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We reviewed 9 leggings brands and picked the best so you don’t have to

Forget stockings this holiday season. Deck the halls with the hosiery she actually wants: leggings.

Leggings, once just a workout essential, have been the subject of many an internet fight and trends galore since the dawn of time. Well, at least as long as I can remember since shoving my Victoria’s Secret yoga pants into my boots in middle school.

When entering “leggings” into Google, I was stunned by how many companies have been created to support this once niche, now ubiquitous need. There are so many options, styles and cuts, some bleeding into yoga pants territory, but that’s an article for another time.

Overwhelmed with the options, I decided to narrow my search. How about the best black leggings? Or the best leggings to wear as pants (because yes, you can and should wear leggings as pants; it’s 2021, people). I wanted to see which leggings were out there for curvier girls like myself, but that didn’t compromise when it came to style and the fun patterns I see on fitness influencer accounts, which are now splashed all over my Instagram recommended page after writing this article.

After hours of research — well actually, more like hours of online shopping — I pinpointed the brands I wanted to try that went up to at least a large, carried leggings specifically and had something special to set them apart. They also had to be less than $100 per pair, as not everyone can afford $400+ leggings from designers like Lucas Hugh and a $900 pair from Fendi.

The writer sits in a pile of leggings, smiling
I was overwhelmed by the choices, but narrowed it down to eight brands of leggings across 10 categories.
Tania Abedi

Once all my leggings had come in the mail, I felt like a kid on Christmas (well, Hanukkah for me, and I got more than eight nights’ worth of packages!).

After trying them all on and putting each through a series of tests, here is my ranking of the best leggings for each category. Now, I’m taking a nap in a clean pair of leggings and not looking at my Peloton for a little while.

1. Best cotton leggings

Yummie Rachel Cotton Stretch Shaping leggings, $58

On the left, a model wears gray leggings. On the right, the writer wears the same leggings
Left: Yummie Right: Tania Abedi

If you’re like me, then leggings are equally for working out and lounging around at home. For the latter, I like a good cotton pair, and these leggings from Yummie are perfect for just that.

I was thrilled to find a cotton option, as many companies go straight for the Spandex or nylon and skip over this comfy fabric. I got the Rachel Cotton Stretch Shaping leggings, and was at first a bit nervous, as they said they were shaping and I was going for more of a Netflix-and-chill sort of pant. However, I was super excited to see how comfortable they were and how great they made me look, the cotton felt nice and thick and they passed the squat test, even in the lighter gray color I got. I was also thrilled to see that when sitting down (and sprawled on the couch), the waistband stayed up and didn’t push into my stomach folds like some other leggings tend to do. These are perfect for those who like feeling supported and held in, but don’t want to feel like they are wearing shapewear.

Yummie offers an inclusive range of sizes that go all the way up to a 3X in some colors. For reference, I was wearing the Steel Grey color in a size large, and sizes go up to an XL on the site currently. They also come in a wide variety of colors and patterns, so even though these are my new go-to for in-the-house lounging, I might pick up another pair in a different pattern for when I feel like venturing out.

Too Lazy Didn’t Read (TLDR) review:

  • Pros:
    • Passes the squat test, just wear seamless underwear if you care about panty lines
    • Cotton is thick and feels high-quality
    • The cotton waistband hugs curves and NO roll down at all on tummy when sitting
    • Great shapewear that doesn’t LOOK like shapewear.
    • Goes up to a 3XL in some styles
  • Cons:
    • A bit long, should have gone with the Gloria ankle-length leggings for me
    • No pockets

2. Best basic black leggings

lululemon Align Pant II 25”, $98

A model on the left in black leggings and the writer on the right wearing the same black leggings
Left: Lululemon Right: Tania Abedi

The Queen Bee of leggings of course makes the list, and they are for sure the best basic black leggings around. I had always wanted to try lululemon leggings, but something always stopped me from shelling out the cash for a pair. Now that I’ve tried them, I know I can never go back.

I got the Align Pant leggings in a great basic black. The 25-inch length was perfect on me and didn’t bunch up at the ankles or fold over at the top. Slipping them on was actually like slipping, as I didn’t have to tug or yank them up over my hips. The silky-smooth fabric glides over your body, even on curvy girls like myself. I ordered a size 12, and they fit like a glove with just a drop of room to grow (or eat), so I could have also sized down to a 10 and felt alright. The waistband is very forgiving while also holding you in, which is another point for an everyday-wear kind of legging.

