UncategorizedBest leggings of 2021 | CNN Underscored

Best leggings of 2021 | CNN Underscored




CNN
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Chances are, if you’re reading this you’ve gone through your fair share of leggings over the years — and perhaps you’re looking for a new go-to pair to suit your needs. Easier said than done in an oversaturated market and when buying them online before trying them out for size, we know.

So we rounded up 10 staffers who wear a range of sizes (and who all have some pretty strong opinions on leggings) to test over a dozen pairs in a quest to find the very best of the best, both for everyday wear and for working out, in terms of quality, comfort, style and more. Of course, we understand that as with any fashion choice, what some deem stylish others may not, so we made sure to cull as many thoughts as possible and present our collective consensus where applicable. Note that for accurate comparison’s sake, all of the pairs we tested were high-waisted and black or dark-colored. While most of the leggings we tried had their merits, ultimately four stood out to us.

Best overall leggings

Featuring, as its name suggests, pockets big enough to stash things like your phone or wallet, we loved this pair for its comfort during workouts and everyday activities alike, high-quality construction, secure waistband and chic aesthetic.

Best workout leggings

Serious yogis and fitness buffs seeking a legging that will let them focus on their movements and perhaps make them forget they’re wearing any leggings at all won’t be let down by the Lululemon Align Pant. Lightweight yet opaque, the Align’s buttery-soft feel and the stretchiness it offered were like no other legging we tested.

Best leggings to wear as pants

The Zella Live-In High Waist Legging’s durable, slightly heavier-weight, compressive but non-constricting fabric and ability to pair with virtually anything in our wardrobe won us over.

Best budget leggings

The Colorful Koala Women’s High Waisted Yoga Pants are soft, comfortable leggings — with substantial pockets to boot — that we found as much a pleasure to wear during workouts as we did lounging around the house.

Athleta Salutation Stash Pocket II 7/8 Tight

Athleta

Athleta Salutation Stash Pocket II 7/8 Tight

We’ve long been fans of the Athleta brand for all things active-related (including their breathable masks for working out), and so it was no surprise that we were beyond impressed by the Salutation Stash Pocket II 7/8 Tight. A newer version of Athleta’s customer-favorite Salutation Stash Pocket Tight, this pair is crafted from the same fabric as the original but with some improvements, like a sturdier waistband and fewer seams for a smoother legging.

The breathable leggings are made from Powervita fabric, a blend of nylon/Lycra spandex that the brand describes as having “interlocking construction to provide light compression that delivers just-right support.” Based on our testing, we can indeed confirm this to be accurate: After both working out in these and wearing them for everyday activities — including a whole lot of lounging around the house — we found the leggings were equal parts comfortable, sweat-wicking and flattering. Even after wearing them a few days in a row without washing them, they continued to be formfitting and didn’t stretch or sag in any areas. We had no issues with the secure waistband.

The Salutation Stash Pocket II is available in sizes XXS–3XL in its regular inseam length (25 inches), XXS–XL in the petite inseam (23 inches) and XS–XL in tall (28 inches). For taller folks or those looking for a full-length legging, the style is also available in inseams up to 30 inches. We found sizing to be accurate, and appreciated how opaque the pair was — no chance of a see-through surprise while wearing these. They also feature discreet side pockets that lie flat against the legging, for convenience that doesn’t add any bulkiness to their design, a particular surprise since the pockets are substantial enough to fit a phone or wallet. In eight muted colors, including plenty of neutrals, its aesthetic doesn’t scream “workout legging,” and we could see ourselves just as easily wearing it to brunch as we could to the fitness studio. And for outdoor wear, this pair has the added bonus of UPF 50+ for protection against UV rays.

After washing and drying these leggings several times during our testing, we didn’t observe any noticeable pilling, fading or stretching, though one of our testers did notice some lint/pet hair buildup, which was easily removable with a sticky roller. (Note that we plan on updating this piece should we observe any significant wear and tear or issues with durability after even more extended wear.)

