The Great Leggings-As-Pants Debate

“You can’t wear leggings as pants” – It’s a common statement these days.

Oh, really? Tell that to the thousands of women who do wear leggings as pants daily. I don’t know how it is in other cities, but you can’t walk around Boston without seeing leggings everywhere. And it’s not just college students that are wearing them, it’s people of all ages. I’ve seen so many blog posts about this war against leggings-as-pants that I thought it was about time for a  rebuttal. Leggings are pants if you want them to be pants.

Now, I grew up in a home where one of the number one rules was that leggings always had to be accompanied by something that covered my “buns”. It’s been ingrained in me since I was ten years old, wearing magenta spandex with a hyper-color t-shirt.


See. I don’t make this stuff up.

You see, when I first started noticing girls wearing leggings around as pants, I turned my nose up at them. I swore I would never follow suit, that I would never disobey my mother’s “law of the buns”. And I still won’t do it with “every day” clothes, but that’s a personal choice. I see plenty of women who do, most of whom can pull it off quite nicely. Confidence is a killer accessory, after all.

However, I will, and frequently do wear leggings or running tights on my way to and from the gym, often without something long enough to cover my parts. And by my “way to and from the gym”, I mean a 10 minute walk and a 15 minute train ride each way. Plenty of people get to see these goods, not to mention all of the people at the gym. And you know why I feel ok doing this? Because for the first time in my life, I feel good enough about myself to wear whatever the heck I want, without worrying what everyone is thinking. I have spent the better part of my 31 years on this earth hating my thighs and butt. I have spent so long trying to find new ways to cover up these parts of myself, mostly out of fear of someone thinking that they are too big to not be covered up.

Had you asked me to wear running tights and a tank to the gym 5 years ago, I would have laughed in your face, and then would have gone to the mirror to inspect how large and unsightly my thighs were. Fabric clinging to the very part of my body that should be hidden at all times? In my mind, I might as well have been walking down the street in my underwear.

But something happened to me over the past few years. It has taken a very long time, but I slowly learned to love my thighs and my (rather large) bum. I’ve learned to love my shape and embrace my hips. I’ve learned to appreciate these quads, glutes, and hammies and the crazy amount of weight that they can lift. I’ve learned to love the fact that I don’t have a thigh gap, but I can deadlift over 1.5 times my body weight. I’ve got muscles and I’ve got curves, but I will still wear my leggings to and from the gym, and I will not be ashamed of it.

I will also wear them as pants in “real” life, but I will keep my bum covered.

Just for you, Mom 🙂

 So anyways, I am a huge supporter of leggings being worn with something at least long enough to cover your hind (and front) parts. But not everyone feels that way, so really, what’s the big deal? If you are comfortable enough to walk around in leggings and a belly shirt, I encourage it, and I applaud you. Work what you’ve got, you know? Unless they are shear and have feet, in which case you are wearing tights and those are actually not pants.

If you are one of those people who are confident enough to rock your leggings as pants, please just take care to follow one simple rule: make sure they stay opaque for the entire length of your leg and around your butt. In my mind, as long as I can’t see through ’em, they’re pants, no matter how tight they might be.

But really, it doesn’t matter if you’re on your way to the gym or just hanging out around town. Just because people didn’t wear leggings as pants 10 years ago doesn’t mean it can’t be done today. Just because you don’t appreciate my quads doesn’t mean that I’m not allowed to show them off. Sometimes I’ll stop at the grocery store on the way home from the gym — does that mean that I have to change my pants before being seen in a public place, just because I might offend someone with my leggings? I say wear what you want, work what you’ve got, and stick with whatever it is that makes you feel comfortable and beautiful, whether that is leggings or not.

Readers: What do you think about the leggings-as-pants debate? Are they or aren’t they? Do you think there’s a difference when it comes to gym clothes vs. street clothes? 

43 thoughts on “The Great Leggings-As-Pants Debate

  1. Too funny, I ran into that with a top I had that covered the “Bum” – I felt like I was breaking a rule with leggings ;o) I usually put on pants over but that’s ridiculous I’m not busting through my leggings… there is a difference between gym and street but honestly – I think its kind of silly here how we attempt to conform to so many rules we think exist. Heck most of them I don’t know until I read something and then its like REALLY? My Mom had rules as well, funny how they stick.

    1. Haha, I still follow many of my mom’s rules from when I was younger — they really do stick with us after being drilled into our brains for so many years!

  2. I see it all the time in Vancouver, so it’s the norm here as well. I don’t see anything wrong with leggings as pants. If you have the confidence, rock it AND your confidence 🙂

  3. I literally live in the gym due to work and school- therefore I also live in my leggings and work out wear. Whether that will change when I graduate (if that ever happens) I can’t say! I’m in full support of the leggings as pants, as long as I can’t see anything I shouldn’t!