The squat test on these was a bit less important to me, as I was planning to lounge in my pair all day after this. However, while doing a few squats, I did notice my underwear trying to peek out at me, so I would plan to wear darker colors or a thong-style pair if these are your new gym leggings. It wasn’t too noticeable though, just not a perfect passing score. They do get an A+ for not rolling down on my tummy when sitting down, which for me is a gold star and then some. The waistband won’t slip — not for sitting, jumping, bending, nothing.

TLDR review

  • Pros:
    • So many options for sizes and lengths for any height or body type
    • The amazingly soft fabric glides over curves; easy to wear all day
    • Black matches everything
  • Cons:
    • Didn’t 100% pass the squat test, but wearing a darker pair of underwear will solve this — or no-show panties

3. Best compression leggings

Spanx Booty Boost Active 7/8 legging, $98

On the left a model wears black leggings, and on the right the writer wears the same black leggings
Left: Spanx Right: Tania Abedi

Spanx is the name of the game for all things shapewear, so it honestly comes as no surprise that these were my favorite for compression.

The word compression used to scare me: As a curvier girl, I was afraid it meant being sucked into corsets and uncomfortably tight Spandex contraptions. So Spanx, I need to thank you for helping me get over that fear, because the few pairs that I tried made me feel secure, but not like I was going to pass out from lack of circulation.

I tried the Booty Boost Active leggings in a 7/8 length due to my shorter stature. The first thing I loved was the length, so all you girls 5’5″ and under need this pair ASAP. There was no bunching at the ankle, which means no annoying lumps under socks or booties when wearing these out in the world.

The second thing I needed to look at was behind me — literally, as the booty boost feature was in the name itself. While checking myself out, I also found the best tiny mesh pocket in the back waistband, perfect for keys or a small credit card when out for a run since the pants have no other pockets.

Since this is the compression category, I turned my attention away from my backside and turned to face the mirror in the dreaded profile position. I was thrilled to see that the waistband, while boosting my butt, also sucked in my tummy perfectly, leaving little to no bulge in the front. Doing a little happy dance and turning to face the front, my stomach all but disappeared, again thanks to the seam’s illusion and the compression fabric working its magic.

TLDR review

  • Pros:
    • These are the perfect length with no bunching at the ankles
    • The seam on the tummy gives the illusion of no bulge and the seam on the back does the opposite, making the booty pop
    • The high waistband is seamless, so even if you are wearing a tight shirt, you can’t see any ridges. They can be pulled up super high, almost to right under your bra!
    • Super slippery fabric that is smooth and great for layering under boots
  • Cons:
    • Since super high-waisted, the tummy may roll when sitting if you don’t pull them up first
    • Didn’t perfectly pass the squat test, so wear seamless or neutral-colored undies when wearing these

4. Best high-rise fashion leggings

Onzie High-Rise leggings, $74

A side by side of a model wearing leopard leggings and the writer wearing the same leggings on the right
Left: Onzie Right: Tania Abedi

I’m going to be honest: I had never heard of Onzie leggings before and didn’t even know how to pronounce the name. These leggings changed both of those things for me, forever.

The first thing I noticed about this pair, aside from the adorably daring leopard pattern, was just how silky smooth they felt. Sometimes leggings can feel cheap when they are so soft, and it turns out they are made from a whole lot of funky synthetic materials. These leggings are made from a very typical blend of only two fabrics (76% polyester and 24% Spandex) and the pronunciation guide for my new favorite brand was phonetically spelled out. (It’s own-zee!)

Pleased with those answers, I slipped on the leggings and after doing a bit of a pants-dance to get them on just right, I was immediately smitten. When looking for a high-waisted option, as a 5’3” woman with a short torso, “high-waisted” can mean a lot of things, and usually means I can hike them up to my chin. These leggings hit right at my waist, covering my belly button but not going up further into sports bra territory. They have a great amount of stretch to them as well, so for my long-torsoed friends, these will work for you, too.

The fabric does stretch with your booty, but they passed the squat test with flying colors. I would recommend wearing either a no-show panty or a thong to avoid panty lines if you care about those, but feel free to wear any color underneath. After squatting, I took them upstairs and did a short ride on my trusty stationary bike. The leggings held up far better than I did, and the only thing that wanted to roll down was me, not my waistband.

TLDR review:

  • Pros:
    • Passed the squat test, but wear no show underwear to avoid panty lines
    • No waistband roll-down, no budging, even on a bike or sitting down
    • Super flat tummy without feeling like I can’t breathe
    • Option for matching sports bra (Chic Bra in Leopard) and Leopard-print face mask for outdoor runs
    • Fashionable to wear out or workout
  • Cons:
    • No pockets (but they do offer other high-rise options with pockets)
    • Sizes stop at XL (US size 14-16)

5. Best waistband

Wolven Zephyr Ruched Crossover legging, $104

On the left, a model wears tribal print leggings. On the right, the writer wears the same pair
Left: Wolven Right: Tania Abedi

I never want to take these off, and I’m pretty sure it’s due to the coolest waistband I’ve ever seen.

