Move over jeans: Black leggings are the true staple every gal needs in her wardrobe. We all know they’re perfect for workouts, but the right pair can also keep you comfy and stylish for everything from running errands to a fun night out, and you can even wear some styles as pants to work (yes, really!). But with so many options out there, you’ll need to find a pair that actually feels comfortable, looks good, and holds up.
As you shop for leggings, you’ll want to pay close attention to the materials and overall construction. Here are some things to check out when you're finding your perfect pair:
Fabric: If you’re looking for exercise leggings, go for a pair made with synthetics like nylon or polyester. They’re usually moisture-wicking, more durable and opaque, and have better stretch than cotton. If you just want a lounge pair or one to wear under longer tops and dresses (i.e. it doesn’t need to be fully opaque), a natural fiber like cotton may be softer and have less compression.
Seams: Flat seams on the inside are more comfortable than raised ones, and they're especially important in workout leggings to avoid irritation from sweat and friction. If you’re going to move around a lot, make sure there’s a gusset (a triangular or diamond-shaped piece of fabric in the crotch area) to prevent them from riding up.
Sweat: Some brands that say they're moisture-wicking didn’t live up to the claim in our test. To check for yourself, place a small drop of water on the inside where the fabric touches your skin. The water should quickly absorb and spread out wide. If it beads up, it’s not a sweat-wicking material.
Opacity: To make sure the leggings aren’t see-through, inspect the fabric under a bright light – natural daylight is best. If you can’t bend over in front of a mirror, try deeply bending your knee: You shouldn’t be able to see your skin through the fabric.
The Good Housekeeping Institute Textiles Lab tests leggings for sweat management, pilling resistance, construction, opacity, washability and more, then we send them out with consumer testers to get feedback on real-life aspects like breathability, fit, comfort and appearance. The leggings ahead are all top-tested styles, editor favorites, or best-sellers with lots of glowing reviews.
This is the pair you’ll get the most use out of: It’s perfect for workouts, but you can pretty much live in them on the weekends, too. The fabric is buttery soft and it doesn’t feel constricting at all, but there’s still a super-flattering waistband to hold everything in. It’s also lightweight, sweat-wicking and stretchy, and it’s so popular that the brand makes other versions of it, like a super-high rise, a shorter 25” length, and an even shorter crop style.
This Amazon best-seller has a cult-like following from users who swear it’s the comfiest pair they own and it’s not see-through. It’s also stretchy and versatile to wear from lounging to work (if you style it properly); we just don’t recommend it for intense or high-impact exercise. There are three size groupings designed for 2-12, 12-20, and 22W-32W. It also comes in tons of other colors and with the unbeatable price point, you can certainly buy a few pairs.
A winner in our workout legging test, this pair outperformed other styles across the board: It handled sweat like a boss, fit well and felt comfy to exercise in, and was durable in our Lab’s pilling, laundering, and colorfastness tests. Our panel also rated it the most flattering, which Athleta says is because of its Sculptek compression in the fabric. It comes in lots of size options for various body types and a full-length version if you want a longer pant. For high-impact workouts where you need even more compression, check out the brand's Contender collection.
If you’re a runner or prefer high-intensity exercise with lots of movement, this pair has smooth fabric and flat seams, which you’ll need to reduce friction throughout your workout. Our testers also said it was comfortable, flattering, breathable, and had a compressive fit. In our Lab tests it didn’t pill, shrink, or stretch out, and we found it to be super opaque as well. On top of that, there’s a zippered phone pocket with a hole for headphones so you can listen to music while you pound the pavement. Equally good are the brand’s ColdGear Leggings, which are fleece-lined for chilly weather.
Lululemon makes our list again, this time for its soft, comfy fabric that our testers said stayed in place like second-skin throughout their workouts – i.e. perfect for the moving and stretching you'll do in exercises like yoga. Our panel especially liked that everything stayed in place (no waistband rolling or wedgies!) and it didn’t restrict their movement. On top of that, it proved to be breathable, opaque, and durable in our tests. This style has the lots of coverage with a high waist and full-length pant, but it comes in variations like a 7/8 tight and a crop.
Each pair of these leggings is made with 25 recycled water bottles that have been turned into polyester fabric. Even better, users love wearing them and say they perform on par with much pricier brands. This style has a compressive fit for high-impact exercise, but the brand makes a Lite version with nylon from recycled fishing nets that’s better suited for sweaty activities like hot yoga or cycling. It also comes in lots of other colors, multiple lengths, and sizes that range from XXS to 6XL so women of all sizes can enjoy it.
This legging is your best bet if you want a smoothing fit that doesn’t dig into you. There’s a special waistband that gives you the firmness you'd expect from a control-top, and the brand says it won’t sag. Reviewers say it lives up to its name of “Perfect Control”: It gives you the support while still somehow feeling super comfortable. Plus, Good Housekeeping Fashion Director, Kristen Saladino, says it’s one of her favorite leggings. The fabric is a nylon/spandex blend with a matte finish, so it won’t look too shiny like some workout leggings.
We’re serious: These are leggings you can actually wear as pants to work. The fabric is thick enough that you don’t feel like you’re wearing tights, but still stretchy so you get the yoga pant comfort. We were skeptical too, but Good Housekeeping editors tried them out and were impressed. They especially liked how comfortable they felt; one even said “I felt like I was getting away with wearing my PJs at the office.” It comes in six different styles: Straight-Leg, Boot-Cut, Skinny-Leg, Cropped-Leg, Six-Button, and Wide-Leg, plus four different inseam options to fit ladies of different heights.
It’ll be a bit of a stretch to wear this semi-sheer pair as stand-alone pants, but it’s perfect for pairing with dresses, tunics, and longer sweaters or tops. Unlike some others that are mostly synthetic materials, this one’s made with cotton and modal (with some spandex to give it stretch) so it’ll feel more natural and so incredibly soft. The fabric isn’t heavy and it has a minimal waistband, so if you don’t like wide panels or compression, this one will be your perfect pair.
For a dress-up legging, this faux leather style is super chic and one of Spanx’s best-sellers. And since it’s coming from Spanx, you can expect it to have the built-in shapewear you know and love. The slimming waistband gives you tummy control without the muffin top, and the nylon/spandex fabric has a sheen appearance that reviewers say makes their legs look long and lean. And since it’s not real leather, you can machine wash them like the other pairs in this roundup.
This pair has some features that make it look like pants (e.g. belt loops and pockets), but it uses smooth and stretchy fabric so you get the full legging experience. It’s super popular on Amazon, with women of all sizes saying it’s both comfortable and flattering. They also love how thick and sturdy the fabric feels. It comes in three lengths: short, regular, and tall, as well as denim colors so you can wear it instead of jeans. Oh, and did we mention it’s only 20 bucks?
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