    1. Meh.. There’s no need for that to change. Workout gear is perfectly acceptable every-day-clothing as far as I’m concerned!

  4. I agree – wear what you like, and what makes you comfortable. I also subscribe to the “covering of the bum” but that’s what I’m comfortable with.

    I have to add, I had the SAME magenta spandex pants, and yes, rocked the hyper color shirts, too! Love it!

    1. YES! I’m so glad that someone else had the killer style sense that I did 🙂 And I’m not gonna lie, I kind of wish I still had those..

  5. Love, love, love this post! I have never worn leggings. …okay, I did have some stirrup pants back in the day (about the same time as your photo in the magenta leggings, I would guess.) My sister, who firmly believes I should wear clothing from “this decade” (her words, which make me laugh!) forced me to buy some this spring. …and I still haven’t worn them. Maybe now I will have the guts. Thanks!!

    1. I swear, once you start wearing them, you’ll never be the same again. The trick is to wear them stylishly,not like an old lady who can’t bother to put on real clothes 🙂

  6. I love this! Working at a high school, I debate this with my female students daily. A coworker sent me this link to an amazing ‘Am I Wearing Pants?’ flow chart from the Huffington Post that I think you will enjoy. I took the liberty to post this in the female dormitories on campus!

    1. Thanks! Ah yes, I love that flow chart, it had me cracking up! And I think it’s a good debate to have with HS girls, especially if they’re anything like the girls at the high school I used to work at. With what teenage girls are wearing now, I’m scared of what they’ll be wearing (or not wearing) by the time I have kids that age!

  7. As someone who works with high school students, leggings are not considered pants at our high school and I’m very thankful for that. On the other hand, I don’t see much of an issue with people wearing them outside of school, like you said, as long as they’re not see through. Sometimes when I run, I’ll wear compression pants without shorts over them, but some people can pull off the legging look in casual wear. As much as I’d like to think I’m not judgmental, I think it all depends on the situation and how they’re being worn.

    1. I agree…I try not to be judgmental, but it really does depend on the scenario. And I’m totally on board with leggings not being appropriate “pants” while at school, although I think I would be fine with it if they were worn with a long top.

  8. How can something with an elastic waistband ever be considered bad! Personally I love my leggings, but was raised in a household that shared the same rule, always cover your bum. That said, when it comes to my running pants, I flaunt my bottom! I think alot of it has to do with the fabric, (at least for me). A thin fabric is more like nylons to me, but a thicker cotton or nylon is free game to wear with pride! My favorite time to wear leggings? Holiday meals when I know I may be eating more then normal. This way I’m stylish and comfortable. Hell, I even dedicated a post of my own to leggings!

    1. Great post, and great tips! And this made me laugh — leggings are the BEST thing to wear to a holiday dinner, no question! Elastic waistbands are meant for holidays, no doubt.

  9. I didn’t really realize it was a debate? I wear my workout stuff out in public all the time. I figure, as long as I take care not to have a camel toe, I’m good to go. 🙂

    1. Yeahhh I’ve seen a whole lot of blog posts lately about how leggings are DEFINITELY NOT PANTS, and I think it’s a little silly. I’m with ya — no camel toe, no problemo 🙂

  10. Lol fun topic indeed :)! “To legging, or not to legging” – is a question of fashion here in the CITIES of The Netherlands (we cityfolk tend to believe fashion and style don’t exist outside of cities -only farmers and cows there. Oh and windmills), probably it’s the same all over Europe. Another prejudice: we.. ehm.. kind of think most Americans don’t have dress-sense. The cliche image of an American woman that usually comes to mind is.. yes.. a woman wearing leggings, an oversized t- or sweatshirt and cloggy sandals (or clunky trainers). Ah, and a baseball cap.
    -Unless it’s a New Yorker. We think New Yorkers are more like us. And have style.
    Lol don’t kill me for saying all that. You asked. And this is the general opinion here, I’m sure. To make it fair: The Dutchies have a total lack of style and class, compared to the French and Italians (according to the French and Italians ;)). I actually agree. The Dutch suck with style, soon as they turn 40 (in general). Suddenly were supposed to wear baggy pants and cut our hair.

    Anyway; leggings? -here it depends on fashion. The eighties are hot now, so you can get away with leggings. But only if they have crazy neon colored and black prints (African-eighties fusion). Last year it was totally NOT done to wear leggings at all. 5 years ago we had the 3-quarter-leggings. They’ve been a fashion ‘no-no’ for over 2 years now. If you like leggings, you’re safe wearing skinny jeans. They’ve been ok for years now. But I’m sure they’ll be ‘passe’ next year. All of them are on sale now. Its a hint 😉 (poor me, cause they really suit me). -just saying/explaning; fashion is important here. It rules the ‘do’s and dont’s’. Yes, a bit crazy I guess. But normal to me.

