What's the Difference Between Tights, Pantyhose, Stockings, and Leggings?

You feel that clean, crisp chill in the air? ‘Tis the season for chunky sweaters, for pumpkin spice lattes, and for shoving your pale, bumpy legs into tight-fitting armor and strutting back into the world with newfound confidence. As a short person with calves too large to fit into normal-width boots, I like to pretend my legs don’t exist, and there’s no better enabler than cold weather. Here are the differences between the various leg-sheaths on the market. 

Let’s start with pantyhose. Thought of as hosiery, pantyhose are the thinnest of the bunch; they are sheer and generally made of nylon, with a denier (a measure of thickness or weight in tights) of 8 to 30. You’ll usually find them footed, so that they fit over one’s feet and stretch up to one’s waistline.

Tights are generally thicker than pantyhose, with a denier of 40 to 100; they can range from almost-see-through to totally opaque. Unlike pantyhose, they can come in a range of fabrics, patterns, and styles, though they are usually footed and worn under some item of skirt- or dress-type clothing. “Tights” is also the term for the stretchy leg-wear worn by dancers and acrobats, sported under a leotard or tutu or any other type of costume. 

Stockings, in some cases, can be synonymous with tights; they’re another footed, tight-fitting garment that comes in a range of fabrics, styles, and weights. However, the term can also refer garments that stretch only to the upper thigh (rather than the waistline) and then secured with suspenders and a garter belt. And unlike tights or pantyhose, one might find “stockings”—like compression stockings—in the medical sphere, where the word is used to describe tight bandages or coverings for the legs used in certain types of treatments.

Lastly, we have leggings, the one item of clothing on this list opaque enough to be worn freely in place of actual pants (the Oxford English Dictionary even defines them as “tight-fitting trousers made of a stretch fabric,” in case you’re like me and take your fashion advice from historical dictionaries). Leggings are un-footed—they stretch from the ankle or lower calf to the waistline—and can be found in a variety of fabrics, colors, patterns, and styles. And unlike the yoga pant—leggings’ looser, bell-bottomed cousin—leggings are tight-fitting, making them wonderful for both athletic use and, to put it bluntly, the days you don’t feel like wearing pants. Happy autumn!

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