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How to Wear Black Leggings in 2020

With a long and storied history, black leggings are hardly a passing trend and have become the go-to essential in most every woman's wardrobe.

Black leggings outfit
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Lurking inside every closet or dresser drawer is one wardrobe staple that epitomizes effortless style, incomparable comfort, and lasting versatility. No, we're not referring to a little black dress or classic pair of jeans: We’re talking about black leggings.

Black leggings often get a bad rap for being, you know, not real pants. But as far as we're concerned, they're the unsung hero of any closet. Not only are they a lot more comfortable than your average pair of work trousers or jeans, but leggings can also look good with virtually anything. Plus, as so many people are working from home these days, black leggings have become the go-to staple for your nine-to-five workday—and beyond. After all, everyone wants to be comfortable during an endless string of video conferences.

So how did black leggings become so popular? And how can you style them to create an outfit that's equal parts cozy and chic? We're answering all your burning questions about black leggings below.

Black leather leggings

Where did black leggings come from?

Once upon a time (you know, back in the medieval ages), leggings catapulted onto the style scene—but not necessarily in the way you'd think.

Leggings reportedly date back to 14th century Scotland, when men wore them for both casual outings and battles. Of course, yesteryear's leggings are very different from the pairs we wear today. The first iteration looked like two separate, thigh-high pieces that resembled tall boots, often constructed out of either leather or chainmail. But by the time the European Renaissance rolled around, leggings looked more like thick tights that men wore underneath tunics.

The modern legging didn't appear on the fashion radar until the 1950s, when Hollywood's finest began to wear them around town. From Sophia Loren dancing in a loose top and black leggings in 1955, to Audrey Hepburn donning fitted, all-black attire as she danced in Funny Face, to Olivia Newton-John's iconic off-the-shoulder top and slick leggings in Grease decades later, Hollywood's leading ladies made leggings mainstream–especially when paired with some dancing shoes.

Of course, as history proves, there's more than one way to wear black leggings. In her exercise videos, actress-turned-workout-queen Jane Fonda wore black leggings with a bright leotard. Madonna cemented her status as an 80s icon by styling black, lace leggings with tutus. More recently, fashion brands like Derek Lam, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Kenzo slipped leggings underneath dresses and skirts.

casual black leggings

Are black leggings really pants?

By the early aughts, blacks leggings were everywhere. They were cleverly layered under skirts and dresses as a way to extend the lifespan of your favorite warm-weather pieces. Jeggings—a.k.a. super-stretchy, denim-like leggings—replaced jeans. Even celebrities like Lindsay Lohan gave the staple a star-studded touch by launching their very own legging brands.

But they didn’t immediately become a beloved fashion staple. As people began to pair leggings with everything from flowing tunics to shearling-lined boots, they were criticized for not wearing “real” pants. Naysayers would argue that real pants have more structure than stretch, as well as functional elements like pockets, belt loops, and zippers.

Sure, black leggings may not be appropriate for a black-tie gala, but this is one article of clothing that seems like it might withstand the test of time after all. The recent rise of street style and athleisure have not only proven that black leggings can transcend trend, but that they’re a bonafide essential.

Shopping for black leggings

How do you shop for black leggings?

Today's styles have come a long way from their inception. Unlike those separate, thigh-high pieces from the medieval ages, modern leggings are best defined as form-fitting pants that are typically free of any extra zippers or pockets.

That being said, leggings are not a one-size-fits-all situation. Though most leggings taper at the ankle, some people prefer cropped styles. Another thing to consider is the waistband: While low- and mid-rises may resemble the look and feel of traditional pants, high-waisted leggings offer optimal comfort. Regardless of the exact style, leggings always have a slim silhouette that flatteringly hugs every body shape.

As for material? It depends on the occasion. Dressier leggings are often made out of luxurious fabrics like leather, cotton, velvet, and ponte, the latter of which is a combination of rayon, spandex, and polyester. But if you're looking for leggings that will fit in at the gym, get a pair made from nylon and Lycra for optimal comfort and stretch.

Thanks to today's innovative designers and brands, you're bound to find the perfect pair for your lifestyle and budget. For example, Spanx uses its signature sculpting material to shape and smooth areas like the stomach, hips, thighs, and rear.

If you're on the hunt for a pair that will transition nicely from barre class to brunch, check out what Zella has to offer. An exclusive Nordstrom Made Brand, their signature Zeltek textile is created from recycled bottles, which are turned into fibers and ultimately transformed into a super-soft, moisture-wicking fabric. Girlfriend Collective also makes their leggings out of reusable plastic bottles, creating pairs that are both eco-friendly and chic. Both brands offer styles that are all under $100.

2020 black leggings outfit

How to wear black leggings

On the hunt for the perfect pair of black leggings? Nordstrom Trunk Club can help by sending you multiple options to try before you buy. Once you’ve found the perfect pair, it's time to start dreaming up fashion-forward black legging outfits.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to give your favorites a stylish flair. Headed outside? Wear your black leggings with a warm parka, baseball cap, and flannel shirt. Complete the look with accessories like lug-sole boots and a slouchy beanie. If you’re just casually hanging at home, look effortlessly chic with an oversized graphic sweatshirt and a pair of white sneakers. You can also crank up the style in your home office by pairing your stretchy workout leggings with your favorite cozy sweater, statement earrings, and a swipe of your favorite lipstick. 

No matter which outfit idea you choose, one thing's for sure: A chic ensemble has never looked or felt so comfortable.

Want to add a fresh new pair of black leggings to your closet? Connect with a stylist to get started with a Trunk of wardrobe essentials.

Find your new favorite must-haves with personal styling.