    AH but gym-leggings are always good. Covering your bum is not an issue at all. You can show ALL as long as the whole outfit is sporty and has a sports-brandname on it (preferably Nike, Adidas or… maybe Puma). Everything goes, as long as you’re covered. Training in hot-pants AND only a sports bra is not done over here. While it seems like a normal thing in the US and Canada. Is it really? or are all the U.S. fitness sites and blogs just going overboard on sexy workout pics? 😉

    Sorry for my long comment.. just shows how much I enjoy answering your question! 😉

    1. Love the long comment, and love hearing the perspective from outside the US! And don’t worry, I’m not at all offended that you think that US women have no style… I would say there is a good portion of women over here who do dress like that! Although, I would like to think that Boston women have some style, though not as “harsh” as New York women, if that makes sense. Anyway, as for your question, I really don’t think it’s that common to see booty shorts and sports bras in the gym. Fitness sites like to portray that as the “normal” image, but everywhere I’ve worked out, women are mostly in running tights/crops and a tank.

  11. OMG Steph. I love your magenta spandex! Amazing! I wish I had something that baller to wear growing up 🙂

    I’m on the same page as you with this whole leggings as pants debate. Don’t mind if I’m going to the gym but for going out, I’ve got to have something covering my lady bits on top!

    1. I WISH I still had those!! Yeah, I don’t know what it is– I don’t mind going uncovered when it’s “gym” wear, but if it’s street wear I feel naked. Who knows.

  12. See, I think of gym pants/running tights as totally acceptable wear, but think of leggings specifically as those cheap ones that are of sheer. With those, I would prefer that you wear a shirt that covers your butt 🙂

    1. Ah, this is a very good point!! Quality does make a HUGE difference in this argument!

  13. Love it! I think I’ve worn leggings as pants my whole life. Most of my childhood/teenage years were spent in ballet tights, which REALLY show off the goods! And then I moved on to regular workout tights. Considering I basically live in gym clothes, it’s hard for me to think of a time when I’m not running around in workout pants haha.

    1. I know, I wish I could wear workout pants all the time! Outside of work though, I do tend to wear them a lot, I hardly ever wear any of my jeans anymore, it seems useless to even have them around! I like the freedom of stretch 🙂 does that make me an old lady? haha

  14. It’s not what you wear, but how your wear it 🙂 Flaunt it baby!

  15. “Unless they are shear and have feet, in which case you are wearing tights and those are actually not pants.” best thing I’ve read all day!!!! Thank you 🙂 and I have a long torso it’s hard to find something long enough to cover. I’ve given up, leggings are pants!

    1. Thank you!! I am always taken aback when I see people wearing actual tights as pants…thankfully it doesn’t happen very often.

  16. I love this! Maybe we’re a bit more relaxed here in Aus, but leggings as pants are a regular occurrence. In fact, I’d estimate that I probably spend around 75% of my life in leggings (as pants) and I wouldn’t have it any other way! p.s “Unless they are sheer and have feet, in which case you are wearing tights and those are actually not pants.” this is gold.

    1. haha, thanks!! Glad to hear that this is the norm in other places as well. I personally love being in my leggings more than anything else, it’s just so comfortable!

  17. I’m with your mom – I usually wear a longer top with leggings, but I also have no qualms about running in my spandex tights… which are really just moisture-whicking leggings. I guess a time and a place? Like not in the middle of winter when there’s no way they’re warm enough.

    1. Ah, I do stadiums in just my running tights in the winter, with lots of layers up top of course! I usually layer long socks over them too 🙂

  18. Haha.. great debate!

    I am a hater of leggings as pants.. yet I’m okay with me wearing them because my butt and thighs look good in them, right? 😉 lol.

    Though I also agree with your mom that most times your booty should be covered.

    1. Haha, yes, I’ve been guilty of this too! “Well, my legs are looking good so this is ok… for me” But yes, for the most part, I need to have my bum covered. I do appreciate those that feel comfortable enough to go without, though!

  19. This post killed me. As you know, I was outraged when the skinny jean/leggings era came into view but after years of saying “never will I ever” I wear them. I do cover my lady parts but mostly because I find it inappropriate otherwise. I am actually wearing my leggings and a long shirt on a flight that is coming and I cannot wait to be completely comfortable!

    1. I was the same way! Now I don’t wear anything BUT skinny jeans and leggings when I’m outside of work. It’s actually absurd. And leggings are absolutely the PERFECT flying outfit!!

  20. Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear.
    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyways, just wanted to say superb blog!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close