Remember back in the '80s when leggings jumped from aerobics class to official streetwear? The basic black cotton/spandex ones became a wardrobe staple — not just for hanging out at home but as a substitute for everyday pants, skirts or jeans. We still wear leggings and a tee at 50-plus, to run errands or spiffed up with a jacket and flats, in defiance of age stereotypes at work. But let's be realistic: Fashion, leggings and our bodies have moved on. Keep that body-confident attitude alive, but save your oldies to wear for Netflix nights on the sofa. Here are four new options.
Upgrade plain black leggings to ponte knit ones
This dense matte fabric is more substantial and pants-y, less like tights due to the thicker stretch blend of poly/rayon/nylon and spandex. There are no see-through spots at curves where the fabric is stretched to the max, and no cotton means no fading. Styles that sit at your real waist with an "invisible" belly-control panel, such as GapFit High Rise Sculpt Ponte Leggings ($70, gap.com) and Old Navy High Rise Stevie Built-in Sculpt Pants for Women ($35, oldnavy.com), are smart everyday basics to pair with ankle booties, loafers or mules and a long, relaxed hi-low sweater that covers in front and back. The look: chic casual and sensible.
Go posh with faux-leather or -suede leggings
Because they're not made of the real thing, these leggings are machine washable and affordable (yay!). "Leather" with a little more heft and a low sheen looks authentic, so skip shiny finishes and thin, plastic-y fabrics. Look for faux suede that doesn't flake off — rub a black T-shirt over the leggings before removing the tags. Options that skim the skin are better than those that are glove-tight, so be prepared to go up a size. Rich neutrals in brown and gray — such as Spanx Faux Leather Leggings ($98, spanx.com) in bronze and Lyssé High-Waist Faux Suede Leggings ($98, zappos.com) in bourbon — worn with tops, shoes and bags in the same color family, look super classy. To glam up statement leggings, just add a silk blouse, shoulder-baring sweater or crisp white shirt, along with low kitten or block heels.
Try jeggings as a skinny jeans alternative
Hybrids, such as Hue Denim Leggings ($44, bloomingdales.com), Chico's So Slimming Pull-On Jeggings ($99, chicos.com) and Simply Vera Vera Wang Rivet Denim Leggings ($42, kohls.com), feature a fake fly, front pockets and rear patch pockets, though they're really pull-on leggings. A thick stretchy cotton/polyester/spandex blend makes these wearable clones work for us. Add knee-high boots, booties or sneakers, a flannel or denim shirt, and a zip-front hoodie or long cardigan to keep the look current.
Make cool activewear leggings an incentive to exercise
Treat workout leggings as body candy. If you run or do Zumba, yoga or Pilates, this is where prints and high-tech, moisture-wicking fabrics are ideal. Start with a cool style, such as Premium High-Waist Mesh Splatter Leggings by JoyLab ($40, target.com), Freedom High-Waist Mesh Insert Spacedye Leggings by C9 Champion ($28, target.com) or gFast High Rise Blackout Print 7/8 Leggings in NYC All Over Print ($46, gap.com). Then add sneakers, a sports bra, and a tank or tee in a matching color, and you'll speed through that treadmill workout in style.
For more beauty and fashion tips, check out The Woman's Wakeup: How to Shake Up Your Looks, Life, and Love After 50, as well as AARP's new Beauty & Style digital magazine (available on iPad).