Leggings vs Tights vs Yoga Pants
Yoga pants and leggings have been a popular fashion staple for women for several years now, with avid fans who may or may not be into fitness. Their popularity primarily stems from them being comfortable, versatile and fashionable at the same time.
Of late, however, we usually see the words ‘leggings,’ ‘tights’ and yoga pants being used interchangeably. But tights seem to have been around far longer than either leggings or yoga pants, or have they?
Today, we’re determined to give clarity to this fashion grey area, so you know exactly whether the bottoms you want or are wearing are yoga pants, leggings or tights.
Leggings, Tights, Yoga Pants — What’s the Difference?
When talking about leggings, tights and yoga pants differences, you need to keep an open mind and be ready to re-learn what you think you know. And to make sure you read to the end and feel enlightened, we’re going to revisit the origin of each type of clothing item and learn a bit of history, too.
The Origin of Leggings
Perhaps your first memory of leggings would be Jane Fonda wearing them in one of her bestselling fitness videos or Olivia Newton-John dancing in them while singing ‘Let’s Get Physical.’ Or it could be your mum wearing leggings (or even jeggings) in a picture while she was pregnant with you.
Whatever your earliest exposure to leggings, know that they’ve been making their rounds for centuries.
As it turns out, leggings started as a trend back in the 14th century. And like makeup, leggings were originally made for men in Scotland. The mother of all leggings was actually two separate boot-like apparatuses that reached the hips. These were constructed from either chainmail or leather and were worn as part of military or casual attire.
By the time the Renaissance came, these rather rigid, tough bottoms had evolved into thick garments that looked more like tights. Men wore these leggings underneath their cotehardies (a type of close-fitting outer garment).
Some Native Americans also wore separate leggings made of buckskin. This ‘style’ was eventually adopted by fur trappers, mountain men and cowboys, to mention a few. In cold countries like Russia and Korea, people wore woollen leggings for warmth.
With the invention of Lycra (a.k.a. spandex or elastane) in 1958 by a chemist named Joseph Shivers, leggings made from this material came into being. These led to the ever-so-popular slim, stretchy pants of the 1960s which were paired with mod shift dresses.
During the 1970s, both punk rock and pop artists like Debbie Harry (a.k.a. Blondie) and Olivia Newton-John in ‘Grease’ began sporting leggings in their music videos and performances. By the 1980s, leggings took on a wider colour range, fuelled by the popularity of aerobics videos and artists like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper famously wearing them during their concerts and in their music videos.
Of course, who can forget Jane Fonda in her leotards and leggings? It was also during the 1980s when capri-length leggings became popular. By the 1990s, the hip-hop craze overshadowed the popularity of the perennial leggings, although it was during this time that stirrup leggings became in vogue.
When the 2000s came, leggings came back full throttle as various celebrities — from the Olsen twins to Paris Hilton — began wearing them to the gym or casually under just about anything. Now, leggings are used for yoga and various athletic activities.
Celebrities like Kendall Jenner, Hailey Baldwin, Bella Hadid and other athleisure-loving young women have turned leggings into fashionable and more comfortable replacements for traditional pants.
The Origin of Tights
Now we’re about to answer the question posed earlier about tights being the older garment of the three. As it turns out, although tights may be descended from a garment older than leggings, they are a more recent fashion innovation.
Hosiery, or what we know to be hose or stockings, was worn as far back as the 9th century — at least, it was a type of hosiery comprising bandages of material kept together using strands of gut.
European men of nobility wore hose when horseback riding. This then evolved into hosiery made of fine silk or wool designed to fit as closely or tightly to the body as possible. Members of the lower classes also wore these garments — but their hoses were made of cheaper, coarser materials. Men wore this tight hose with a matching codpiece that covered their groin area.
Over time, wearing these ‘tights’ or stockings became primarily associated with women and girls, although it was only in the 18th century that women began sporting stockings. During this time, members of the upper class and nobility wore white or coloured stockings. People from the lower class wore black stockings.
By then, men had moved away from wearing breeches and stockings to trousers. With the Industrial Revolution, production quantities for stockings increased, making them more widely available.
When the 1920s came, synthetic yarns came into being, so manufacturers were able to make stockings that were sheerer than cotton but were durable and cheaper than silk. Fishnet stockings arrived in the 1930s and nylons with seams were introduced in 1949.
The tights we know today came around the 1950s in the UK, made by a company named Aristoc. These were constructed from nylon legs that were sewn onto nylon briefs. Tights became more popular in the 1960s and were usually worn with the fashionable miniskirt.
By 1968, one-piece tights by Pretty Polly became a trend, whilst patterned tights first appeared in the 1980s. With the new Lycra 3D technology introduced in the mid-1990s, tights became super smooth and more durable.