We realize that a near-$100 price point may cause some sticker shock, but you get, as they say, what you pay for: In this case, high-quality, versatile leggings with all the features and comfort you’d expect in an ideal pair for both everyday and high-impact activities. As one of our testers put it, “This is my first pair of upscale leggings and it’s a world of difference.” If you’re looking for comfortable, durable, stylish leggings that you can seamlessly take from an outdoor run to a meal with friends, we can’t think of a better pair than this one.

Lululemon Align Pant

Lululemon

Lululemon Align Pant

The Lululemon brand is practically synonymous with the word “athleisure,” and whether you love it or love to hate it, one thing is certain: Lululemon makes some seriously fantastic leggings with a fandom that can only be described as cult-favorite status. Yes, $98 may seem like a steep price to pay, but if you’re serious about your fitness and/or yoga gear, there are several reasons you’ll want to add the Lululemon Align Pant to your workout wardrobe.

Touching the fabric of the Align, to the Lululemon newbies in the room, is a sensation like none other, giving new meaning to the phrase “buttery soft.” (One of our testers may or may not have audibly oohed and aahed the first time she put them on.) The leggings scored perfect marks for everyday comfort and stretch and nearly perfect marks for comfort during high-impact activities; we soon came to understand what people mean when they say they truly forget they’re wearing any leggings at all with these on. We loved how lightweight yet opaque this pair was, and how secure the high waistband remained throughout workouts. Only one tester had an issue with the waistband rolling, but that seemed to be an issue due to sizing: Based on our experience (and on plenty of customer reviews noting the same), we might recommend sizing down one size for the most comfortable fit. As a bonus, the nylon-Lycra elastane fabric seemed to magically repel pet hair for one of our testers who is used to living her life in black leggings covered in white dog and cat hair.

A couple of caveats: The material is a bit too thin to wear comfortably on chilly days outdoors for an extended time. (We learned this the hard way while wearing the Aligns during a socially distant brunch outdoors in near freezing temperatures.) Also, according to our long-term wearers on staff, they tend to pill on the inner thighs over time if you don’t have a thigh gap — and honestly, how many of us do? — but it isn’t terribly noticeable and has never resulted in holes or tearing.

The Align Pant is available in sizes 0 through 20, and in three inseams: 25-inch, 28-inch and 31-inch (they see you, tall people!). Color offerings depend on the inseam, with the cropped version coming in 17 colors and patterns, the middle inseam in nine and the tallest inseam in four. With a basic silhouette, the pair also features a hidden waistband pocket big enough to fit a credit card, small stash of cash, or a key.

If you’re looking for a sweat-wicking, breathable legging that’ll move with you no matter what type of workout you’re doing, and one that’s so comfortable you’ll nearly forget you’re wearing them at all, the Lululemon Align Pant is an investment we can get behind.

Zella Live-In

Nordstrom

Zella Live-In

Ah, the age-old debate: Whether leggings can double as pants. Whatever your feelings were on this polarizing question before the pandemic? Yeah, we’re gonna go ahead and assume that nowadays it’s a resounding yes across the board.

For what it’s worth, we’ve always been on team Leggings as Pants, and after testing out the Zella Live-In Leggings, even more so. They’re designed like your standard pair of everyday leggings — seams on either side, gusset for additional support, wide waistband — with only a small, penny-sized circular logo near the hip. As an added bonus, they feature a blink-and-you’ll miss it discreet pocket on the left side of the waistband just big enough for a credit card or some keys (as much as we tried to wedge one in, our phone just wouldn’t make it).

While we didn’t find these leggings ideal for sweaty workouts due to their shapewear-like, compressing fit, that’s the very same reason we enjoyed them as everyday pants to rock during our work-from-home day, walks around the neighborhood with our dog and even just napping on a lazy weekend. They’re crafted from a poly-spandex blend that feels high-quality and well worth their $59. We were fans of the secure waistband that didn’t budge (even during workouts), and as one of our testers put it, “These wouldn’t be my go-to exercise leggings, but I would definitely throw them on if I were being lazy and wearing leggings to work or out to a bar.” (Remember casually going out to bars?)

