No matter where you are in your fashion journey, it seems fair to say that most people would agree a pair of cotton leggings is a must-have. Leggings—namely the soft, cool, and breathable cotton variety—are the acme of comfort in fashion.
Cotton is a natural fiber known for its breathability, meaning that air can pass through it easily, so garments made from it don’t become too warm. Polyester and nylon, on the other hand, are more water-repellent and often used in activewear to resist sweat. But cotton leggings are great for taking it easy at or around your home. They pair so well with roomy cashmere sweaters, T-shirts, and tank tops alike.
All there is to do now is see for yourself. We’ve already researched for you, having considered factors like size range, pricing, composition, and overall design to compile a list of the best options. We also spoke to two fashion stylists, Tara West and Dina Scherer, and textile expert Adacé Tseng, to get their advice on what to look for when shopping and help us answer some common questions.
So, without further ado, read on for the best cotton leggings on the market right now.
These are at the top of our shopping list for a good reason. They’re mainly cotton (95 percent, to be exact), so they’re breathable and comfortable, but the touch of spandex also allows for the right amount of stretch to keep you comfortable all day long. And they come in more than 10 colors, so you can find the one that best matches your style. While black is classic and the most versatile, Scherer says she’s partial to alternative neutrals: “My favorites are navy, dark gray, or dark forest green.”
Price at time of publish: $54
Fabric: 95% cotton, 5% spandex | Size Range: XXS–4X | Colors: Sangria, Ruby, Cobalt, Umber, Bone +more
A pair of lightweight leggings made from upcycled fabric is the secret to helping you look and feel your very best. This pair from Parade does the trick—the thick waistband is compressive but not overly tight, as it’s designed not to dig. The fabric is mostly made up of New:Cotton, a blend of TENCEL Lyocell (a fiber made from sustainably sourced trees) and TENCEL x REFIBRA (a new fiber made from post-consumer upcycled cotton scraps). This is perhaps why one reviewer even said these leggings make them feel like they’re “wearing a soft cloud.”
Price at time of publish: $13 on sale
Fabric: New:Cotton is 75% TENCEL lyocell, 19% TENCEL x REFIBRA, and 6% elastane | Size Range: XS–3XL | Colors: Pony (brown), Toast (tan), Eightball (black), Truffle (gray) +more
Whether you’re lounging around at home or out running errands, you want to look and feel as comfortable as possible. That’s where Universal Standard’s Roya Leggings come into play. The Pima cotton, modal, and spandex blend is designed to keep the pants from pilling. But perhaps best of all, the wide size range for which the brand is known assures that everyone can reap those benefits. After picking from several colors, just choose your inseam—23 or 27 inches—and then your best size, from 00 to 40, before placing your order.
Price at time of publish: $72
Fabric: 44% Pima cotton, 44% modal, 12% spandex | Size Range: 4XS–4XL with either a 23- or 27-inch inseam | Colors: Deep Sea, Olive, Navy, Faded Plum +more
Old Navy is known to offer some of the most affordable and comfortable clothing items. These leggings are a great example. “These are a staple for me,” one reviewer wrote. “ I buy like 10 pairs every couple of months.” They, and several other reviewers, made note of the fabric, pointing out it’s thick enough to not be see-through.
Price at time of publish: $8 on sale for Red Raisin
Fabric: 96% cotton, 4% spandex | Size Range: XS–4X, plus petite and tall sizing | Colors: Blackjack, Red Raisin, Rainy Season +more
Nike fans will love these high-waisted cotton blend leggings for their next workout session. They feature a bold Swoosh symbol and logo in a repeating pattern on the thick waistband. They’d also be an excellent option for lounging after a long day, West points out. “[Cotton leggings] will keep you comfortable after the long haul of a busy travel day in and out of airports, cars, and hotels.” However, if you do decide to wear them out to, say, walk your dog, you can style them simply with a cropped tee, a pair of sneakers, and a baseball cap.
Price at time of publish: $45
Fabric: 61% cotton, 33% polyester, 6% spandex | Size Range: XS–2XL | Colors: Black, Orchid, Adobe +more
If you’re looking for a no-show legging (think fewer seams to minimize the appearance of lines), give this Everlane pair a go. The pants feature an extra-high rise and a wide, stretchy, and compressive waistband, which comes from a high elastane content. The fabric has ribbed detailing and the few seams it has are pretty understated. It’s also from a blend of organic cotton and recycled nylon, so you can feel good about what you’re putting on your body and the leggings’ impact on the environment.
Price at time of publish: $58
Fabric: 54% cotton, 40% nylon, 6% elastane body; 52% cotton, 38% nylon, 10% elastane band | Size Range: XS/S–XL/XXL | Colors: Black, Acorn, Burnt Sugar
It wouldn’t be a legging article without including Aerie’s famous leggings. They’re the ultimate cotton blend leggings suitable for so many circumstances, from light hiking to lounging around the house. And at least a couple of reviewers noted this pair as a maternity wardrobe hero. “I am 5-foot-11 and 24 weeks pregnant with baby No. 3,” one wrote. “I needed to find leggings to get me through the last half of pregnancy that weren’t too constricting, but also stayed put, sat lower than my belly and were long enough! These fit the bill! Can’t believe they actually go down to my ankles! And I don’t find them to be see through at all.”
However, if you’re looking for a pair of leggings that’s mostly composed of cotton, then these are not it. OFFLINE by Aerie OG Leggings are made from 56 percent cotton, with the rest of the blend coming from a mix of polyester and elastane.