These patterned leggings are from Wolven, a sustainable legging brand to add to the eco-friendly list. However, before I get into that, I need to share why these leggings made me make a new category just for them.

When I first opened the packaging, I noticed just how soft these felt. I was almost nervous, as sometimes super soft materials can end up looking cheap. After putting them on, that fear totally left my mind, as I felt as high-class as ever. The pattern alone is super fun and cute with a black top or matching sports bra. But the most amazing part was the waistband, elongating your tummy and giving the illusion of a flatter mid-section.

After I got over how cute it all was, I did have to perform the normal tests and sadly, the squat test didn’t yield the best results — maybe a C+. The color and pattern do a good job of distracting from panty lines, but the soft fabric does give way a bit too much to colorful underwear, so make sure to pick out a skin-toned pair with these leggings. Luckily, the sitting test got an A+ as the magic waistband stayed put when bending, squatting and sitting down.

Wolven wants to “make sustainability sexy,” and they are off to a great start. They incorporate 27 recycled plastic bottles in each pair of leggings, which was shocking to me after feeling how soft and flattering they were. I then found out that the super soft fabric is actually because of their eco-friendly practices, using modal fabrics sustainably harvested from wood-pulp fibers and sewn in their downtown Los Angeles HQ. They also partner with Climate Neutral to measure their greenhouse gas emissions to ensure that my pair of Wolven leggings are carbon-neutral. 

TLDR review

  • Pros
    • The most flattering waistband in the world, and the V shape is slimming but also holds you in
    • No tummy bulge even though the fabric is so soft and no tummy roll when sitting down or moving
    • Adorable patterns and styles
    • SUSTAINABLE!
  • Cons
    • Almost doesn’t pass the squat test in this color/pattern; make sure to wear nude undies
    • A bit too long so it bunches at the ankles
    • No pockets

6. Best leggings with pockets

Wolven Wolf Grey Pocket legging, $88

On the left, a model wears gray leggings with her hand in the side pocket. On the right, the writer wears the same leggings and is in the same pose
Left: Wolven Right: Tania Abedi

This is another one from Wolven that I had to make a separate category for just so I could rave about them. Ladies, let’s talk about pockets.

If I had it my way, women’s clothes would have pockets and men would be forced to carry a heavy bag, just to see how the other half lives. Since that’s not how it is right now, leggings with pockets are the next best thing. I turned back to Wolven for this, and I’m so glad I did.

I tried the Wolf Grey pocket leggings and obviously the first thing I did was see how much stuff they could hold. I was thrilled to see that they had not one but two substantially sized pockets — one on each leg — and the seams were cut in a way that was actually super flattering, as opposed to cutting my thighs off at a weird spot. First, I tried putting my iPhone 10 in one pocket, which slipped in no problem. Then I borrowed a friend’s iPhone 11 Pro Max, one of the huge models, and it fit as well. While I did feel the weight of the heavier phone, the pants stayed up on my waist and I was able to move comfortably even with full pockets. Keys totally fit, as did credit cards, a skinny wallet and random office supplies from my desk, should you ever need a roll of tape and a Sharpie on the go.

With full pockets and a happy heart, I ran through the normal tests. The leggings passed the squat test with ease, and like the other pair of Wolven leggings I reviewed, the waistband stayed in place during all sorts of movements, with no dreaded roll-down when sitting. I have zero complaints with these, except I do wish that I also ordered the Zephyr Crossover Pocket leggings too, which combine the amazing waistband that I reviewed above with the pockets on these.

TLDR review:

  • Pros:
    • Passed squat test
    • Two pockets that are deep enough for an iPhone 11 Pro Max, and nothing falls out when moving around
    • Waistband stays up when moving, even with things in the pockets weighing it down
    • Waistband also stays perfectly in place when sitting
    • Seams from pockets are actually slimming to offset a bulky phone bulge and NO tummy lines
  • Cons:
    • Literally nothing. . .maybe a bit long at the ankle, but that’s a #shortpersonproblem.

7. Best faux-leather legging

Spanx Faux Leather leggings, $98

On the left, a model wears leather leggings and a denim jacket. On the right, the writer wears the same outfit
Left: Spanx Right: Tania Abedi

These Spanx leggings are different from the rest, as I wanted to dip my toe into fashion leggings as opposed to ones solely for function.