Available in sizes XXS–XXL (or roughly sizes 00 through 20), with sizing that we found to be accurate, the Zella Live-In is available in six colors. One tester at 5’8” considered these to be the perfect length, but those on the shorter side should note, however, that the inseam length for size medium is 28.5 inches. Fear not, as they’re available in a cropped version (with side pockets!) as well.

We also appreciate that the Zella leggings are made in a factory that, according to the product’s description, “supports women worker empowerment through HERproject, which creates partnerships to enable workplace-based interventions on health, financial inclusion and gender equality.”

They held up well after some rounds through the wash, and one one-term wearer of this pair notes that she’s washed them countless times and they’ve remained a dark black with no pilling; one editor noticed minimal pilling near the thighs after prolonged wear. Given their comparative mid-range price point, we think if you’re looking for new leggings to pair with your boots and chunky sweaters in the winter and sandals and breezy T-shirts in the summer, these are the best your money can buy.

Colorful Koala Women's High Waisted Yoga Pants 7/8 Length Leggings with Pockets

Amazon

Colorful Koala Women’s High Waisted Yoga Pants 7/8 Length Leggings with Pockets

Perhaps you’ve stumbled across leggings from this delightfully named brand on Amazon and, like us, immediately wondered, “Could more than 20,000 five-star reviews be wrong?” Well, reader, it turns out, they could not: In our opinion, the Colorful Koala Women’s High Waisted Yoga Pant is indeed a five-star budget-priced legging that ticks pretty much all the boxes given its affordable price point.

We loved how supportive the stretchy, soft material was during workouts, and though these leggings aren’t as buttery-soft or “second skin”-level stretchy as the Lululemon Align Pant, for almost a quarter of the price tag they come pretty darn close. While one of our testers had issues with the waistband periodically rolling down, she still appreciated how secure the leggings made her feel while exercising, particularly given the price.

And they come through in the durability department as well. One editor who’s been wearing this pair regularly since last year notes that while they do start to attract fuzz and fade after some time, after wearing them at least twice a week for several months, she even found them to be holding up better than her Align leggings as far as pilling. We also noticed that they did a good job of repelling pet hair, as the fibers of this poly-spandex fabric don’t seem to attract stiff hairs but rather allow them to slide right off.

Available in 33 colors and patterns (we’re partial to the various shades of camo), these Colorful Koala leggings come in sizes XS-XL. While we do wish they offered more expansive sizing options, if you find your size isn’t available, for a similar pair at the same price point, the CRZ Yoga leggings are a worthy budget runner-up that also offers sizes XXS and XXL (scroll down for the full review of these). While these Colorful Koala leggings come only in an approximately 25-inch inseam, the brand also offers a full-length legging with a 28-inch inseam that trades side pockets for a hidden waistband pockets; though it also has tens of thousand of five-star reviews, we didn’t test this pair four ourselves, though, so can’t vouch for its quality.

Basically: For under $30, we think you’ll be more than pleased by the quality, fit and comfort of these leggings.

We researched the top leggings on the market as well as considered staff-recommended pairs that our editors have worn for years — for both working out and everyday wear, across a range of prices — and settled on a pool of 13 to put to the test.

We wore each legging several times, both before and after washing it, during high-impact, sweaty workouts as well as for lounging around the house and low-impact everyday activities to determine how comfortable each pair was overall. We considered whether the waistband rode up or rolled down during workouts, and if the leggings pinched or were otherwise uncomfortable to wear. We washed each pair at least four times, noting if running them through typical wash and dry cycles resulted in any noticeable pilling, fading or change in softness; we also observed whether the leggings attracted lint and pet hair, and used additional anecdotal evidence about durability from staffers with any long-term experience with leggings we tested. We looked at whether sizing was accurate and aligned with our normal sizes and if the leggings fit well across a range of body types.

We also considered the range of sizes, inseams and colors available, as well as factored in our collective (albeit subjective, of course) thoughts about each pair’s stylishness. We noted when pairs had fewer seams (which often results in less chafing, more comfort and a more flattering fit overall) and if they were designed with a gusset (a piece of material sewn into the crotch area to reinforce it, resulting in a more durable legging).

