Like I said previously, leggings are no longer relegated to plain, solid colors. They now come in snazzy patterns that can reflect the season’s trends such as animal print, leather-look, florals and even geometrics. Show off your patterned leggings by teaming them with a simple, plain-colored extra-long tee, shirt or a sweater. If your leggings are multicolored, just choose a shirt that matches one color from the palette or team a tonal skinny belt over a neutral top.

    As for wearing shorts with leggings, why of course you can, Crystal! Just make sure to follow the same patterned vs. plain rule to avoid clashing with your leggings. Bleached denim or lighter-colored shorts should be worn with darker leggings – and lace-patterned leggings are a good start. If you’re planning to wear those cute floral patterned shorts that were popular over the summer, make sure to team them with slightly sheer leggings for contrast.

    Anything goes when it comes to shoes! One thing I appreciate about wearing leggings is that they’re very easy to pair with whatever shoes you have in your closet. For fall, I highly recommend wearing them with ballet flats and leg warmers for some ballerina charm. You can also wear them with oxfords and lacy ankle socks if you’re wearing patterned leggings (this also works with patterned tights). As soon as it gets a little chillier, luxe suede ankle boots will go well with patterned bottoms. Lace-up boots are also cool, especially with distressed leggings for that punk-rock vibe.

    If I missed anything, feel free to add more advice to the comments below, darlings. I know some of you are hard-core fans of leggings, so share what you know!


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