I ordered the bestselling faux leather leggings, and lucky for me, they came in a petite length, even in a size large. So many brands confuse waist size with height, so thank you Spanx for seeing all of us short and curvy girls out there. The first thing I noticed when holding the leggings up was that they didn’t have that shine of cheap fake leather. As a comparison, I grabbed an old faux leather wallet of mine, and, sure enough, it had the look (and smell) of cheap polyester. The leggings didn’t have either, and while the outside felt smooth and leather-like, the inside was even softer on my skin.

To get them on, I did have to do quite an extensive pants dance, which is expected for any leather pants, let alone tight faux leather leggings. Once on, they looked great, and the stretching I had to do to pull them up didn’t warp the finish of the pants in the slightest. The website even states that many say the pants fit on the smaller side, and in my normal size large, I did feel some compression. If these are ordered to be worn only as fashion pants, I’d advise to size up. But, if compression is what you’re looking for, order your normal size and squeeze into it.

Since mine did fit pretty tightly, my normal workout test was cut a bit short. Again, if you need pants for a workout, any of the options above are a better match. However, should you find yourself squatting down, they are not see-through and do pass the squat test. The waistband does want to roll down when bending over and sitting, but that may be due to the size that I ordered. Since I plan to wear these out and about and not for yoga or long periods of sitting, it’s okay, but do size up if these are part of your new work-from-home uniform.

TLDR review:

  • Pros:
    • Pass the squat test
    • Super cute fabric that feels like a soft legging on the inside but looks like expensive leather on the outside
    • The shapewear really holds you in
    • Comes in tall and petite length, so minimal bunching at the ankle and great to tuck into booties
    • Comfortable to wear, but cute enough to wear not just as loungewear
  • Cons:
    • Belly roll when you sit, and slight waistband roll-over when squatting; should order a size up if you want a better waistband for fashion, and less compression
    • They are super tight when putting them on (you’ll be doing the pants dance)

8. Best leggings To work out in

Gymshark Training Leggings, $30

A side by side image of a model in black Gymshark leggings and writer Sophie Cannon in the same leggings on the right
Left: Gymshark Right: Sophie Cannon

Forget being a gym rat when you could be a gym shark.

These leggings surprised me in more ways than one. I had seen them all over social media and worn by celebrities and so I assumed they were super expensive and not size-friendly. Both of those assumptions were wrong and these blew me out of the water.

The leggings are just $30, which is incredible for a pair of workout pants. Moving on to the fit and comfort, I don’t think I own leggings with more stretch than these, making them perfect for yoga, Pilates, HIIT classes and anything else where you need to bend, kick and stretch with ease.

I ordered the black color in a size large, but since they do stretch super well, I could have sized down to a medium for more compression. One thing to note is because they are super stretchy, they aren’t as thick as some would like, so do wear seamless undergarments and if you care about a bit of a tummy bulge, these may not be for you.

TLDR review:

  • Pros:
    • The price is amazing at just $30
    • Very stretchy and size inclusive, from an XS to an XXS
    • Super soft material that moves with you while working out
  • Cons:
    • They are so stretchy that they may feel thin and show tummy and panty lines

9. Best TikTok viral leggings

Cute Booty Lounge Nudey Booty Lifestyle Crossover Booty, $79

A side by side image of a model in black leggings with a criss cross mesh waistband and writer Sophie Cannon in the same leggings on the right
Left: Cute Booty Lounge Right: Sophie Cannon

If you’ve been on TikTok, nay, the internet in the last year, chances are you’ve seen the scrunch butt legging trend.

While the original leggings are the viral SEASUM scrunch butt pair, we wanted a more wearable and less honeycomb pair, and we found that and more with Cute Booty Lounge. I opted for one of their more basic styles, the Nudey Booty Lifestyle Crossover Booty leggings in a plain black color. They still stand out however, with an insanely cool and slimming mesh waistband and of course, the ruching in the back up the seam.

Since they are black, it’s hard to see the scrunch, but I actually preferred that to seeing obvious seems for a more natural lifting look. I also loved the waistband, as it looks like. a sexy strappy number when really the mesh does a great job of holding in the tummy and staying up on the hips. One note on the mesh though — beware underwear poking through, as the mesh is pretty low cut. I’d opt for a low-rise thong or something similar to avoid an accidental whale tail (but who knows, those are in style again anyway.)

TLDR review:

  • Pros:
    • Give the illusion of a lifted backside without being obviously scrunched in the seam
    • The waistband is a super cool detail you won’t find elsewhere
    • Great range of inclusive sizing from a XXS to a 3X in this style
  • Cons:
    • Many sizes and colors are sold out on the site, so act fast for your preferred style
    • I found them to run a bit small, so size up if you are unsure or want a more comfortable fit
    • In non-black pairs, wear nude, seamless undergarments as they may show through in other lighter colors and through the mesh waistband.