Finally, we gave every pair the “squat test” to see how opaque the material was, noted how moisture-wicking the fabric seemed to be during runs/workouts, looked at how much stretch and movement the fabric had and considered whether the leggings were crafted using eco-friendly, sustainable and/or organic materials.

Based on the categories and testing procedures listed above, we gave all leggings a score in each subcategory, combined those numbers for a maximum score in each category, then totaled those numbers for a final overall score. We broke down the scores as follows:

  • Function/fit had a total of 50 points: comfort (20 points), durability (15 points), fit across sizes (10 points) and sizing accuracy (5 points)
  • Style had a total of 45 points: size availability (10 points), inseam availability (10 points), color availability (10 points), general aesthetics (5 points), seams (5 points) and gusset (5 points)
  • Material had a total of 35 points: opacity (10 points), moisture-wicking ability (10 points), amount of stretch (10 points) and eco-friendly and/or organic fabric (5 points).

We also took value into consideration, weighing the leggings’ price points against their quality.

Lululemon Wunder Under High-Rise Tight ($98; lululemon.com)

Lululemon Wunder Under High-Rise Tight

Lululemon

Lululemon Wunder Under High-Rise Tight

While this pair didn’t quite have that “second skin”-type stretch to it as the Lululemon Aligns did, we were still impressed by their comfort and performance. We appreciated their supportive but non-constricting waistband, their opacity and their smooth, soft feel to the touch. Some long-term wearers of the Wunder Unders have noted they’ve held up exceedingly well after years of washes, with no pilling, lint or fading to note, making them a worthy investment for their nearly three-figure price tag.

Our testers considered this pair stylish enough to wear outside of the gym (they also have a hidden waistband pocket big enough to fit a credit card), and their thicker fabric makes them a good choice to wear in chillier weather too. That said, some of us felt the material was a little too thick and constricting for optimally comfortable workouts in warmer weather, and one found the waistband to sometimes roll beneath her belly button during workouts, which wasn’t ideal. If, however, you’re looking for leggings that feel a bit more like shapewear and give you that “held in” feeling — and/or you want a good pair for running outdoors when the weather isn’t sweltering — these are a great option that have proven excellent at standing up to years of wear. They’re available in sizes 00–20, in 25-inch and 28-inch inseams and seven colors.

Girlfriend Collective Compressive High-Rise Legging ($68; girlfriend.com)

Girlfriend Collective Compressive High-Rise Legging

Girlfriend Collective

Girlfriend Collective Compressive High-Rise Legging

We found these leggings to be very comfortable for everyday wear, and they racked up a perfect score in opacity, passing the squat test with flying colors. Each pair is made from recycled water bottles (25 of ‘em, to be exact), and we’re big fans of Girlfriend Collective’s ethos of creating sustainable garments and upholding ethical work environments.

A few other things we loved about these leggings: They’re available in perhaps the widest range of sizes of all the pairs we tested, from XXS–6XL (for context, they accommodate waists from 22.5 to 52 inches and hips from 32 to 62.5 inches), and their three inseams also span a wide range (19.5, 23.75 and 28.5 inches), so finding the ideal length no matter your height is in the bag. From our experience, they seem to be true to size. The leggings are available in six colors as well as four additional limited-edition colors at the moment. They also wash and dry beautifully, looking as good as new after several wash cycles.

The material, true to this product’s name, is compressive without feeling restrictive, plus the leggings also feature much-coveted small side pockets. This pair ultimately didn’t snag a winning spot, however, because we found them to be a bit too stiff for comfortable high-impact workouts, and our testers had mixed feelings about the waistband consistently staying put throughout an exercise session. If you’re looking for a pair of everyday leggings that you can feel good about wearing, though, we think these are a solid pair — and we appreciate the brand’s commitment to inclusive sizing and eco-friendly manufacturing.