The Origin of Yoga Pants
Yoga pants, the ‘youngest’ garment type of the three, were introduced to the world by Lululemon.
They were Lululemon’s answer to the need for functional and fashionable yoga attire. Before yoga pants came into being, yoga students and enthusiasts would come to yoga class wearing drawstring trousers that kept falling or just about any type of bottoms that allowed them to assume various yoga positions. Needless to say, camel toes and wedgies were a common sight in workouts during that time.
In 1998, Lululemon introduced their yoga pants made from 86% nylon and 14% Lycra called ‘Luon.’ This patented material promised to deliver an unbeatable comfortable stretch, as well as breathability and moisture-wicking properties. Another retailer of women’s activewear named Athleta introduced their own version. Athleta yoga pants are made from ‘Pilayo,’ their signature fabric made up of 88% nylon and 12% Lycra.
From there, the yoga pants industry exploded, with new and fresh smaller women’s activewear brands cropping up. Today, we see an interesting and colourful array of yoga pants designed to meet every mood and aesthetic. There are even eco-friendly versions of yoga pants made from recycled bottles, as well as other durable and better-fitting alternatives.
How Are They Different, Exactly?
In the tights vs leggings vs yoga pants conversation, it’s best to go over the specific qualities of each type of clothing to know exactly at what points they are similar and different.
A Comparison Table of Main Features
To make it easier for you to visually identify and master the similarities and differences among leggings, tights and yoga pants, here’s a table that you can refer to.
|Main Difference||Made out of thin or flimsier, translucent fabric when compared to leggings and yoga pants||Made from thinner and tighter fabrics||Made from thicker material with some variations in style|
|Material||Nylon, Lycra, polyester, cotton||Blend of cotton and Lycra (spandex), faux leather and polyester, polyester and spandex blend, recycled polyester and spandex, or nylon and spandex||Blends of cotton, Lycra spandex, nylon, polyester, wool, or other light, stretchy synthetic fabrics|
|Used for||Look great when worn under dresses, skirts and shorts; not meant to be worn as a standalone garment||Yoga, running and other fitness activities; can also be worn under tunics, dresses and skirts||Yoga and as casual or loungewear|
|Length||May be high-waist, low-waist and some ending at the thigh (the so-called ‘thigh highs’)||Ankle or full length||Full-length coverage|
|Fit||Close- or tight-fitting||Close- or tight-fitting||Looser and more comfortable fit|
|How to Wash||Hand-wash tights and hosiery inside-out to protect the colour and preserve elasticity. Fill a wash basin or sink with tepid water. Add two capfuls of mild laundry detergent. Soak for about 30 minutes. If you want to use your machine, use a mesh bag, wash using a delicate cycle and cold-wash. Lay flat to dry.||For best results, turn leggings inside-out. Soak leggings in cold water with half a cup of white vinegar for 15-30 minutes. Use a small amount of mild laundry detergent to wash and rinse in cold water. Hang to dry.||Use only cold water for washing yoga pants. Do not expose to high temperatures. Always separate light from dark-coloured ones, and never wash your yoga pants with other clothes that have rough textures or hardware (such as buttons and zippers) as these can scratch the material. Add a scoop of sports laundry detergent and mix until bubbly and detergent is dissolved. Pre-soak the yoga pants for 15 minutes to remove stains and odour. Hand-wash or set to a gentle wash in the machine, rinse thoroughly and hang to dry to preserve their shape.|
|Styles||Tights typically cover the entire foot, but there are some that cover part of the foot, leaving the toes out, while other cuts end at the ankles.||Reach past the knee or ankles and are always figure-hugging or fitted||May be ankle or full-length and fitted, or featuring boot-cut, wide-leg or flared bottoms, or capris; may feature a wide waistband that can be folded over for added comfort or support|
|Colours||Mostly block colours||Various and printed||Various and printed|
|Brands||Wolford, Transparenze, Pretty Polly, Falke, Spanx, Scholl||Alo Yoga, Lucy Mat, Lululemon, Chi Chi, Sweaty Betty, Under Armour, Adidas||Lululemon, Athleta, Alo Yoga, L’urv, Xahara, Echt, 2XU, Active Truth, Nu Fizeek|
Leggings, Tights & Yoga Pants — A Closer Look
After looking at the chart, you get a fuller picture of where they are similar and where they diverge. Tights are a lot easier to distinguish because they are more closely aligned with their older cousin stockings and hosiery, compared with leggings and yoga pants.
Tights are generally made of the thinnest material of the three and are translucent, so they aren’t meant to be worn on their own. Leggings are made of thicker material, while yoga pants use the thickest fabric.
