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Lululemon vs. Athleta: I tried leggings from both brands, and one pair is slightly better than the other

I put the two popular athleisure brands to the test to determine which is best.

There was a time not too long ago when I was firmly in the "leggings are not pants" camp. Then a pandemic happened, and I started working from home full time. All of a sudden, I have more leggings than I have jeans and trousers combined. Who says people can't change? I wear leggings at least four days out of the week now.

Quick Overview

When it comes to leggings, the first brand that usually comes to most people's mind is Lululemon. And with good reason: Their best-selling Align leggings are pretty great. I own four pairs — I received them all as gifts for my birthday and Christmas in recent years — and I can attest they are soft, smooth and have plenty of stretch to move with you.

Recently, however, I ordered a pair of Athleta Elation leggings (on sale!) and my first thought when I put them on was, "Are these better than my Lululemons?" And then, "What is the difference between Athleta and Lululemon?" As the day went on, I couldn't help but wonder which pair I'd recommend if someone asked which $100 pair of leggings was better. I decided it was time for a very "scientific" head-to-head comparison.

The contenders: Lululemon's Align High-Rise Pant versus Athleta's Elation Split Flare Pant. The silhouettes are different, but the material is pretty similar and they're both tight and stretchy from the knees up. I don't actually wear leggings to exercise or work out, so my findings are strictly athleisure-based. Both pairs were tested by wearing the leggings as everyday pants while doing regular things like working from home, walking the dog and running errands.

The popular Align pants are currently available in 11 colors in sizes 0-20 and in four different lengths. There are more than 21,000 reviews for the leggings at Lululemon, and shoppers give them 3.6 out of 5 stars.

$98 at lululemon

The classic version of Athleta's Elation tights has more than 5,300 rating on the brand's website. The pants are available in 14 colors in sizes XXS-3X in petite, regular and tall lengths. 

If you're looking for a different silhouette, the split flare version of the leggings is a popular pick that shoppers give 4.5 out of 5 stars.

$99 at Athleta

Lululemon vs. Athleta: Which pair is softer?

I'll start by saying that both pairs are very, very soft. According to the product description of the Athleta leggings, they're made from the brand's Powervita fabric that is "buttery soft with support that feels like a gentle hug." Similarly, the Lululemon Align leggings are made from "super soft Nulu fabric" that offers "lightweight, breathable coverage." To my touch, the fabrics feel almost identical, but if I had to call it, the Lululemons are just a tad softer.

Lululemon vs. Athleta: Which pair is thicker?

There is actually a noticeable difference in the thickness of the Athleta and Lululemon leggings. The Lululemon Align leggings are definitely more lightweight than the Athleta leggings and just feel thinner overall. To be clear, the Lululemon leggings don't feel cheap, just not as substantial as the Athleta pair. If you're someone who likes a barely-there feel, then the Align leggings will be your favorite, but if you're looking for some heft so you actually feel covered, then the Athleta leggings are the better pick.

athleta lululemon leggings
I'm wearing the Lululemon Align pants in navy blue on the left and the Athleta Elation pants in olive green on the right.

Lululemon vs. Athleta: Which pair is more supportive?

Even though the Lululemon Align leggings feel thinner and more lightweight, I will say they are surprisingly supportive. They're not tight at all, but I still feel "held in" around my stomach, booty and hips when wearing them. That said, the Athleta Elation Pants absolutely offer more support. The Lulus are like a gentle touch, while the Athleta pair is more like a firmer squeeze. I personally like a snugger fit, so when I'm feeling like I need to be "snatched," I reach for the Athleta pair.

Lululemon vs. Athleta: Which pair runs true to size?

I usually wear a size 26 or 27 in jeans, which corresponds to a size 2 or 4 in pants. I can fit some XS bottoms, but usually go with a size S to accommodate my rear end. My Athleta leggings are a size small and fit me perfectly, while I need a size 6 in the Lululemon leggings. So I'd say the Athleta leggings are pretty true to size, while the Align pants run a bit small. One shopper at Lululemon agreed, writing in their review "Definitely size up if you're curvy!"

Lululemon vs. Athleta: Which pair holds up better in the washing machine?

I wash both pairs of leggings in the washing machine in cold water and then air dry; I've never put them in the dryer and never will because I'm convinced they'll be ruined. After four washes, both have held up very well. Neither have started to pill or go see-through in any areas, so this one is a tie.

athleta lululemon leggings
Both the Lululemon and the Athleta leggings pass the squat test. They're not see-through when you bend down.

Lululemon vs. Athleta: Which pair passes the squat test?

Like most people, if I pay $100 for a pair of leggings, I expect them to offer complete coverage, with nothing underneath showing. I can report that neither the Lululemon Align leggings nor the Athleta Elation leggings are sheer when you bend down or bend over. Mentally, however, it sometimes feels like the Lulus are. I had my daughter and my partner confirm they couldn't actually see anything through the Align leggings as I squatted and contorted and they said they couldn't. But there's something about the thinner, lighter-weight fabric that still makes me a tiny bit skeptical. Personally, I felt much more secure that I was 100% covered and not showing off the goods in the Athleta pair.

Lululemon vs. Athleta: Which pair is better?

Honestly, this is a tough decision because I really like both pairs of leggings. In my opinion, the Lululemon Align leggings live up to the hype even though the $100 price tag is hard to swallow. But if I'm spending my own money, then I'd probably go with the Athleta Elation leggings because they feel thicker, more substantial and supportive and I think they'll hold up better over time. My birthday is next month and the classic Elation Tights are at the top of my wish list because I like them so much and want another pair. I will say, if you're a person who sweats a lot or runs hot, you might go with the Align pants. I am always cold and really like the heavier fabric of the Elation leggings, but I can definitely see how they would be too bulky for some people, especially folks who tend to hold heat.

The Elation 7/8 Tights have a near perfect 5 out of 5 star rating among shoppers at Athleta. Many customers comment on how soft the leggings are and how they don't slip down during workouts. One shopper who shares my opinion wrote, "I swear these are better than my beloved ___lemons! [They] stay in place and [they are] smoother!"

$89 at Athleta

In addition to the regular Align pants, Lululemon also makes Align pants with pockets, plus Align mini-flared pants.

$128 at lululemon

The reviews quoted above reflect the most recent versions at the time of publication.