Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The ultimate leggings review guide

the best leggings, the ultimate leggings review guide

My sister-in-law sent me a text a few weeks ago asking if I've ever done a post dedicated to leggings and which I like the best. She went on to say that she's trying to find the best leggings to go from workout to real life. My answer was that I really hadn't, and it's about time I change that! For a few years now, my favorite general purpose leggings have been the Zella Live-in leggings. I thought I would put my favorite pair up against five other brands to see how they all compare! Before we start, I should mention two things:

1. My measurements for reference: I'm 5'-2" with a 26"/27" waist. 
2. I do not condone the use of leggings as pants. If I wear leggings, I believe that all of my bits should be covered, front and back. However, for the purposes of this review post, I thought it was important to show you the full front and rear views. Please note this is not how I would wear my leggings in real life!!!

Ok, now that that's clear. Let's get started!

zella live in leggings review
Zella Live-in leggings (I'm wearing a small)
Cost: $50 for midi style, $54 for high waisted

I may as well start it all off with my holy grail pair. To be honest, I have three pairs of these exact leggings. Every time I realize how much I love something, I get anxiety that they will die on me one day, and I feel the need to buy multiples. So let's talk more specifically about why I love them:

Pros: They are definitely perfect to work out in but completely wearable in real life also. They're the perfect weight - not too thick and not too thin, and I feel like they are supportive without being constricting. They don't lose their shape between washings. I have had zero issues with them being see-thru.

Cons: As you can see in the photos, they bunch at my ankles, which is indicative of them being a little long on me. I purposely left them like that so you guys could see the lengths of all of these leggings in comparison with one another. Normally, I will just pull down on the legs letting the excess material hang over my heel and then fold the hems under. Or, if I'm wearing boots, I just leave them as is since the boots hide the bunching anyway. I should also note that there is a seam on the inside of the legs that people may feel is a "sporty" detail. It doesn't bother me at all since 1) it's on the inside of the legs and 2) the threading is black, so it's not super noticeable anyway.

Zella Live-in leggings Bottom line: I love them and will definitely keep buying.

My exact style doesn't appear to be available anymore. They now have a "midi" style which has a shorter inseam, but not quite as short as cropped. I'm thinking that the midi style would be just what I need in terms of length! There is also a high waist version now available. I personally have not tried it, but everyone that I know who has seems to love them.

Gap GapFit Blackout Technology gFast high rise leggings review
(I'm wearing a small) Cost: $62.95

These received pretty good reviews on Gap's website so I decided to give them a try. I'm not usually into high waisted styles, but I didn't like how their non-high-waisted version had a logo on the back of the leg behind the calf. Visible logos like that make them less usable for me in real life. The high rise style does have a logo at the back as you can see, but based on my disclaimer at the beginning of the post, you would't see it anyway since my top would cover it.

Pros: The fit is pretty freaking spectacular. The high waist doesn't bother me at all, actually. I feel very supported in these. The fabric is a very nice quality and I don't anticipate any issues with them being see-thru.

Cons: The material is just a little bit of a sheen to it that is common in workout leggings. Is it enough to deter me from wearing them for non-workouts? Probably not, but I know some people are very picky about this.

Gap GapFit Blackout Technology gFast high rise leggings Bottom line: Love them. These give my Zellas a run for their money, especially since Gap *always* has 40% off sales, so you could score these for closer to $38.

Express mid rise ponte pull on legging review
(I'm wearing a small) Cost: $39.90

If you are worried about leggings being see-thru, then I highly suggest you looking into a ponte knit pair. They feel more like real pants, just obviously with a lot of stretch. My favorite ponte knit leggings come from Express, though I haven't bought a new pair from there in awhile until now.

Pros: Definitely not see-thru. The ponte knit material feels more substantial than typical leggings, which is nice.

Cons: The fit isn't as flattering. It's not horrible, but it isn't the best either. These are supposed to be mid-rise yet they come up even higher than the Gap high rise leggings. I wish they had a wider waistband like the Gap pair and my Zella pair because they just look awful over my tummy. That said, my top will always cover this, so let's focus on the legs vs. the mid-section. As you can see, these are quite long as well since they bunch both at my knee and at the ankle. And the bunching is a bit more bulkier with this pair than with the Zellas because of the thicker material.

Express mid rise ponte pull on legging Bottom line: I'm kind of meh about them. I could size down, but Im afraid it would squeeze me too much in the waist. With a tunic and over the knee boots, yeah, I'm sure they would be fine. And since Express often has BOGO 1/2 leggings, you could score these for under $20. 

Charming Charlie Essential Leggings review
(I'm wearing a small) Cost: $15

So you guys know I have nothing but love for Charming Charlie, but clearly these leggings were just not made for me.

