The Tights Dilemma

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Cold weather is approaching (and already has landed in the more northern parts of the planet) and with all the cute dresses and skirts in the stores this season, what’s a girl supposed to do to prevent frostbite on her knees?

You know by now my opinion on pantyhose (hate it, only approve when an interview, your religion supports it, your job demands it or it’s funky/cool and you are a True Fashionista who can pull it off). But tights, tights are a different story. Tights actually DO keep your legs a bit warm (sorry ladies, I have worn hose in Maine and think I was warmer bare legged than having the cold cling to that polyester), they are very much in style and far less difficult to mess up style-wise.

What color? What texture? When are they appropriate?

3973Black is a great option. If they are well-made and very opaque, they can go with so many things. The past few seasons has paired black with every color under the planet (yes even brown and navy) so this is a great first choice for a tights wardrobe. I recommend a matte pair so they are more versatile and less looking like part of a Rockette’s ensemble.

This season they are showing black tights with colored shoes and dress (think purple dress and burgundy shoes), black tights with black shoes and a colored dress or skirt so there is much variety. I love the heeled oxfords and mature spin on heeled Mary Janes this season – they are a perfect pair with tights to look adult and sophisticated, but with a touch of feminine whimsy.

Brown is a good second if you do wear brown. Spanx actually has a reversible pair of tights that are black on one side and gray or brown on the other. This makes them doubly warm, strong and useful. Brown is great with lighter colors (camel, ivory) and can be less harsh. Make sure your brown has a nice chocolate tone and isn’t yellow-tinged like children’s tights.

5507486As for other colors, well it depends on your personal style. Burgundy is a nice choice this season – really makes black, dark gray and dark brown pop and be less ordinary. Purple is another popular shade this season and cute in legwear – again keep the color dark and cool-hued so you don’t look like a Strawberry Shortcake doll (Sour Grapes anyone?). Other darker jewel tones (dark amber, forest green, navy and even dove gray) can also look great but aren’t the hot colors for legwear this season – proceed only if these are signature colors in your wardrobe. But imagine your little black sheath, a pair of black heeled Mary Janes and then a pair of tights in a rich indigo hue. How about your ivory fisherman sweater, dark denim skirt, some brown boots and maroon tights… not traditional, but a cheap way to add color and a current trend to your wardrobe basics.

Unless you are a real creative with your style, I suggest avoiding white, cream and ivory tights. One false move, and you look like a 6-year old on her first day of school.

If you are new to tights, I recommend going for a smooth, matte finish. This is a basic that works from season to season, doesn’t add unflattering sheen to the larger parts of the leg, won’t be as likely to show through when stretched and will go with a multitude of skirt and dress fabrics.

If you are considering other textures (ornate lace styles, cable-knit, etc.) I say proceed with caution and pair with heavier fabrics on top. Textured tights can work with denim and wool, very rarely with silk and crepe. If you are doing textured legs, keep everything else simple – pattern and texture-free dresses, simple shoes, minimal jewelry and accessories.

Tights are great for work – they keep you warm, they aren’t too flashy and keep you under wraps while still looking professional. Pair with boots (tall classic styles, calf and ankle booties), heels (the new heeled oxfords, t-strap and round toe retro-inspired pumps, Mary Janes) and ballet flats (only if you already wear ballet flats, and I recommend printed flats with colored tights, black flats with black tights for a streamlined look).

Tights can take your favorite denim skirts and make them winter-appropriate. Instead of little tees and camis with sandals in the summer, pair your denim skirt with a chunky sweater or slim knit turtleneck, tights and a pair of boots.

5490498Tights are great for nights out on the town – keeps your legs warm while in line or dashing from the car, and look very current. The short-sleeved shifts of this season are perfect matches with tights and boots or heels. This fall has shown a ton of optic prints and bright jewel-toned solids which both are showcased but a solid black leg.

Tights are also being shown for more formal occasions, but here I also request that you proceed with caution. Black tights could be worn at an evening affair, if the heel is high and feminine and the dress is short and of a strong color. Banana Republic has a short emerald-green satin shift that I think could be worn to a holiday party or evening wedding with black tights and heels. My friend has a dark red taffeta strapless a-line dress that she has paired with black tights and heels and has looked very cute. Do know that black may be slimming, but it also cuts your body so you will look shorter. Shorter skirts (above knee) and higher heels on your shoes will help balance the look out.

A great thing about tights is that they hide a multitude of sins – cellulite, spider veins, pale legs, even a week without shaving! They can also assist with small bulges at the tummy and hips with all varieties of control tops. I do recommend that if you are heavier and softer in the middle to either go with a high-waisted style that hits under your bra (gives a smooth line) or forego the control so you don’t look cut in the middle.

583332 hiAs for footless tights and leggings – I must admit I sported them quite a lot last season to mixed reviews (by others, and by me each time I looked at myself in the mirror). If you are here for basic fashion advice, then I am telling you to NOT buy footless tights unless you plan to pair them with boots (sometimes is more comfortable and no one is the wiser). Footless tights can look very cool, or terribly terrible. They cut the line of the body, they can make you look like a fashion victim, and they pair with very few classic OR current styles.

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. OOPS! With regards to my post a few minutes ago…I forgot to include my watch in the accessories…it’s a fabulous chunky silver watch with funky numbers!

  2. Hi Allie! I love this topic. I recently had a mini fashion dilemma while getting ready for church…my nylons got ruined and I didn’t have another pair. I was wearing a white tank top, a gray cardigan and a black knee length skirt. I decided to throw on my opaque black tights…and my FAVORITE red patent leather peep toe pumps with a demi heel (smokin’)!!! My only accessories were silver hoop earrings and a red and black Gucci bag. I am a fashionista, but wasn’t 100% sure about the look at first. I ended up loving it, but do you think I went too far???? I promise never to do it again if you say I committed a sin.

