Why Men Should Embrace the Leggings-Only Look

Since athleisure exploded onto the fashion scene, women have embraced form-fitting leggings as a wear-everywhere, do-everything garment.

What about men? Our sweatpants slimmed down as joggers gained popularity, and the baggy basketball shorts that hid men’s knees from the ’90s through the late-aughts thankfully shrank as dudes realized working out wearing enough cloth for a bigtop tent is counterproductive.

But we can take the movement further, guys. It’s time to fully embrace leggings—without anything layered on top—when we hit the gym.

Shorts, or No Shorts?

Before you start shaking your fist at me and threaten to ban squats for public decency’s sake like the adults in Footloose, take a minute to breathe. I’m not advocating for everyone to totally ditch shorts for good if they don’t feel so inclined (not all women love the tight all over look, either). I’m just saying that the stigma that surrounds a leggings-only outfit for men should be lifted.

That dismissive attitude does exist. Go to any gym or athletic event and you’ll find tons of guys rocking compression leggings as a base layer, but most (if not all) of them will also be sporting a loose pair of shorts on top. That doesn’t always make sense for performance— you’ll get the same compression benefits and comfort whether you layer it up or not.

Are those shorts actually doing anything? No—so don’t be afraid to ditch them.
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When I asked my colleagues at Men’s Health for their thoughts about guys wearing leggings sans shorts in our general intraoffice messaging channel, most of them were against the trend.

“Tights = always, but ONLY with shorts on top,” said Editor-in-Chief Rich Dorment.

“I’m pro-shorts over tights, mostly because I otherwise feel kind of naked without them,” explained Digital Director Mike Darling.

Most of the responses from men in the chat referenced how exposed they feel without the buffer a pair of shorts provides between their privates and the world, not anything about the physical comfort or functionality of the setup.

This sentiment extends beyond Men’s Health HQ. I asked famously buff actor Zac Efron his preferences in an interview to kick off 2019, too. “I’m not going to knock anyone for the leggings look—I’m sure there’s reasons superheroes wear tights,” he told me. “If you pull it off and it works… I just have to wear something over them or I feel too self-conscious.”

Efron rocking the leggings and shorts. Nothing wrong with a man who knows himself.

A Case for Leggings

Efron’s open-minded approach is on the right path, even if it’s on the other side of my point. Everyone should feel as comfortable as possible when they exercise—and that includes guys who’ve been too wary of the status quo to break free of the shorts covering their crotch. I never thought I’d be okay with exposing so much in public myself, but now, I’m a convert.

The first time I saw a guy wearing only leggings in public, I thought there was something deviant happening. My cool high school indoor track coach showed up to a winter session in nothing but a pair of ColdGear tights, and I was weirded out for longer than I should’ve been. Masculinity, especially for a Midwestern teenage boy, can be very fragile.

But as I worked my way up the sports ladder I realized how much more comfortable—and more importantly, functional—leggings are on their own, especially for runners looking to cut down on drag. Squats and other lower body exercises are better in leggings too, since you can really check out the biomechanics of the movement without being impeded. The final piece of the puzzle came when I started Muay Thai training, which requires lots of high kicks and movement. One day I realized that I cared more about how much freer my hips would feel without the extra layer, and I ditched the shorts for good.

Since then, I’ve worn leggings in the weight room, to HIIT workouts at boutique group fitness classes, and everywhere else I damn well please.

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The key to this confidence is to quash any doubts or concerns about how other people might look at you and focus on what’s most important for your performance and comfort instead. It’s not easy, but if you can remember that everyone else is just trying to power through their workout too, it’s possible. As long as they’re not hurting anyone else, I will never judge another person for living their best life.

Some Tips for Living Your Best Leggings Life

If you’re ready to take the plunge, these tips can help:

Be Smart With Your Shirt

Still a little self-conscious? Just wear a longer shirt that covers some of the crotchal region.

Get Better Gear

Don’t just rock any old pair of long underwear. If you’re making this bold move, invest in a quality pair of compression leggings. Try any of these for a good start.

Fit is Key

Most importantly, if you’re going to go for the shorts free look, just make sure your goods are in a good place, so to speak. Feeling free is one thing; indecent exposure is another.

MH.com Deputy Editor Jordyn Taylor put it best: “It’s also about the… bounce factor,” she said. “If you’re gonna wear the leggings, they have to hold everything in place, you know. They really gotta compress. I want to see no movement.”

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