CRZ Yoga High-Waist Tight Yoga Pants (starting at $26; amazon.com)

CRZ Yoga High-Waist Tight Yoga Pants

Amazon

CRZ Yoga High-Waist Tight Yoga Pants

Long considered a budget-friendly pair comparable to the ranks of Lululemon’s Align, we sought out to find out if the comparison was warranted. What we found was a legging that delivers a whole lot for a relatively paltry price tag. Available in a whopping 41 colors and patterns, aesthetically these leggings are a no-frills pair that indeed feel almost as buttery-soft as the Aligns, albeit a tad less sturdy. (They also feature a tiny hidden waistband pocket, like the Align.) While most of us found them to be as comfortable for intense workouts as for lounging around the house, nearly forgetting we were wearing any leggings at all, one tester did have some issues with the waistband, which tended to roll down consistently during runs.

A few other reasons we didn’t ultimately name the CRZ Yoga leggings our best budget pair: Larger sizes tended to be less opaque, and the fabric attracted more lint and pet hair than we’d prefer. Still, after several washes, we didn’t observe any noticeable pilling or fading, and they remained as soft and comfortable as the first wear. We also appreciated that these leggings are available in sizes XXS through XXL, a wider range than most of the budget-priced pairs we tested.

The Colorful Koala leggings edged out this pair by just a tiny margin, pushed ahead because of its convenient larger pockets and a more secure waistband. And like with the Colorful Koala leggings, if you’re on the taller side, you might find the cropped length a tad too short, namely for outdoor wear in colder weather, but they are also available in a 28-inch inseam (again, though, we didn’t test the full-length option ourselves).

Leggings Depot High-Waisted Legging (starting at $9.99; amazon.com)

Leggings Depot High-Waisted Legging

Amazon

Leggings Depot High-Waisted Legging

Given this pair’s over-15,000 five-star ratings and $10 price point, we knew we had to try it for ourselves to see what all the hype could be about. Could all these customers be wrong? Well, yes and no. For 10 bucks, you get what you’d expect: a super-comfortable pair of leggings, and that’s about it.

Unlike all the other leggings in our testing pool, this pair is not designed with a gusset, meaning that it’s more likely to be prone to tearing at the crotch area. While the leggings scored high marks in the opaque and stretchiness categories, and they’re soft both inside and out, they’re not optimal for working out, as the material is a bit too thick for for ideal comfort during a sweat sesh, and they didn’t seem to be very sweat-wicking either (not a surprise given their low price point). If you’re looking for a pair to lounge around or sleep in and not much else, though? These will do just fine, and you won’t break the bank stocking up on a few. They’re also available in a staggering 44 colors and patterns.

Old Navy High-Waisted Elevate Compression Leggings ($18, originally $29.99; oldnavy.gap.com)

Old Navy High-Waisted Elevate Compression Leggings

Old Navy

Old Navy High-Waisted Elevate Compression Leggings

We were pleasantly surprised by this pair, given their budget price point. The Old Navy leggings retained their shape and color really well (even after multiple washes), were exceedingly comfy and breathable, and are designed in an unassuming way that makes wearing them as part of a non-workout outfit easy-breezy. The full-length leggings are not only available in sizes XS–XXL, but they also come in three inseams, 26.5, 28 and 31 inches, the latter of which — bonus for the taller folks in the room — is among the longest inseams offered out of all the pairs we tested.

While they are crafted with a moisture-wicking poly-spandex blend, they didn’t ultimately snag a winning spot, as we found the Colorful Koala pair to have a more flattering fit (one of our testers noted the Old Navy leggings pooled at the ankles a bit), with the addition of pockets and a material that wasn’t a magnet for lint and pet hair, as these tended to be.

Fabletics Trinity High-Waisted Utility Legging ($84.95 for non-members or $59.95 for members; fabletics.com)

Fabletics Trinity High-Waisted Utility Legging

Fabletics

Fabletics Trinity High-Waisted Utility Legging

There wasn’t much not to like about this pair of leggings — in fact, it scored top marks pretty much across the board, with particularly high scores for both comfort and stylishness. We love that these have pockets (both side pockets and a discreet back zipper pocket), how they fared well after multiple wash-and-dry cycles, snapping right back into shape and looking good as new, and how well they kept us warm outdoors in near-freezing temperatures. They come in three inseams, are offered in sizes XXS–4XL and are available in 11 colors, from neutrals to bright and bold hues.

