Leggings scarcely need a definition for those who live in the western world. Especially in the US, and in the early 1990s, leggings were extremely popular wear for women and competed with jeans as some of the most popular pants styles. The trend of wearing these close-fitting pants died down in the mid-1990s, but as of the mid-2000s, the pants are once again becoming popular wear.
Today, most leggings contain some Lycra, and either cotton, cotton/poly, or other blended fabrics. They fit close to the body and may be ankle or mid-calf length. Though they seem trendy, this style is really straight out of the past. Through the Renaissance, men wore hose, which were tight fitting, and might be more like tights, reaching over the toes. Other similar clothing to the modern pants might fit over each leg only, such as the leather stockings first worn in some Native American tribes and adapted to use by a number of fur trappers.
Women’s tights have to be understood as a form of leggings, and often these pants served a more utilitarian than fashion conscious purpose. They were ideal for providing extra layering under clothing and keeping people warm, especially if made out of wool. The close fit did have other uses and before Lycra, achieving pants that would stay neatly in place was often achieved by adding stirrups, a strip of elastic fabric that went over the foot, and kept the pants legs anchored in place.
Stirrup pants are still used in a variety of sports settings, such as ice-skating, dance, gymnastics and equestrian sports. In the 1980s when leggings hit the scene as a fashion statement, stirrup pants did have a devoted following. They also may be on their way to a comeback, so there is one thing to bear in mind with these stretchy, fitted pants. If you are tall, stirrups will frequently cause your waistband to sink, creating opportunities for some very embarrassing moments. Try to purchase these in tall sizes only, if you are well over average height.
In the 2000s, leggings are often paired with loose or empire waist baby doll tops. They can also be used with big sweaters, worn under mini-skirts or in a variety of different ways. They still do add extra warmth, and if you enjoy wearing longer skirts, consider using these pants to keep warm during winter months. There are also leggings for men, though these aren’t as popular.
All who wear these ultra-skinny pants must find underclothing that helps to avoid the dreaded VLP or visible panty line. New undies that are close fitting and don’t ride up may be a help, and thongs can avoid this issue. Of course if you’re wearing these pants under longer shirts or tunics, you really don’t have to worry about anyone seeing a panty line.