When Did Leggings Come Out?- Here’s The Comprehensive History of Leggings

Leggings are timeless garments that date back to the 14th century but they’ve gone through interesting evolution up to the leggings that we know today.

You might be surprised to know that men were the first to wear leggings and that these early leggings were made from tough and rough material. They were also functional and not fashionable. However, leggings have evolved and they are now a fashion statement. Modern leggings are now easy to style and can be worn to all kinds of occasions. Oh heck, some of them are so soft, you can even forget that you have them on.

Let’s see the history of leggings.

When Did Leggings Come Out?- Here’s The Evolution of Leggings

Leggings were initially worn by men

Leggings were first used by men from the 14th to 19th century. However, unlike the normal leggings we know today, these were two separate garments that looked like hip-high boots. At this time men were wearing puttees made from leather or chain mail. They were mostly worn for casual purposes or as part of wartime outfits.

Military leggings

The use of combat puttees by the military from the 19th century was very common. Soldiers preferred leggings because of their functionality. They used leggings to protect their legs from harsh elements such as cold, sand, mud, and thorns, as well as to reduce the severity of injuries.

Tight leggings were also good for ankle support because the soldiers would stand for long hours.

The emergence of the capri pants in the 1950s

The general name for pants in the 1950s was capris or pedal pushers whether they were long or short. This is a little bit weird considering that today what we call capris are pants that reach slightly above the ankle.

The capri pants were available only in conservative colors like black and white. But it was easy to pair them with different tops depending on the occasion. This style was considered Italian and was very fashionable.

Marilyn Monroe in capri pants in the fifties. 1950s fashion.
Marilyn Monroe in capri pants in the 1950s

The invention of lycra transformed fashion

Chemist Joseph Shivers’ invention of Lycra in 1958 led to lycra leggings for both fashion and sportswear. Before the lycra came out, leggings could only be made from leather or chain mail. These pants were not as comfortable and as stretchy as they are today. However, the introduction of lycra took the fashion world by storm. We now have stretchy trousers and it’s easy to achieve a streamlined silhouette with pants.

When did leggings become acceptable as pants? 

Television and pop culture made leggings widespread

Leggings were not popular until the 1970s. The growth of television and pop culture saw leggings becoming widespread streetwear in the 1970s and 80s. Singers and actors started to wear leggings in films, TV, and music videos and this made them a more acceptable everyday pants in the streets. A good example is Oliva Newtown John dressing sexy in shiny leggings in “Grease”, a popular movie of released in 1978.

So the leggings of this era came in shiny fabrics and dramatically bright colors.

Oliva Newtown John and John Travolta in the movie "Grease". Oliva is donning shiny black leggings that became popular back then.
Oliva Newtown John and John Travolta starring in the movie “Grease”

Falling out of fashion in the 1990s

Leggings were no longer trendy in the 1990s. This might have been due to the emergence of jeans and other types of fabric pants. Leggings were replaced by bigger pants that were then taking over the fashion scene. Leggings remained in the archives since then until they resurfaced in the early 2000s.

Leggings made a comeback in 2005, popularized by celebrities. As usual, celebrities have always influenced the fashion world in many ways. In the beginning, leggings were worn under skirts and dresses. However, over time we were introduced to different types of leggings. The leather leggings worn by Rihanna were the most popular in 2008 and other celebrities followed suit. It was now normal to wear leggings as standalone pants.

The emergence of new types of leggings

Leggings have evolved from the original men’s leggings to the fancy and colorful leggings that we have today.

i.) Shiny leggings

Shiny leggings have been trendy for quite some time. Shiny leggings are most often a blend of nylon and spandex but they can also be made of pleather, depending on your preference. These leggings first emerged in 2008, popularized by singer Rihanna.

The shiny leggings are easy to style and you can wear them casually or to the club.

Rihanna rocks in shiny leather leggings at Justin Timberlake’s children's charity concert in Las Vegas in 2008
Rihanna at Justin Timberlake’s charity concert in Las Vegas in 2008

ii.) Leather leggings

Leather leggings come in a variety of styles and types of leather. They are ideal for the cold weather especially if you decide to go for real leather leggings. We also have faux leather pants that are made from synthetic or polyurethane compounds.

Leather leggings are considered youthful but can be worn by women of all ages depending on the styling needs. You can pair them with crop tops for a young vibe or a long sweater for a classic look.

iii.) Jeggings

Jeggings are heavier than leggings but lighter than jeans. They are the middle ground between lightweight nylon leggings and denim. If you are tired of heavy-duty jeans and you are looking for something more comfortable, you can opt for jeggings.

Jeggings are warmer than leggings so they’re the better option for the cold months. And most jeggings actually look like jeans, so they are a nice addition to your wardrobe.

A woman wearing the Amazon Essentials Women's Pull-On Knit Jegging (Available in small, medium, large, and extra large sizes)


The history of leggings is an interesting story of evolution from the two-part leather garbs of the 14th century, to the military combat puttees of the 19th century, to the modern sleek skin-soft pants that first came out in the 1950s. It’s also about their evolution from exclusively male garments to predominantly female pants in our time.

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