Pros: The material feels like a ponte knit, which is great for durability and them not being see-thru. And they're only $15!

Cons: There is not as much stretch to them as you would want your leggings to have. The fit wouldn't be so bad if I were tall and slender, but since I'm a shorty, you can see it pulling weird at my tummy and there is so much bunching all over the place. I don't even think I could do my fold-under trick to these because they are pretty loose at my ankles.

Charming Charlie Essential Leggings Bottom line: Worth the try if you are tall, but I don't recommend for shorties.

Old Navy Go-Dry Mid-Rise Yoga Legging review
(I'm wearing a small) Cost: $19.94

I bought this pair about 2 weeks ago when that server spilled a bowl of miso soup on the other pants I was wearing to work! I grabbed them and didn't bother trying them on before I bought them!

Pros: They're pretty comfy! They lay completely flat on my tummy, no muffin top whatsoever. The length works pretty well on me also even though I don't believe I got these in a petite. I'm also pretty sure I paid closer to $15 for these after store discounts, so yay for super cheap!

Cons: Buyer beware - they are pretty thin. I would think if you are taller than me, you may end up having issues with them being see-thru. Also, they stretch out SO much. I only wore them for maybe 8 hours and they got really loose around the knees and ankles. Looser than I feel like the photos depict above. It was so bad the second time I decided to wear them that I made the husband turn around and go back home so I could change leggings. I feel like these are a one wash/ one wear pair of leggings, but I also see them fading pretty quickly with each wash (whether you put them in the dryer or not.)

Old Navy Go-Dry Mid-Rise Yoga Legging Bottom line: They're good if someone spills a bowl of soup on you and you need something easy and cheap (and dry) to change into. But, more than likely, these are going to end up being a lounge pair for me. Based on the photos, you'd think I would love them! Unfortunately, the photos don't tell the whole story.

Spanx Faux Leather Leggings review
(I'm wearing a small) Cost: $98

Ok, so I realize that this is a faux leather pair but I would like to think their regular high waist leggings fit the same. For the price, I only wanted to try one or the other, and I've had the faux leather pair on my stalk list for awhile now thanks to Tara!

Pros: This pair is seriously like a second skin. No bunching anywhere, and hello, look at the nice things it is doing for my backside! I also like that there is no front seam at the pelvis/crotch, which definitely eliminates the risk of camel toe. But again, that may be a moot point if you can't see my bits anyway. Still worth noting because camel toe is not comfortable whether you can see it or not!!

Cons: The price. Obviously not feasible for every budget, but I will definitely say it is worth the splurge. They are also just a little bit long. I do have them folded under in these pics, but it's hardly noticeable. Also! Beware putting these on when you are sweaty or you will totally have a Ross moment. They definitely take some finesse to get on.

Spanx Faux Leather Leggings Bottom line: I'm in love and I shall be stalking the non-faux leather version. Worth the investment if and when you are ready to make the splurge.

Left to right: Zella | Gap | Express | Charming Charlie | Old Navy | Spanx

Now that I have all the individual reviews out of the way, I thought it would be helpful for you guys to see all of these side by side so you can compare rises and fits. My favorite is still Zella followed very, very closely by Gap. Spanx would have won had it not been for the price. Plus the Zellas win from the comfort standpoint over Spanx because I don't have to exert as much effort to put them on! 

Left to right: Zella | Gap | Express | Charming Charlie | Old Navy | Spanx

The husband was looking over my shoulder as I was writing this and he said, "I pick #2 and #6!" Clearly, he's got one thing on his mind. But, I have to agree with him. Those two are the most flattering from the backside and provide the most control and support.

Left to right: Zella | Gap | Express | Charming Charlie | Old Navy | Spanx

One more side by side comparison since there are so many varying shades of black! As you can see, the sheen on the Gap pair is causing them to look a little more green/grey compared to the others. The Express pair is probably the most true black, which is another thing I love about ponte knit - the saturation of color is great. All of that said, all of these pairs are new with the exception of the Zella pair. I've washed them I don't know how many times, and they aren't crazy pilled or faded. Hopefully that speaks to their quality!

Express Scuba Leggings vs. Spanx Faux Leather Leggings
(I'm wearing a small) Cost: $49.90

Here's a bonus comparison for you! I hate to tease you with the Spanx leggings if they're over your budget and out of the question. This is my way of offering you a budget option. This is a pair of Express' scuba leggings. They didn't have my size in the black when I went to order them, but I've been wanting to try this wine colored pair, so I went ahead and got them. I've always loved the scuba leggings from Express. 

