The Rise of Leggings, They Are Not Just For Yoga!


Leggings have become the go to product for any fashion conscious girl, but do any of us really know the origin of this wardrobe staple? Worse still will leggings go out of style? Well read on to find out why Leggings are so popular and what makes up leggings history. The fashion cycle is an amazing roulette wheel, it’s only a matter of time before that once trendy item gets a remake and comes back around. (Just take a look at the recent revivals of '70s, '90s, 2000s, and now '80s trends.) 

When it comes to leggings, it turns out they've been "coming back" for centuries. While researching the history of leggings, we were surprised to discover that the origin of the trend dates way back to the 14th century, and men were actually the first to wear them (Talk about when leggings go wrong!) But since the mid-20th century, leggings have been a closet staple for “It Girls” and others who love them.


14th Century

The first known appearances of Leggings were on men in 14th-century Scotland. This should come as no surprise given it was the birthplace of the kilt a couple of centuries later. Research suggests they started life as a sort of military attire covering each leg up to hip height made up of leather or chainmail. They eventually evolved into thick garments, like tights, that men wore under their cotehardies during Renaissance times. Leggings remained a predominantly male trend up until the 19th century when women started wearing their own interpretation.



Today’s iteration of leggings really begins in 50’s. One of the original fashion girls, Audrey Hepburn, is as much associated with the rise of the Capri. Hepburn donned the slim, waist-defining cropped black pants for 1954's Sabrina, and many other women followed suit throughout the decade. While they weren't quite as fitted or spandex stretchy as today’s, they were a distinct departure from the wide-leg styles that were popular in the 1940s.



Following the invention of Lycra in 1958 and the first Lycra leggings made in 1959, the fashion industry embraced the innovative slim, stretchy trousers in the decade which followed. Popular fashion designers of the time like Mary Quant and Emilio Pucci could be found pairing them with the mod shift dresses.



Leggings reached dizzy new heights in the 70’s. Olivia Newton-John (and that iconic costume in Grease), and the stars of the popular Charlie's Angels TV series catapulted leggings into mainstream view. The bright colours and shimmers were a complete contrast to what had been seen in the previous two decades. Arguably closer to the iterations of today.



The legging craze of the 70’s transitioned seamlessly into the 80’s when Madonna adopted them as one of her wardrobe staples. She was frequently found wearing them on stage and infamously in her Like a Virgin video. The aerobics craze of the 80’s also fuelled the fire as did Jane Fonda who made a leotard worn over leggings her signature look. That’s not to suggest they weren’t given a good run for their money by joggers though. During the '80s, the Capri length became more popular and films like Flashdance and perfect did nothing to slow their uptake.



The legging trend started to cool a little in the '90s. Cindy Crawford shot her iconic Life magazine take as seen below, but the onslaught of MC Hammer meant that baggier trousers had increasingly become a trend for the decade across both men's and women's fashion. Joggers were fighting back.

Cindy Crawford Covershoot for Time Magazine

Photo: Courtesy of Life - 1990



Following their temporary decline, the turn of the 21st century saw an aggressive renaissance, as the decade's biggest “It Girls” started wearing pedal pushers, Capri’s were back with a vengeance, often worn under dresses and skirts. Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie and Britney Spears were amongst the celebrity fraternity to be seen casually wearing leggings. Toward the end of the decade, full-length leggings had started to become a common daily 



Throughout the twenty-tens, celebrities like Reese Whitherspoon, Kendall Jenner, Miley Cyrus and Jennifer Lopez have reintroduced leggings into our wardrobes. Our silver screen icons have made athleisure-wear leggings a real daily driver. 

Currently, the most popular versions are high waisted yoga leggings, streetwear-inspired styles, which enforce that it's once again acceptable to wear Leggings outside the gym. If you are looking for inspiration then check out our catalogue of Capri’sLeggings and Plus Sized Leggings, inspired by a sense of adventure and our take on funky, fun flavours. So long as mainstream celebrities are wearing them then we will be looking to design more interesting takes on the now wardrobe classic. Equally comfortable in the gym as they are lounging in your living room, there’s no doubting they are likely here to stay for the long term.

Wave Sport and Fitness kindly ask you to please like, share and subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on social if you enjoyed this article.