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Tights vs. Leggings: Key Differences and Which are Best for Yoga?

Written by:

Logan Hailey

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Tights vs. Leggings

We wear them basically everywhere these days: skin-hugging stretchy bottoms that transition seamlessly from the yoga studio to gym workouts to running errands and even working from home. Tights and leggings are the most comfy, easy going pants on the planet, but what’s the difference between them?

While tights and leggings are often used interchangeably, they are actually super different in functionality and performance. We decided to dig into the whole tights vs. leggings debate to weave through the hype and figure out which are best for yoga and what brands hold up to the stretching, sweating, and twisting that we all crave on the mat.

What are Tights?

Tights are basically pantyhose (or “stockings”, as your grandmother might have called them). Tights are usually sheer (see-through) and designed to be worn under a tunic, long shirt, skirt, or dress. They are thin, full-length, super tight, and often cover your feet.

Tights can be sheer, partially opaque, absolute opaque, colored, fishnet, or patterned. They are usually made of polyester, nylon, and elastic cotton blends. Tights can add a little extra warmth under your clothes, but they are designed to function more as a modest accessory to keep from showing too much skin. 

A Slight Caveat 

In the modern day tights have taken a turn into the fitness world, with brands like Lululemon advertising many of their yoga, running, and training pants as “tights”.

To add to the confusion, Lululemon’s tights are functionally a lot more like leggings. They are “squat-proof” (won’t show your lady parts when you stretch or bend over) and never translucent the way traditional tights are. They fit super close to your skin and stretch in every direction, making them a little difficult to squeeze on, but they feel like “second skin” once you’re in them.

Pros of Tights

  • Very stretchy
  • Fit skin-tight
  • Opaque or sheer
  • Come in a range of styles
  • Can be used for professional outfits or layering
  • Add modesty underneath skirts or dresses
  • Wear with tunics or oversized t-shirts
  • Typically cover your feet

Cons of Tights

  • Usually not “squat proof”
  • May reveal privates during yoga class
  • Very thin
  • Prone to ripping
  • Not great to sweat in
  • May actually be leggings marketed as tights 

Best Footless Tights for Yoga

While these bottoms are functionally more like leggings, they are advertised as tights due to their ultra skin-hugging synthetic blend fabrics. These “crossover” picks have the weightlessness of tights with the opaque, squat-proof fabric of leggings. Footless tights are the only type recommended for yoga because of the slipping issues associated with anything covering your feet (well, unless you’re using non-slip yoga socks or shoes, of course!)

Best Pocket Tights: Salutation Stash by Athleta 

Creamy dreamy soft yoga tights with big, easy-access pockets? Yes please! This pair of legging-esque tights fits high rise and has a smooth waistband that never digs in. The pockets are deep and seamless bonded for a functional and comfortable way to stash your phone or keys on the way to the studio. 

Best Running/Yoga Tights: Base Pace High Rise Tights by Lululemon

For those of us that prefer cardio and zen on the same day, these running tights absolutely deliver. With the stretchy, ultra-tight, weightless fit of “true tights” but the durable thickness of yoga leggings, the Base Pace tights will last for years of running and sweaty yoga sessions. 

Best High Rise Tights: Ultra High Rise Elation ⅞ Tight by Athleta

If you’re looking for the most flattering, tummy-sculpting high rise leggings ever, then this pair from Athleta is a must buy. Like our other options, I’d technically classify these tights as leggings because they are footless, opaque, squat-proof, and buttery soft. The ⅞ fit hits most ladies right above the ankle and gives your legs a sculpted, toned look. 

What are Leggings?

Like tights, leggings got their start as undergarments. The main difference is that they are much thicker and do not cover the foot. They used to be known for adding warmth and insulation on really cold days, sort of like “silk underwear” or a base layer. 

Nowadays, leggings are basically synonymous with yoga and loungewear. These form-fitting, curve-hugging, super-stretchy bottoms are the trendiest modern take on comfortable athleisure. Sometimes called yoga pants, you can wear leggings almost anywhere. From the mat to school to the gym to a casual lunch, these are the bottoms that have taken the athleisure world by storm. 

Unlike tights, leggings are often worn on their own with a regular shirt or a crop top. They should not be see-through or sheer in any way. Most leggings are fitted all the way down the calf or to the ankle. Many even include pockets for stashing your phone, wallet, or keys while on the go. 

Legging Fabrics and Styles

They can be made of spandex, polyester, nylon, lycra, elastane, or synthetic fabric blends. There are also “fashion leggings” that are made of cotton, faux leather, or cheaper patterned fabrics that are not designed for yoga or workouts. Insulated or base layer leggings may be made of merino wool or a thick woven fabric that is also not ideal for yoga.   

As you can imagine, not all leggings are created equal! Cheap faux leather or cheetah print cotton leggings are definitely not going to perform on the mat the way high-end yoga leggings will. Fashion leggings are almost never squat proof and can even rip or start pilling under the strain of any type of workout. 

