Are There Any Limits to Leggings Any More?

There’s little question that the transition to leggings as life-wear that was underway pre-Covid was, like so many other phenomena (online shopping! hybrid work!), fast-forwarded during the pandemic. Suddenly even those of us who fell into the leggings-are-not-pants camp and viewed them as gym gear began to see the upside of lounging around at home in what are essentially thicker tights.

And once you get used to that … well, it’s hard to go back, even as we all go back to public life.

Indeed, when I asked Tory Burch — who as the power behind her namesake label and Tory Sport has thought a lot about how clothes and leggings fit together — what she thought, she said: “I’m always surprised by the leggings debate. At this point, they’re as essential to our wardrobes as T-shirts and bluejeans. Mixing them with ready-to-wear is simply how many women dress today, whether they’re headed to the gym or not.”

That said, not all leggings are created equal. Like sneakers, leggings can run (no pun intended) the gamut from performance gear to professional get-up. Which ones you wear when matter. And as with most things in life, so does context.

For example, the more technical, and techno-patterned, Lycra styles — the kind that telegraph: “I am going to SoulCycle, and I’m going to crush it today” — are probably best left to the sports for which they are intended. Otherwise you risk looking as if you may segue into a downward dog or camel pose as soon as work gets stressful.

But thicker leggings, which are available in neoprene, leather, stretch ponte and even denim (yes, I am talking about jeggings, but how far they have come!) are leggings-like mostly in that they have an elastic waistband and an element of stretch and can slide more easily into the wardrobe of everyday. Some even have a bit of flare at the ankle, which gives them the whiff of pants.

Which brings me to how you wear them. When it comes to leggings in nontraditional legging settings, it’s all in how you frame them.

Do not, for example, wear your leggings with a T-shirt, bra top or sneakers in a nonworkout environment, be it a coffee shop, restaurant, workplace, movie theater, airplane, what have you. Also, do not wear them with an oversize button-up shirt unless you are deliberately trying to channel the 1980s.

Instead, think of them more like capri pants but ones that don’t offer the option to tuck in your shirt. Pair them with ballet flats, chunky-soled loafers or ankle boots and a jacket or perhaps a tailored tunic top. You won’t look as though you are breaking any unwritten sartorial rules. Just … well, stretching them.

Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion-related question, which you can send to her anytime via email or Twitter. Questions are edited and condensed.

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