Power leggings are the new jeans: They claim to slim legs, flatten tums and make the wearer look motivated to achieve

  • CEO of Nike has said that leggings are the new denim
  • They reflect healthy lifestyle choices and makes the wearing appear fit 
  • Celebrities love wearing ‘athleisure' and recent leggings sales have soared

You might have spotted those lithe, Lycra-clad women on your way to work. Or gawped at the fit, seemingly bare-faced mums decked out in their finest sportswear at the school gates.

But the chances are they haven’t been up since 6am doing bicep curls. Nor have they been for a six-mile run.

Rather, they are proof of a huge sea-change in the way we dress. Or, as Mark Parker, CEO of Nike, puts it: ‘Leggings are the new denim.’

Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley wearing leggings
Elle Macpherson walking in leggings

Comfort and style: Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley wearing leggings, left, and Elle Macpherson walking, right

For here is the sartorial truth. Women are no longer wearing Lycra just for the gym.

With the vogue for wellness and healthy eating, leggings have become the surprising new status symbol to replace It-bags and designer heels. As for the power suit? Forget it.

Nowadays, it’s all about power leggings and a look that says you’re just on your way back from barrecore, the trendy ballet ‘barre’ exercise favoured by Victoria’s Secret lingerie models - even when you are, in fact, only heading to a coffee shop.

And leggings aren’t just fashionable - they also reflect a lifestyle choice.

So, naturally, one of the high priestesses of the trend is nutrition zealot Ella Woodward - aka Deliciously Ella - who wears hers with crop tops and cosy knits emblazoned with slogans such as ‘Peace, Love and Kale’.

While there is no doubting the fact that Ella has transformed her lifestyle and diet, forgoing chocolate and sweets for leafy veg and nuts, according to market researchers Mintel, only half of those buying leggings have any intention of exercising in them.

However, that doesn’t mean we don’t aspire to live healthier lifestyles and to reflect this aspiration in our clothes - so much so that the fashion industry has dubbed this clothing category ‘athleisure’, as sales continue to soar.

According to fashion data company Edited, there are 25 per cent more leggings in the shops than there were at this time last year, and the total sales of ‘athleisure’ wear over the past 12 months exceeded £4.5 billion, an increase of 6 per cent on 2013.

Abbey Clancy is a celebrity power-leggings convert, seen here as the face of Reebok's 2015 collection

Abbey Clancy is a celebrity power-leggings convert, seen here as the face of Reebok's 2015 collection

No wonder fashion analysts are predicting that clothes made of Lycra and ‘performance’ fabrics may soon outsell denim.

Indeed, in the U.S., sales of denim dipped by 8 per cent last year, according to market research group NPD, while data group Euromonitor says global sales showed the weakest performance in a decade last year, as leggings increasingly replace jeans as our favourite for everyday wear.

But where to shop for clothes that are technical enough to wear to the gym, yet stylish enough for town?

Such is the demand among fashionistas that Net-a-Porter launched a sister site, Net-a-Sporter, to showcase uber-stylish activewear ‘as chic as everything else in your closet’, while Matches is another high-end retailer keen to tap in to the trend.

Leggings have been given a high profile by celebrities such as Cameron Diaz, above, seen in New York

Leggings have been given a high profile by celebrities such as Cameron Diaz, above, seen in New York

On the High Street, boutique sportswear shops such as Lululemon Athletica, which has ten stores in the UK, and Sweaty Betty, which has around 50 in the UK and U.S., have been given a style boost by celebrity power legging converts including actress Cameron Diaz and models Abbey Clancy and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.

Mainstream chains have also got in on the act.

Having always been known for smart work clothes and pretty frocks, Whistles made a foray into stylish sportswear this year, collaborating with boutique fitness studio Frame to produce a collection of activewear, including high-waisted leggings (£55), slouchy jumpers (£50) and crop tops (£35) in greys, blues and blacks. The collection was such a success that a second is already in the pipeline.

H&M also has a growing ‘athleisure’ offering, as does Gap. Even good old Marks & Spencer has entered the fray, with a reasonably priced collection of leggings and sports tops. And early next year it will launch a really pretty capsule collection of activewear as part of the popular Rosie For Autograph lingerie collection.

Such styles speak not only of an inner confidence when worn with flats and a slouchy sweater, but also signal that the wearer has things to do and get on with, without being impeded by a restrictive dress and heels

At both ends of the scale it’s all about innovation. To be power leggings, rather than limp sausage skins, the fabric needs to work hard to hold everything in.

Lululemon recently launched its ‘Naked’ legging (£88), engineered to feel comfortable, supportive and stylish both before and after a workout.

The other must-haves to be seen in right now are Sweaty Betty’s Zero Gravity Tights (£90, sweatybetty.com), Nike’s Legend (£39, nike.com) and Lucas Hugh’s Nordica (£280, net-a-porter.com).

Such styles speak not only of an inner confidence when worn with flats and a slouchy sweater, but also signal that the wearer has things to do and get on with, without being impeded by a hoiked-in, restrictive dress and heels. It’s something that can be worn off-duty, but which doesn’t look slobby or frumpy.

They are practical, too -some complete with iPhone pockets - and, with sweat-wicking fabric and carefully placed seams and panels to make your bum and legs look smaller, these leggings have more attention to detail than your average high-end luxury outfit.

So, even if it doesn’t actually motivate you to rid yourself of your mum-tum in the gym, the new-age Lycra will flatten your muffin top when you are out and about.

Luxe sportswear offers elevated comfort dressing whatever your aesthetic. And it certainly beats the shell suit, the shiny tracksuit from the late-Eighties, which was as garish as it was sweaty and unflattering.

Laain (net-a-porter.com) is another brand that has capitalised on the popularity of leggings on the High Street. It’s the brainchild of Tamara Rothstein and Sheila McKain-Waid, also creative director at Jaeger.

‘We all try to do everything - we want to be mothers, have careers, be healthy and also find the time to exercise,’ says McKain-Waid. ‘But often there aren’t enough hours in the day, and so we need clothes that work for exercise, but make you look smart-sporty, rather than a slob.

‘Attitudes have really changed - leggings are becoming a more attractive alternative to skinny jeans. Swap your trainers for a small heel, and you also have a smart outfit that will see you through many roles in your day.’

But the best bit about fashion’s new marriage to fitness? Aside from the liberating influence of wearing clothes that feel comfortable, look chic and allow you to move around with ease, surely one of the markers of fabulous style is how democratic it is.

You aren’t required to be a particular body shape or age: one size really can fit all if you are clever about how you wear them.

Rothstein suggests that a longer-length tunic or gilet is a great addition for anyone who feels self-conscious about revealing their thighs or bottom.

Adopt some power leggings into your winter wardrobe. Who knows, they might even convince you to do some exercise.

OUR PICK OF THE BEST 

Flow line seamless, £60, sweaty betty.com
Pink seamless base layer tights, £14.99, hm.com

Flow line seamless, £60, sweaty betty.com, left, and pink seamless base layer tights, £14.99, hm.com, right

Gym slim mesh insert ankle length, £22.50, marksandspencer.com
Salt Gypsy performance, £85, matches fashion.com

Gym slim mesh insert ankle length, £22.50, marksandspencer.com, left, and Salt Gypsy performance, £85, matches fashion.com, right

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