Pros: Express often has leggings BOGO for $19.90 so you don't have to break the bank if you want to try the faux leather legging trend. They are really comfortable!

Cons: They're long, which can create awkward bunching at the ankle even when you tuck the hems under. I didn't mind the fit of them before, but seeing them next to the Spanx pair, I do wish they laid flatter on the fronts and backs of my knees.

Express Scuba Leggings Bottom line: Definitely worth the try, especially if you're taller than 5'-2"!

the best leggings, the ultimate leggings review guide

If you've made it this far, thanks for sticking around until the end! I hope it was helpful, or at least helps you narrow down options for finding the perfect pair of leggings that work for you! I would love to hear which brand of leggings are your favorite, whether they are featured in this post or not! I don't know about you, but I'm happy leggings season is here for awhile!


  1. I totally pinned this and I hope it goes viral. I got the spanx and again Matt is a smart man lol. It's all in the booty lol, I have the zella and regular gap that I love. I shall get the gap high waist too.


    1. Eeee!!! I hope you like both pairs! Thanks for the support!!

  2. Such a great post! I need to order that new length of Zella leggings, they sound perfect. And I'm glad you love the Spanx ones...I just love the way they hold you in, my husband loves them as well haha. I got mine during the Anniversary sale, so they were much more affordable at the time :)

    1. I will have to remember that for next years anniversary sale! I'm so glad you convinced me I needed them!!

  3. I am curious if you have tried the Cabi leggings? Those are by far my favorite I have ever owned, but great comparison post, good to know when I need to grab another pair!

    1. I have not! I haven't ever shopped at Cabi before. I was trying to focus on typical mall stores I generally frequent but I will have to remember to try those when I can! Thanks!

  4. Holy smokes this is by far the best, most comprehensive review I've ever read!! Fantastic job!! I'm not currently in the market for any new leggings but when I am, I know where I'm coming for reviews!
    Gina || On the Daily Express

    1. That means a lot from you, thank you! It may or may not have taken me about 6 hours on Saturday to photograph and write but it's a resource I have been wanting to do for the blog, so it was nice to get it done!

  5. I got a pair of Marika Magic leggings off Zulily and they've become my favorite leggings. I ordered more and cleared out my collection of "meh" black leggings.

  6. What a great post. So useful and helpful. The Zella leggings are the only ones I have from this list. They are comfortable and great quality therefore I stick with them. Even when I try on anything new and it feels comfortable and looks good I never know how I'm going to like them until I've worn them all day and of course after wearing an item it can't be returned. So I stick with what I know I love. For now anyway. Again, thanks for such a great post.

    1. I agree! Hence why I have 3 pairs of Zella's! Ha! But I was definitely open to trying other brands and price points, even if it did solidify my decision to stick with Zella. Glad this was helpful regardless. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment!

  7. Yesss- I love Zella's leggings! And you're making the case for those Spanx leggings- SO HOT!

    Le Stylo Rouge

    1. Making me blush over here, lady! And I really want to try the "midi" version of the Zella's now!

  8. What a great comparison post! I have to say I agree with your husband, too. It's good to know which ones are most flattering and which ones will be opaque. Thanks for doing all the hard work and sharing your thoughts!

    1. It was pretty eye opening looking at these photos! My ponte knit pair from Express have always been a favorite by they really aren't the most flattering! This exercise was as helpful for me as I hope is is for you!

  9. Love this post! I live in my leggings now that I'm a momma so I'm glad to know there's an alternative to the Zella leggings! I'd love to own those too one day!

  10. Hi! I saw you did a review on leggings from the Tuesday link up & stopped by. Leggings have become a recent staple in my wardrobe! Have you tried lularoe leggings?

    1. Yes I have! But I only wear mine for lounging and I really wanted to feature leggings from typical mall stores.

  11. Such an awesome review post. I have the Zella leggings and love them. I also bought the Spanx faux leather ones during the NSale but have yet to wear them. Soon though. I also love that you prefaced "this is not how i wear them in real life." You are too funny but for real, I get it. I like to be covered as well.

  12. i love this type of post! i wish i could love the zara pair b/c people love them (including you) but as soon as i put my foot through the leg, i thought NO. they are so thick! and heavy. not for me. i love the ones from hue that nordstrom sells. my problem is i am always hoiking them back up, but not the hue ones.

  13. Amazing post! I love Zella :). Just ordered my first pair of Spanx yesterday , but worried I may have ordered a size too small. I hear they run very small and you should size up. What do you think?

    1. They are fitted for sure but I would not size up unless you are in between sizes. I ordered my true size.

  14. This was such an amazing and helpful post! I've been looking for more stuff like this with the comparisons. Thanks so much!