When Miu Miu debuted its fall 2023 collection during Paris Fashion Week last month, you may have expected the label to send its signature assortment of miniskirts or shearling jackets down the runway—instead, it sent out a more unexpected piece: leggings. Designer Miuccia Prada promoted athleisure by putting forward her elevated takes on the classic zip-up hoodie and leggings combo, something you’d typically see in a gym locker room, not fashion week.
The label wasn’t the only one to make the case for leggings as a high-fashion statement this season, either. Saint Laurent, Blumarine, and Ferragamo all had the clingy style in their shows as well, choosing to reimagine the sporty piece into something more formal, dressy, and—dare I say it—even elegant. At Blumarine, the leggings were metallic and more party-ready, worn underneath a draped minidress. Who would have thought that you can now wear leggings to the club?
Like it or not, leggings—often deemed one of the worst trends of the 2010s—are clearly having a moment. (These are not to be mistaken for tights, either: Leggings cut off at the ankle!). Though they trace as far back as the 14th century, leggings first became really popular back in the late 1950s, when chemist Joseph Shivers created the first Lycra pair. Come the ’80s, leggings got a little more edgy, like the shiny black pair that Olivia Newton-John wears with a moto jacket in Grease. Saucy! It’s during the 2010s, however, that leggings evolved to become a popular wardrobe staple: People began wearing them as full-on pants, in all sorts of treatments, from wild leopard styles to American Apparel disco pants.
The mid-2010s are when athleisure really blew up too, which led to leggings, hoodies, and fleece jackets becoming a practical everyday uniform. And they never really went away. Is it still a comfy and cozy look? Yes. A cutting-edge fashion choice? Not quite. This season, however, designers are aiming to pull off the latter, styling them in ways that are way more refined. At Saint Laurent, discreet black leggings were layered underneath a power-shouldered evening coat, while Ferragamo showed cream leggings paired with a puff-shouldered jacket. Both looks feel surprisingly sleek and polished.
Turns out, there is a clear formula to pulling off this new elevated leggings look. It’s not so much about making the leggings a focal point of the outfit, rather a finishing touch that keeps the ensemble’s silhouette streamlined. Back in February, model Gigi Hadid nailed this approach in New York by wearing skintight leather leggings (very 2010s of her) with a bulky bomber coat and slouchy boots. It’s the runway-approved way to wear them—countering the tight feel of leggings with a roomier jacket or top. In fact, the modern way to wear leggings is to barely notice them at all: They should fade into the background of the rest of your outfit. That’s what sets today’s leggings apart from those of the 2010s.
That’s the good news for any of you leggings fanatics: With the investment of a great oversized coat this spring, your beloved leggings can now feel entirely catwalk-worthy. For more of an evening approach, opt for a slinky or draped dress in the same color as your leggings (you can never go wrong with black). Heed the advice of the Hadids or the runways, and make sure that your accessories are on point too. You’ll definitely want to trade in a sporty yoga mat or water bottle for a hot bag—and an even hotter shoe. We’re going for work it, not workout.