The concept of leggings as pants has been debated heavily over the years for good reason. Those who love leggings like me enjoy the cozy, flexible feeling of this stretchy, figure-hugging garment. Those who oppose leggings outside the gym or the couch argue that leggings are too revealing or casual to make it into the office like pants.
The question of whether leggings count as business casual is largely a matter of personal preference and professional judgment. Still, there are a few things that can make or break leggings’ “business casual” status.
Although transparent leggings and worn athletic leggings don’t make the cut, leggings, in general, can be dressed up for a business casual look.
Here are a few tips for transforming a humble pair of leggings into a staple in your business casual wardrobe.
Let leggings be the most casual part of the outfit.
If you are planning on wearing leggings to the office, incorporate dressier pieces like a statement blouse, blazer, and pencil skirt to elevate the look as a whole. When you wear leggings under a skirt, dress, or long tunic, they will look more professional. They will also look more fashionable.
Leggings are comfortable, which is a huge perk of these pants. The downside to their comfort is that they can look sloppy if you wear too comfortable of a top with them. If you pair leggings with a simple t-shirt style top, you may fail to meet the professional standards for your industry.
This could lead to a supervisor asking you to change or warning you about wearing similar outfits in the future for work. Leggings already look more casual underneath professional attire than pantyhose or slacks. It’s best to make an effort to dress leggings up to avoid becoming the target of the “unofficial dress code police” in the office.
As a bonus, pairing leggings with long tops or skirts will allow you to avoid violating any dress codes that prohibit showing excessive skin. While leggings might seem opaque, they can wear down over time and expose undergarments or skin. Leggings also might be so form-fitting that they leave little to the imagination.
As Ladders explains, “according to our survey, 80% of executives said clothing choices affect an employee’s chances of earning a promotion” Wearing overly revealing leggings can cost employees more than the respect of their colleagues–it can have real consequences for career advancement in the short-term and long-term.
Related: What Type of Shoes Go with Leggings?
Consult your company’s dress code
The reality is that some industries and companies consider certain styles “business casual” while others classify them as too casual for work. What flies in some fields and workplaces will get you sent home or written up in others. Since this is a general article, we recommend asking your supervisor to clarify about whether leggings are allowed at work or not.
As Silver Bobbin shared, “Some workplaces allow leggings to be worn to work and some do not. If your workplace does allow leggings, what you wear with them determines whether or not they can be considered business casual. It also depends on the style of the particular leggings that you wear.”
Some employers also make special exceptions for wearing leggings, even if they typically ban them as professional attire. For example, some companies will allow employees to indulge in wearing leggings on Casual Fridays or at holiday events such as spirit week. Other fields will permit wearing leggings in remote settings where the leggings are not visible to clients, while banning them for in-person meetings.
Although it can feel like a bummer to have to wait to wear leggings on certain days of the week or in certain settings, rules like these exist for good reason. A marketing company that requires employees to meet with the public often may not want employees looking like they have just left the gym. This could damage the company’s reputation and send the message to potential clients that they do not care about professionalism.
Sometimes, even casual workplaces don’t allow employees to wear leggings for safety reasons. Because leggings are made of thin material, they are not safe to wear in settings with hazards such as heat or sharp tools.
Of course, other workplaces such as gyms and training centers might prefer their employees to wear leggings for comfort and range of motion. Some fields such as tech or creative industries encourage employees to wear whatever feels comfortable. If wearing leggings at the workplace is truly important to you, you may want to consider transitioning to a field that allows leggings or picking up a part-time job with a more casual dress code.
Related: How to Style Leggings
Pick neutral colors
For a business casual look with leggings, keep your leggings in a neutral tone such as black, navy, dark gray, or brown. Avoid patterns or bright colors like neons–these will immediately make your look seem too casual for a professional setting. The key to passing leggings off as business casual is making them blend into the rest of the outfit.
Think of them as a blank canvas for layering other business casual staples like statement blouses, sweaters, dresses, and long cardigans. A neutral color will match most other pieces. Even the busiest top or the most interesting shade of boots will play well off of neutral leggings.
When matched well with your skin tone, nude leggings can also work as an extra layer of warmth under a skirt or sweater dress. For those working in a chilly office or taking long walks in cooler weather on lunch break, nude leggings can be a subtle, cozy lifesaver.
If you opt for nude leggings, just make sure to wear a full set of a dress or skirt and top over the leggings. Otherwise, you may have coworkers wondering if you wore pants at all. While you’ll be wearing pants, it will still lead to awkward conversations and potentially give the impression that you are violating the dress code.
At the end of the day, wearing leggings to work is a personal decision that needs some extra guidance from management and consideration about what else you will wear with them. Leggings can be business casual in certain settings, but you should check your dress code to see if it has any requirements for incorporating leggings into your professional looks.