Your complete guide to wearing leggings: the new rules and biggest fashion mistakes.
We love leggings as much as anyone, but, as with any fashion staple, there are ways to wear them well, and ways to wear them so that you look like Lindsay Lohan circa 2008. (Sorry, LiLo.) We chatted with Sansyrae St. Martin, a Toronto-based fashion stylist with Plutino Group, for her expert tips on how to wear leggings so that you look cool, on-trend and super stylish—and avoid confusing them with tights.
How to wear leggings rule #1:
Leggings are not pants or tights. Let’s start with a process of elimination, friends. Leggings are wonderful in so many ways, including their ability to blend style and comfort in one clothing item. But they are not, under any circumstance, considered pants. (Sorry).
They also are not office attire—for that we have plenty of smart on-trend looks to choose from. Nor are leggings to be worn as tights under dresses. To recap: leggings are not pants or tights.
How to wear leggings rule #2:
Mix it up. Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s talk how amazing and versatile leggings are on their own merit. “You can wear them with a button-down long shirt belted around the waist and ankle boots,” says St. Martin. “Or with high boots and a long blazer. This is a sharp and classy look but still very comfortable.”
How to wear leggings rule #3:
Long tops rule. It’s safe to proclaim that tops should, in almost all cases, be long enough to cover the buttocks when wearing leggings. Stylist addendum: “Most rules in fashion can be broken by someone who knows what they are doing, but generally speaking, yes, it’s much more flattering to pair leggings with a long top,” St. Martin explains. “If you must wear them alone, try to find leggings that are as thick as jeggings so they give you a more compact look. You don’t want everyone to see your booty bounce,” she adds. Just as you shouldn’t be subjected to witnessing theirs.
How to wear leggings rule #4:
Length matters. Leggings should fall just above the ankle—anything shorter automatically creates a stinted silhouette by cutting you off at the shin.
How to wear leggings rule #5:
Wear bold prints cautiously. A few words about colourful and floral-print leggings: “As fun as they are, they are really only flattering on long, lean legs,” says St. Martin. “Like the camera, this trend adds 10 pounds.” (Ouch.) Stick with a basic colour palette for ultimate utility and curve-appealing wear. “Darker leggings are more flattering on most bodies,” explains St. Martin. As a rule, stick with black and charcoal.
How to wear leggings rule #6:
Wash your leggings. Seriously. Just as leggings aren’t pants (or tights), nor are they jeans either—unlike denim, leggings need to be washed regularly. “The elasticity relaxes as your body heats it up and the washing helps it to go back to normal,” says St. Martin. “Leggings are partially or totally synthetic and so they don’t breathe as well and they do need to be washed at least every other wear.”
But they don’t need to be hand-washed to keep them looking their best. “I would suggest a delicates bag so they don’t get stretched around in the machine, and avoid any form of heat—hot water, warm dryer, iron or steam— because heat breaks down the elasticity over time.”
How to wear leggings rule #8:
Consider the occasion. Generally speaking, it’s best to avoid wearing leggings for a job interview or holiday parties, and formal settings like a wedding or meeting the parents for the first time, advises St. Martin.
How to wear leggings rule #9:
…Or wear them anyway. Since there’s always an asterisk to every rule in fashion, if you can make the rest of your outfit work around your leggings, then go for it. “Honestly, someone with a great eye can probably style them in a way that they can be worn anywhere, but it’s really, really tricky.” You’ve been warned.
How to wear leggings rule #10:
This is not yoga class. Unless you are currently in a yoga studio, or on your way to class (or straight home right after) this is not the time to make workout wear-as-daywear happen. Striving to be comfortable in your outfit is one thing, but pairing leggings with running shoes and a sweater while running errands on Saturday could lead you down a slippery slope into a sweats-only wardrobe. Don’t be that girl—be better.