Price at time of publish: $20
Fabric: 56% cotton, 37% polyester, 7% elastane | Size Range: XXS–XXL plus short and long sizing | Colors: True Black and Iron Heather
Madewell’s Knit High-Rise Leggings are casual but compressive—perfect for when you’re going out and just want to feel comfortable yet held in. The mostly cotton leggings are supplemented with a high content of elastane (12 percent) to make this possible. Wear them with a thin knit top, a blazer, and kitten heels for your next low-key dinner with friends.
Price at time of publish: $35
Fabric: 88% cotton, 12% elastane | Size Range: XXS–2XL | Color: Black
Thousands of shoppers on Amazon have expressed enthusiasm over Hanes’ leggings and mostly said they’re ideal for wearing around the house. (We’d guess this is because they’re made exclusively from cotton and polyester—which means no compression at all.) However, we have one notable concern: There seems to be some inconsistency with the product, as multiple reviewers described that when they ordered multiple on different occasions, they received two different types of leggings.
“I loved the first pair. Purchased for post knee replacement physical therapy. These are soft and thin and not spandexy, which I liked as I didn’t want them too tight on my knee,” wrote one reviewer. “They worked so well I ordered two more pair, but when they came I was disappointed because they were totally different pant, same material, but sewn with much thicker visible seams and wider waist band 2.5 inch vs original inch.”
Price at time of publish: $26
Fabric: 90% cotton, 10% polyester | Size Range: S–XXL | Color: Black and Charcoal Heather
The House of LR&C
If you fancy a flared legging, Ciara’s brand Lita has just the ones for you. They’re made from an all-cotton ribbed fabric for maximum breathability, which West and Scherer agree is great for warmer climates. “[Cotton] is a natural fiber and [is] more breathable than other synthetic fabrics like spandex or lycra,” West says.
Price at time of publish: $228
Fabric: 100% cotton | Size Range: XXS–XXL | Color: Milk, Black, Iced Coffee
Another standout pair of shaping leggings comes from Yummie. The front waistband is designed to create an hourglass shape by hugging the waist and further supporting the hips and legs for “360-degree shaping,” as the brand boasts in the product description. The sides are seam-free for even more visual appeal and comfort, and the mostly cotton composition makes this pair super breathable, too.
Price at time of publish: $54
Fabric: 88% cotton, 12% spandex | Sizes: XS–3XL | Colors: Dusty Mink, Black, Heather Charcoal + more
We love Skims’ Cotton Rib Leggings because they’re soft but stretchy and come in a wide range of colors and sizes. A close second is Universal Standard’s Roya Leggings, which are a bit more expensive at $72 but also offer a choice of two inseams. At $13 on sale, Parade’s Lightweight Leggings are the most economical option and will offer the best bang for your buck. Snatch them up in all of the available colors (there are eight) for less than $110 pre-tax.
What to Look for in Cotton Leggings
When it comes to leggings, the one thing virtually everyone can agree they love is an element of softness. Since the point of leggings is often to feel more comfortable and flexible than you would in your Levi’s, a soft and somewhat stretchy material makes sense. So, keep this feature in mind when trying on various options.
A good pair of leggings will hug your body in a way that makes you feel comfortable and confident. According to West, the best ones “[don’t] sag in the crotch or roll at the waist.” She cautions that choosing the right size is paramount—going larger will create sagging and going too small may cause rolling. Buying a pair that’s just a little snug is the best rule of thumb, and if you’re going for an all-cotton composition, keep in mind that such a fabric is prone to shrinking when put in the dryer.
Other key considerations are rise and length. To feel the most held in, opt for a high rise, and for less material, go for a mid or low rise. If there are multiple inseam options, refer to the size chart to choose the best one for your height and inner leg length. (To get the most accurate number, measure the length from your ankle bone to your crotch.)
Why choose cotton leggings over polyester?
“Cotton is generally more comfortable, breathable, and naturally hypoallergenic. Since leggings are close-fitting to the body, you would want them to feel as pleasant as possible,” says Tseng.
“Breathable” is the keyword there. One of the benefits of cotton is that it “allows air to flow easily,” making the fabric ideal for warmer climates. “Cotton is also a hydrophilic fiber, which means it easily absorbs moisture without making you feel uncomfortable. It is one of the most versatile fibers, which is why it is widely used.”
Are cotton leggings see-through?
Our experts agree it’s kind of up to the brand and how you care for your cotton leggings. If your leggings are entirely made from cotton, then over time, the material will break down with recurrent washing and wear and become see-through, West says.
However, Scherer adds that cotton leggings can be see-through even before this stage. The best way to tell is by stretching the fabric over your fingers and holding it up to the light. Reading the reviews online can also be helpful, though you wouldn’t know if the wearer simply took a size too small.
Color can also play a role, says Scherer, as black can look more obviously sheer if the fabric is thin. “The transparency may be less obvious with lighter colors.”
Do cotton leggings stretch?
“Cotton leggings do stretch but will have limited capabilities,” says Tseng. That is unless there is a bit of spandex/elastane or LYCRA woven in. Pure cotton may lose its shape over time, which is why it’s worth sizing down so that they feel snug from the get-go. In this case, if and when they begin to lose their shape, it will be less noticeable to you and others.
What’s the best way to care for your cotton leggings?
One of the reasons our experts love cotton leggings is because it’s not a super fussy fabric—generally, cotton products are easy to machine wash and tumble dry,” says Tseng. However, pure cotton is prone to shrinking and wrinkling, and the best way to prevent this is to wash the garment in cold water on a gentle wash setting, then dry them with low heat. (Air-drying works as well.) For the most assurance, check the garment’s care label for any special instructions.
For black leggings specifically, fading may occur if you wear them often in direct sunlight or wash them too often, so keep those things in mind when caring for your favorite pair.