A few things to mention: Although certainly useful, the pockets don’t lie flush against the shape of the leggings, so when sitting down they kind of stuck out. Also, after hours of wear, one of our testers noted that the compressing high waist started to feel a little tight. One of the main reasons we didn’t crown these our overall winning pair, though? Fabletics’ subscription-based business model. While new members can snag two pairs for the ridiculously wallet-friendly price of two for $24, existing members pay $59.95. If you don’t want to commit to a $49.95-per-month membership, you’ll be shelling out $84.95 per pair. If you’ve already bought into the Fabletics membership or are thinking about it, you can’t go wrong with these leggings.

Oalka Women Yoga Pants Workout Running Leggings (starting at $9.99; amazon.com)

Oalka Women Yoga Pants Workout Running Leggings

Amazon

Oalka Women Yoga Pants Workout Running Leggings

What we loved about these leggings: They’re available in 61 (nope, not a typo!) colorways and patterns, with the option to select a pocketed or non-pocketed design. The pockets are big enough to fit a standard smartphone, and they scored high marks in the opacity category. Overall, we were impressed by their quality given their $20 price point.

What we didn’t love: Sizing was a bit off for all of our testers (some noted that the leggings ran a little big and others said they ran too small in their normal size), and they were longer than ideal. For those on the shorter side, this can be a dealbreaker since only one inseam length is offered. We didn’t find them stylish enough to be seamlessly integrated into an everyday outfit — aesthetically, they’re decidedly a workout legging — and placement of the pocket was awkward. The design of the front seam wasn’t very flattering, we found the waistband frequently had a hard time staying put and the fabric was a bit too stiff for the most comfortable workouts.

Outdoor Voices Springs 7/8 Leggings ($78; outdoorvoices.com)

Outdoor Voices Springs 7/8 Leggings

Outdoor Voices

Outdoor Voices Springs 7/8 Leggings

Among all the leggings we tested, this Outdoor Voices pair held up perhaps the best of them all — after our tests, they proved to be super-durable after many workouts and washes, appearing like new, with no pilling, fading or lint to speak of. They didn’t shrink when one of our testers put them in the dryer on a hot cycle too, and there was no color transfer from either.

They’re a super-stylish, flattering pair that made us feel confident when wearing ‘em, both for exercising and doing everyday stuff. Compared to the other higher-end leggings we tested, however, we didn’t find these to blow us away in the comfort department, particularly during sweaty, high-impact workouts. Overall, our testers wished the fabric allowed for freer movement and weren’t quite as stiff, though they’d be a great pair for outdoor activity on cooler days. We appreciated their relatively expansive size range (from XXS through 3XL), though note that they are available in just two colorways and one inseam length. They’re also shipped in 100% recycled paper envelopes or recyclable boxes, and according to the brand it has been reducing its use of conventional fabrics in favor of more sustainable materials.

JoyLab High-Waisted Seamless 7/8 Leggings ($34; target.com)

JoyLab High-Waisted Seamless 7/8 Leggings

Target

JoyLab High-Waisted Seamless 7/8 Leggings

We had mixed feelings about these JoyLab leggings from Target. While some of our testers appreciated how soft and stretchy they were, for the most part, we found them unsupportive and uncomfortable for workouts. The design of these leggings was polarizing, with some finding their aesthetic stylish and others not so much. (The perforated detail is really not ideal for colder climates and some of us weren’t a fan of the really noticeable ribbing on the waistband and ankles). A bit less opaque than our favorites in the testing pool, these did, however, hold up well after several washes. The leggings are available in four colors and sizes XS through XL. Although we had intended on initially testing a different pair of JoyLab leggings, we learned that they had been discontinued and that this style was the most similar. Unfortunately, these just didn’t hit the mark for us overall.

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