On the flip side, yoga leggings designed specifically for the mat will have the perfect amount of stretch and flex to move with your body without revealing your lady parts during bendy asanas. 

Pros of Leggings

  • Thicker than tights (more coverage)
  • Squat-proof (not sheer or see-through)
  • Can be worn as pants
  • Super comfortable
  • Buttery soft feel
  • Skin-tight 
  • Add warmth and insulation in cold weather 
  • Great for lounging

Cons of Leggings

  • Not always designed for workouts or yoga
  • Cheap leggings are see-through
  • Fashion leggings 

Best Leggings for Yoga

When it comes to the debate between what truly defines leggings versus yoga pants, the line has become pretty blurred. Regardless, we’ve found that the top brands of yoga leggings check 3 major boxes:

  1. Sweat-wicking fabrics
  2. Flattering rise and curve-hugging fit
  3. Never (EVER!) see-through in Downward Dog or squats 

Best Leggings Overall: Lululemon Align High Rise Yoga Leggings

There’s a reason that Lululemon is synonymous with yoga leggings: their leggings truly perform. The Aligns are definitely thicker and more “pant-like” than their “tight” counterparts. They are sweat-wicking, high-rise, and available in 25”, 28”, or 31”. Designed specifically for years of yoga flows, these leggings have a truly buttery skin-like feel and gorgeous fit on any body type. 

Best Yoga/Gym Crossover Leggings: Nike Yoga Dri-FIT Luxe Leggings

The iconic “Just Do It” brand doesn’t disappoint in the yoga realm. Nike took their super sweat-proof Dri-FIT fabric and made it into these luxurious high-waist leggings that perform just as well on the mat as they do in the gym. 

Best Seamless Leggings: Seamless High Waist Ribbed Legging by Alo Yoga

We love seamless for its camel-toe-free fit and 4-way stretch. Alo Yoga always delivers with trendy styles that wick away sweat and perform exceptionally well on the mat (while looking fabulous). 

Best Winter Fleece Yoga Leggings: Nike Yoga women’s ⅞ Fleece Leggings

If you’re into cool-weather outdoor flows or a more relaxing yin yoga session, there’s nothing better than some stretchy fleece leggings to keep you warm and cozy. These leggings insulate your joints and regulate body temperature without suffocating you. Plus, the pockets make them perfect for winter errands! 

Best Capri Leggings: Salutation Stash Pocket II Capri by Athleta

Keep your calves cooler and elegantly flattered with these incredible capri leggings from Athleta. With specific details for yoga and studio practice, these capris feel as good as they look. The Powervita fabric feels like a soft hug and the pockets are stretchy and spacious. 

Key Differences of Tights vs. Leggings

At the end of the day, the terms “tights” and “leggings” are thrown around almost interchangeably these days. It’s important to check the details of fabric, performance, stretch, thickness, and fit to be sure that you are getting the yoga bottoms you need for the mat.

 TightsLeggings
FabricElasticized cotton, polyester, or sheer synthetic blendsThick spandex, polyester, nylon, lycra, elastane, or synthetic fabric blends
PerformanceDesigned as an undergarment for modesty or warmth beneath dresses, tunics, and skirts (not typically worn as pants)Designed for yoga, running, and workouts (be sure to avoid “fashion” leggings that won’t perform); can be worn as pants
StretchUltra tight like second skinBody-hugging, moderate tightness
ThicknessThin and sheer or mildly opaque, but often see-throughThicker elasticized material that should be fully opaque (squat-proof)
FitTypically cover feetAnkle, 7/8 or capri length, do not cover feet

Tights and Leggings FAQs

Can you wear tights as leggings?

Most tights are not thick enough to wear as leggings unless they are specifically designed for performance in yoga or running settings. Some brands like Lululemon and Athleta offer tights that are specially created for use as leggings. These styles have the body-hugging, ultra-stretchy feel of tights with the opaque, squat-proof fabric of leggings.

Are workout tights the same as leggings?

In many cases, workout tights are very similar to leggings. The differentiation truly lies in what fabric and thickness of leggings you are comparing to. Fashion leggings may be made of thin cotton that cannot hold up in a workout setting. Alternatively, running or yoga tights made of high quality nylon or polyester blends are super sweat-proof and squat-proof for workouts.

Moral of the Story: Not All Tights and Leggings are Created Equal! 

Next time you’re shopping for tights or leggings, keep in mind that they aren’t all created equal. While many names and definitions are blurred these days, one thing is for sure: yoga leggings need to be sweat-wicking, body-flattering, and never see-through.

Namaste!

About Logan Hailey

Logan Hailey is a writer, nomad, and 200RYT yoga teacher on a mission to help people live more vivacious, joyful lives aligned with nature. As she travels in her van conversion with her two dogs, she teaches about holistic health, herbalism, and personal development. Keep up with her adventures @naturallylogan on Instagram and TikTok.

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