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Know Your Fashion: A History of Leggings

Interested of knowing the history of leggings?

At this point, we all know how fashion goes: every trend from every era comes back eventually. Leggings are no exception. You can trace back its origins to the 14th century! While it is primarily a staple in a woman's wardrobe nowadays, it was a part of men's fashion and style first.

We did find it odd how much controversy leggings generate. People debate about leggings, ban them from institutions, and aid years of arguments of how they're a garment that's too exposed or body-hugging. But everyone enjoys the comfort and range of motion leggings provide. We espouse health benefits and compare outfit ideas. After athleisure revolutionized American fashion trends, we haven't looked back.

Today, perhaps we should. Let's dive back deep into the long and complicated history of leggings that led to their popularity today. Read on for fascinating stories from every century!

By the way, have you seen our Dark Ping Leopard Leggings?


The 14th Century: Early Beginnings

Before becoming a single piece of clothing, leggings started as two, separate boot-like garments. These early versions of leggings secure at either your waist or hip. Back then, you could secure your leggings with laces and buckles.

Men typically wore these thick garments for both casual and military purposes. Early manufacturers used chain link or leather. In the military, leggings served as protective outerwear against dirt, sand, and mud.

Leggings popped up out of necessity. Years of use and animal and insect bites can significantly impact a pair of pants back then - and even today! Another benefit to leggings parallel to present advantages is heat regulation.

Leggings first made an appearance in Scotland during the 14th century and spread all over Europe since then.

We won't see leggings on women until the 19th century - before then, leggings were all worn by men.

50’s and 60’s: The Start of Fashion

Even in the nearer past, leggings weren’t the same thing we know now. Think more like skin-tight trousers instead of the legwear we’re familiar with! The first lycra leggings made an appearance in 1959. Lycra is a type of synthetic fiber known for its elasticity, and you can still purchase lycra or lycra blend leggings today!

At this point, leggings moved into high fashion, shapewear, and women’s clothing and apparel. You can even spot leggings making their humble beginnings as they started to pop on actresses and fashion icons’ closets. Audrey Hepburn wore a skin-tight, black ensemble with leggings as Jo Stockton in the musical “Funny Face.” Sophia Loren, an Italian actress, wore a loose black top paired with dark leggings while dancing. If you can believe it, the popular crop top and legging set can be traced back then! Debbie Reynolds posed in a crop top and leggings set for a studio portrait. Shift dresses and blouses paired up with the new trend.

The 70s and 80s: Mainstream Acclaim

So, what put leggings into mainstream fashion? Only one of the most iconic films in history! The 1979 musical film Grease featured nylon leggings on the main character, Sandy Olsson, played by Olivia Newton-John. Her tight, shiny all-black outfit became the catalyst for the trend to gain momentum.

Another iconic movie for leggings was Flashdance, which first premiered in 1983. Aspiring professional dancer Alex Owens, portrayed by Jennifer Beal, wore leggings shot after shot. Meanwhile, Jane Fonda workouts boomed. Shiny, nylon leggings, neon-bright colors, and tight leotards saturated her workout videos.

From films, leggings took on another life on stage. Superstar and performer Madonna wore them during her concerts and in her infamous Like A Virgin music video. From basic styles and hues, leggings became cropped, colorful, and patterned! Bold looks were all the rage. Leopard prints, shining silver, and mismatched plaids covered leggings on runways.

The 90s and 2000s: New Inventions

The style slowly simmers down as we near the early 2000s. Instead of the tight fit of leggings, people went for the baggier look in many pants during the era. However, this doesn’t mean leggings were eradicated: sheer, cut-out designs made them an ideal fit for summer wear. Short skirts and summer dresses appeared with leggings underneath them. Despite its history as being for men, “meggings” became a thing in the early 2000s.

Today: Breaking Barriers

In the era of skinny jeans, a fashion combination occurred: jeggings. These leggings were designed to look like skin-tight jeans, complete with fake pockets and belt loops. Some jeggings had designs that only looked like denim, while others had a blend of both denim and spandex.

Then, we arrive at the present era - athleisure. The term was first coined in 2014. It blurred the lines between workout wear and streetwear, bridging comfort, ease, and style to a whole new level.

Athleisure wasn’t just a trend, but a breaking of walls. Before, you wore sportswear for sports, loungewear for the home, casual clothing for a regular day outside, and so on. Athleisure broke down these barriers between what was supposed to be worn and what wasn’t for specific days and events. Appropriateness was thrown out the window - but not without a lot of protests.

Thinkpieces, style guides, and articles about leggings being banned or girls sent home from airports and schools for wearing leggings dominated the news. But leggings continue to thrive.

Brands of activewear pop up. Synthetic fibers weave new types of leggings and yoga pants that are even more breathable, elastic, and fashionable. Compression leggings became a favorite among athletes and postpartum women. Technology allowed leggings to have micro-massagers, which help reduce varicose veins and cellulite.

Until now, leggings paired up with crop tops, leather jackets, graphic tees, and boots. High-waisted and leather leggings became the trend. The popular pairing of boots with leggings resulted in a 2017 legging-boot hybrid for Balenciaga called pantashoes. However, the number of arguments still hasn’t lessened. Tights aren’t pants, critics proclaim, and they’re certainly not appropriate for everyday use.

However, no matter how many people push back on leggings, and no matter how many of its trends start and end, leggings are here to stay. The comfort and protection it offers have been around since the 14th century! With such a long and complicated history, there’s no doubt that leggings will always have their place in fashion. Though we still live in the heyday of athleisure, it’s only a matter of time what innovation and trend it’ll bring back.

Did you read about: Top 5 Reasons Why Leggings are Better than Jeans

Also, check out Butterfly leggings and contact us if you have any questions.


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