  3. I don’t think it would hurt to tuck them into your bag when you head out shopping!

    From the description, it sounds like they may work with your dresses if they are very clean/modern silhouttes, solid in color and paired with a black shoe.

  4. I bought a pair of black and drak grey (they are kinda speckled with shades of grey and black) opaque tights thinking I could find SOMETHING to wear them with, but have not succeded! I don’t have a lot of skirts, and the ones i do have are very limited in color. I own two dresses (both bright almost neon colors in blue and a redish orange) but I don’t know if they match. Should I take my tights with me when I shop and find a skirt/dress that match or abandon the idea? Help!

  5. As a man who adores a woman’s legs dressed in hosiery… I still don’t understand what the difference is between liking tights but not pantyhose.

    Visually, from my perspective, they’re both gorgeous in their own way. The sheerness of hose/stockings is approximately 100 times more to die for, though… yet tights get the nod over the unbelievable sexiness of pantyhose.


    Thanks 🙂

  6. You should check out — they’re great and offer a great selection of wool, cotton, and organic cotton tights. I’ve purchased their wool cable knit tights and love them! Plus, I think their site is still free shipping.

    Allie, love your site!

  7. On the contrary! I say sport them with your shoulders straight, your head high, knowing all of us petite folks would DROOL to have your legs. The grass is always greener… let the world know your grass really is greener, lush and fabulous. Rock your tall self!

  8. Yea, that’s what I thought and was afraid of too…sigh. Well, thanks so much for all your advice! Hopefully my being tall AND wearing heels won’t make me look like some giantess…=(

  9. Honestly, you will lose some of that 60’s/Twiggy look with satin flats. It can still be cute but it won’t really accomplish the mod look that Stretis is showing. You do need a chunkier shoe with at least I am guessing a 1.5″ wedge heel to really get that balance.

  10. Mmm yea I can imagine how that lady’s outfit must have looked cute. If her hair was black and in a bob with bangs that would be perfect!

    Anyway, so I understand what you’re saying but what if the look I’m trying to achieve is kind of like this: (check autumn/winter 07 collection) can black flats (plain satin ones) substitute black chunky heels?

  11. If you do flats, I would try to have them be a bit more substantial than say, ballet flats. Maybe with a pointy toe, a slight wedge of a heel, something to balance the look out more. Also, try playing with color – if your tights are a different color, your height will not be the focus, the color combo will be and the shoes then be almost anything.

    I saw a woman in the city the other day in a gray wool knit dress, darker gray tights and dark red Mary Jane-style leather flats. No accessories except big black plastic sunglasses and she looked smashing.

  12. if you’re very tall and feel slightly uncomfortable wearing heels, would you still achieve the right ‘look’ (flapper, short chic shift dress) if you wore black tights with black flats? or is are chunkier heels just necessary for the balance and overall correct proportions of the look?

  13. I say YES YES YES! I am a 14 and short and I wear them regularly. You jsut need to consider proportions jsut like any other shape of woman. A really short dress, bright tights and flats may be really awful, but a wrap dress, tights and boots can be gorgeous. A heavier dress (wool, sweater, brocade) and a stocky Mary Jane will balance out heavy legs, and I always love a heavier weight skirt (denim, wool, tweed) with a retro shoe like a t-strap or round-toe pump. If the fabric is heavier, the skirt can be shorter and won’t give that leggings/tunic+ice cream cone look.

    I love skirts on women with curves because it shows we HAVE curves and are not one big marshmallow. We are feminine and sexy and awesome! Show your stuff girl with some great tights!

  14. Hi Allie,

    I just stumbled onto your site and LOVE it! 🙂

    I know this question is late, but can big girls (size 16+) really get away with wearing tights? I just remember the spandex pants I wore in the 90’s with oversized shirts and want to make sure I’m not making a mistake… 🙂 Thanks!

  15. thanks, allie! i’m thinking of getting tights from a dancewear company – i still have pink ones from my ballet days that i wore twice a week for years.

  16. I have Wolford ones that I have worn for almost a decade. I also have Spanx, a pair from Victoria’s Secret and Donna Karan. Any cheapies I have bought either tear or ride down so by lunch my crotch is mid-thigh. Tights unlike hose will last a long time – handwash, line dry and you could easily be wearing the same pair 10 years from now.

  17. what brands of tights do you recommend? i had some cheap black ones but they were see-through ripped really, really, easily.

  18. red looks good with black, charcoal grey, and if you are feeling adventurous, a lighter purple (sounds crazy but looks good). bronze works with black or chocolate brown.

  19. I was JUST going to ask you about this! I also HATE pantyhose (much to my mother-in-law’s chagrin) and I refuse to wear them, but my bare legs need something, sometimes! I truly appreciate this primer on tights and plan on taking your advice with me when I hit the shops. I find you invaluable!! Thank you. 🙂

  20. Wow, that was quick (I mean, if indeed this post was inspired by my question about tights)!!

    Thanks a million! Great advice (as always)!!!

    I guess I will stick to black tights then (or chocolate brown, also seems a great option).


  21. Love the fabulous pics Allie! Makes me wish it was fall here in Australia so I could run out and buy some…

    Using them to hide “a week without shaving” doesn’t work for me though, unfortunately. I have really pale blond leg hairs, which is normally brilliant ‘cos no-one can see the stubble if I’ve been slack. With tights it’s a different matter though.

    Black tights just don’t look sexy with lots of blond leg hairs sticking through them!

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