Yoga pants are sometimes viewed as the trendier or more streamlined version of track pants or sweatpants. But they can also be worn as loungewear or casualwear. On the other hand, leggings are popular activewear among women, but can also be worn under long shirts, tunics, skirts and dresses.
Some people might find it harder to differentiate leggings from yoga pants. But if there’s one thing you need to remember, it’s that all leggings can be used as yoga pants, but not all yoga pants are leggings.
What Are Leggings and How Are They Unique?
Leggings come in a wide range of patterns, materials and colours. They can be worn in and out of the gym, day or night. And although some people would rather have their use confined to gyms and fitness studios, leggings are already considered trendy fashion pieces.
Types of Leggings
There are three basic types of leggings: footless, stirrup and footed. Footless styles may be ankle or calf length, whilst stirrup types reach all the way to the foot. There are also footed leggings, but these are less common.
Footless styles are the most familiar as these can be seen virtually everywhere, at the gym, in the park, on the street, etc. Stirrup style leggings can be worn in boots or with running or dressy shoes.
Footed leggings are sometimes mistaken for tights, but these are made of thicker material and have a highly structured waistband. And, unlike tights that cannot be worn on their own, footed leggings work just like pants.
For the best kind of fit, make sure your leggings don’t feel too tight to avoid the dreaded muffin top. Also, the wider your waist, the higher the rise of your leggings should be. For women with wider hips and bigger bottoms, mid- to high-rise styles work best.
When it comes to leggings used in athletics, there are different styles to choose from:
- Scrunch-bum leggings
- Booty shaping leggings
- Seamless leggings
- High-waisted leggings
- Leggings of varying lengths: Full length leggings, 3/4 leggings, 7/8 leggings
- Leggings with pockets
- Pregnancy leggings
- Squat-proof leggings
What Are Tights and How Should They Fit?
Tights, unlike leggings and yoga pants, have been a fashion staple alongside other types of hosiery. They offer several benefits and come in different styles.
They provide warmth, have a slimming effect, protect the skin from the cold and prevent feet from getting blisters. Tights can make a ho-hum attire look chic and trendy.
These are the different types of tights:
- Sheer tights: These are quite flimsy, lightweight and see-through. They’re the best choice to wear during sunny weather.
- Opaque tights: There are semi-opaque, thick-opaque and mega thick-opaque tights that you can wear during colder weather. The fabric usually gets thicker the more opaque the style.
- Fishnet tights: Considered to be sexy tights, these can be worn in a certain way to achieve a vampish, punk or sophisticated look.
- Seamless tights: These tights come in different varieties, such as sheer, textured or vintage. Their primary purpose is to reduce the visibility of panty lines.
Like leggings, tights should not feel too tight but provide ample support and help streamline your figure.
What Are Yoga Pants?
As previously mentioned, yoga pants are designed precisely for yoga. They make it easier for yoga practitioners to perform various poses without any fear of their pants falling or camel toes and pit stains, among other things.
The comfort that yoga pants provide has turned them into popular casual and loungewear. You can wear yoga pants anywhere — at home, the gym or yoga studio, and while running errands.
Types of Yoga Pants
There are many different types of yoga pants. But on this list, we’ll talk about the more popular types of yoga pants.
- Yoga leggings: These are probably the most popular types of yoga pants. They fit snugly yet comfortably and extend from the waist down to the ankles. They are also worn as general activewear apparel and are made of soft, breathable, stretchy and moisture-wicking materials.
- Yoga shorts: For hot yoga or outdoor yoga sessions, yoga shorts are a sensible choice. Just like yoga leggings, these are comfortable, fitted and flexible, although there are also looser versions made of cotton blend fabrics.
- Yoga capris: These are cropped yoga pants that are midway yoga leggings and yoga shorts. They come in a variety of fabrics whilst some styles include an attached skirt.
- High-waist yoga pants: Just like high-waisted leggings, high-waist yoga pants tend to look more flattering on most women and provide ample support in the waist area.
- Loose-fitting yoga pants: Some yoga practitioners prefer less-restricting yoga apparel that is soft, comfortable, modest and flexible. These have an elastic waistband or feature a drawstring that can be easily adjusted. These yoga pants come in different cuts: wide leg, boot cut, bell bottom or capris.
When it comes to choosing the best yoga pants, it’s entirely a matter of personal preference. Opt for yoga pants that not only fit you well but also offer maximum comfort and ease of movement.
Choosing Between Tights, Leggings and Yoga Pants
Since we now know that tights, leggings and yoga pants are made to fit specific purposes (although there are instances when they do overlap), there’s no reason not to have all three.
So, go ahead and start browsing for the best tights, leggings and yoga pants to complete your style and athleisure arsenal. Happy activewear shopping!