Leggings ARE Pants, Dammit!

Back view of 4 women wearing black leggings with their arms around each other and text overlay that reads leggings ARE pants

Did you know that simply stating that leggings are pants can divide people faster than a Trump vs? Hillary debate?

Some people think it’s downright scandalous to wear leggings without a shirt to cover one’s derriere. Yet it’s okay for the same body to wear a shirt tucked into any other version of pants?

After all the hell that women have endured for the right to wear pants—and STILL have to fight for in 2019!—you’d think we wouldn’t then try to police them about what constitutes “pants.”

For the Britsh readers, in this context pants = trousers, not underwear. This is a very important distinction for later.

To give a clear departure point about what pants are, here’s a definition from Wikipedia:

worn from the waist to the ankles, covering both legs separately

That covers a large spectrum of bottom-wear doesn’t it? Straight leg pants? Absolutely. Baggy hammer pants? Hilarious, yet still okay. Jeans? Yes. But form-fitting, curve-conforming leggings? Clutch your pearls!

So let me put this plainly: leggings are pants.

Was that not clear? Okay let’s try it again: leggings ARE pants.

Once more for the back row: LEGGINGS ARE PANTS.

Why is this even a discussion? The pushback I’ve seen falls into 3 different categories:

  1. Leggings are hosiery and meant to be worn under clothing.
  2. Leggings (and yoga pants) are meant only for athletic use.
  3. Fat people shouldn’t wear leggings.

That last one really makes the blood boil. And look, if you don’t want to wear leggings, you do not have to. But if you do, and you want to treat them as pants, then I’m here for you!

So are the women in my family:

Back view of 4 women wearing black leggings as pants without their shirts covering their butts, with their arms on their waists

My niece, sister-in-law, me, and my mom all unabashedly in leggings without shirt coverage—in public!

1. Leggings are hosiery

Some want to argue that leggings are hosiery. Unless you’re daft enough to have paid nearly $100 for those sheer Lululemon pants, then no, they’re not hosiery.

Hosiery is meant to be worn under clothing and potentially without underwear, too. If you’re old enough to remember having to wear hosiery, then you might be scarred by it too. Ugh, I hate it! But the two are not interchangeable. For one, leggings don’t run. And they’re not intentionally sheer. Or uncomfortable (unless I’m doing it wrong…?).

According to this Fortune article, the modern flight attendant is still required to wear pantyhose. Though there’s the safety precaution aspect of compression hose, I’m willing to bet dollars to donuts that regular leggings aren’t in the dress code.

And if your leggings don’t have a gusset, are you even comfortable wearing them without underwear? Panty lines be damned! You don’t need an infection from seams rubbing you raw all day.

2. Leggings are only meant for athletic use

“They’re meant for athletic use.” And also running to the store. And cleaning the house. And playing with the kids. And going to lunch. And dinner. And the movies. And living my damn life.

They’re meant for comfort. For living comfortably. With the emphasis is on living.

Men’s athletic shorts are supposedly also only meant for athletic use. It’s in the name. Yet they’re everywhere. Those basketball shorts that men are ubiquitously spotted in no matter the occasion? They even come with pockets! Yet we’re not yelling at them to keep it in the gym, are we?

Ruminate on that double standard.

3. Fat people shouldn’t wear leggings

Fat people get told they should or shouldn’t do a LOT of things. And from one fat person, we’re fed up about it.

The catalyst for this post was a friend asking in a sewing group on Facebook if she could wear a new woven t-shirt pattern with leggings. I emphatically said yes, as did the designer, who included the line, “because I’m in the ‘leggings are pants’ camp.” And whoa Nelly! What a debate that started! So many people said it was fine as long as she lengthened the shirt to cover her butt.

*insert facepalm emoji*

In a different group on a different day, another unsuspecting woman asked about styling leggings and if she was too old to pull it off. Bless her innocent heart. This, unfortunately, devolved into a much nastier debate.

One person had the audacity to claim that she was in her 70s and still wore leggings, but she only weighs 115 pounds. Another agreed with her and said she couldn’t believe that woman would leave the house with their cellulite and rolls out on display. She actually had the balls to say that some fat people must obviously not have mirrors at home if they couldn’t see how awful they looked. She used her mother as an excuse for thinking this way, that this is how she was “taught.”

Clearly, she missed out on the good manners lesson. Skipped right past the golden rule, too. And failed kindergarten if that’s the case!

What these people don’t get is that when women start hating on other women, the patriarchy wins. Let’s get back to that Fortune article with this quote because this very prevalent and treacherous belief belies one thing:

the misogynistic attitude that women’s bodies are dangerous and must be concealed.

So I have to ask: why? Why do we need to cover our butts to wear leggings? Why do 5 extra inches of shirt fabric suddenly turn a pair of pants from scandalous to acceptable? Is it the panty lines? Let me tell you: those lines would probably still be visible in your jeans, so that ain’t a good excuse.

I’m guessing it’s the fat jiggle.

Why is the jiggle of cellulite such a horror to one’s eyes? Guess what, everyone has it. Except for the .01% of people blessed (or cursed?) with different genes, we all have cellulite. I’m willing to bet that even the 115-pound septuagenarian does. And even if she doesn’t, her skin definitely isn’t as firm as it once was and jiggles just the same.

When did we all buy into the hype that if we don’t have a thigh gap that we don’t deserve to show off our rear ends?

Look, if you want to hide your butt under a tunic-length shirt, that is absolutely your prerogative. But do it because you want to not because society is telling you that you have to. Stop subscribing to the limiting belief that your body is ugly or that it has to be hidden away under loose garments. It’s just a body, and it’s yours and it’s pretty incredible because it’s unlike anyone else’s at all.

My 17-year-old niece is that .01% of young women who can “pull off” leggings with cropped tops all the time. She’s a dancer and runner, and naturally slim and strong (she also deadlifts!). Because of her societally acceptable shape, no one is going to tell her to stop. But a fat 40-something woman with a muffin top and jiggly butt doesn’t get the same reception.

And it doesn’t matter. Do you know what this butt can do? It can hip thrust 135 pounds off the ground, thank you very much. That’s more than my incredibly strong and smart niece even weighs. It can also deadlift 255 pounds while barely breaking a sweat. That’s probably more than you weigh.*

Curly haired woman at the gym dressed in black deadlifting 250 pound barbell

250 pounds deadlifted for breakfast, no sweat

I am STRONG in this otherwise fat body. And even if I wasn’t, my butt still deserves to have stretch fabric lovingly conform to its jiggly lumps without shame and without the extra coverage of a long shirt.

So while you try to tell me that people who look like me don’t belong in leggings outside of the gym, I will kindly tell you to shut the hell up. Because while I may not look the way society wants their leggings-clad women to look, it’s absolutely none of yours or anyone else’s business what I do or don’t wear.

And I would love if everyone felt that they too could do the same. Leggings for everyone!

Back view of 4 women wearing black leggings as pants without their shirts covering their butts, with their arms around each other

*And if that’s not more than you weigh, don’t you worry. One of these days I’ll be able to deadlift more than you weigh, too! #goals

Please pin!

Back view of 4 women wearing black leggings with their arms around each other and text overlay that reads 3 important reasons why leggings ARE pants, petite font dot com


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M.L. James
Sep 4, 2019 3:41 pm

Paulette, if ever there were a provocative discussion… I’m all for live and let live. Even so, there’s no doubt that I’m going to laugh inappropriately because of something that tickles my funny bone; often it’s at myself looking into the mirror trying to figure out what the hell happened to my body as I’ve aged and gained and gained some more. Just exactly what did happen? And when? But that’s just me. I wear leggings, especially in the winter. Hey in my house in the summer, I often just wear a shirt and undies when I can get away… Read more »

M.L. James
Sep 4, 2019 9:08 pm
Reply to  Paulette Erato

No one’s ever accused me of being quiet or subservient, that’s for sure! I feel like you have more to say about systems and that leggings are just the tip of something more! I’m hesitant to try and guess, though. Which systems? Which people? Anyway, I’m listening and would love to hear more. Mona

M.L. James
Sep 5, 2019 10:16 am
Reply to  Paulette Erato


Sep 6, 2019 6:01 pm

I’m afraid that I have to stand by my statement that leggings are not pants. Leggings are leggings. Leggings totally can get ladders just like pantyhose or tights, or sweaters or t-shirts for that matter they are knit fabrics after all. Hosiery includes socks too. Hosiery does not have to be sheer. Opaque tights are totally a thing, my favorites are cable knit tights in bright colors. What we now call leggings used to be called running tights and bike shorts (my dad is a track coach and my uncle was an Olympic long jumper we had lots of running… Read more »

Sep 8, 2019 12:32 pm
Reply to  Paulette Erato

True, your 3rd argument is totally valid. People should not feel bad about wearing what they want to wear just because of the size or shape of their bodies. You could have even argued that many garments that we wear were previously not accepted as wear alone garments fashion and modesty are always changing. Men used to be considered undressed if they took off their jackets. T-shirts were underwear. I love the sociology of what people wear and the way their choices affect society. Even the way the language of fashion affects our choices is fascinating.