Buying a pair of pantyhose used to be about as exciting as purchasing postage stamps. Today, it's become high adventure.
Want to energize an outfit? Try neon lime leg wear. Looking for romance? Try a soft rose opaque. No longer neutral ground, hosiery departments have been transformed into garden spots of color. It's as if Ted Turner moved from the film front and into leg wear.
Hue, a New York leg wear manufacturer, is selling 35 different colors of lightweight opaque pantyhose this spring and plans an equal slew of shades for fall.
"When short skirts were first introduced, everyone wore black opaques because it provided a little more coverage," says Lisa Ferraro, marketing director at Hue. "Now that women are more comfortable with short skirts, they're ready for some color. After all, black can get pretty boring."
In addition to the explosion of color, texture has made hosiery headlines this spring.
"Mesh is hot, hot, hot," says Chris Gentry, fashion spokesman for Bloomingdale's branch stores. Mesh madness takes shape in fishnets, floral lace patterns and dots. "It's a nice way to soften man-tailored looks," she says.
Texture will stick around for fall, but will take a more masculine turn with tweeds, cable knits and ribbing. The call of the jungle also roars via animal prints.
"Hosiery has moved from necessity to accessory. By updating leg wear, you get a whole new look for a lot less money," says Ms. Ferraro, suggesting women try teaming new daisy lace hosiery with last year's sheath.
Besides saving money, fashion hosiery can save time. Going out for dinner and can't make it home to change your outfit? "Sexy hose can transform a simple day look into a racy evening one," says apparel designer Donna Karan.
Thanks to new textile technology and the expanding role of Lycra, hosiery has become an easy way to improve a figure. This spring, designer Karan introduced Mini Body Toners, a sequel to her Body Toners that debuted last fall. Both are made from nylon and Lycra spandex, offering extra control to thighs as well as the stomach. Mini Body Toners have an abbreviated leg panel so it can be worn under the shortest skirt, says Ms. Karan. Both are priced between $12.50 and $18.
Control features, once available only in basic shades of hosiery, are starting to show up in fashion colors. Hue offers six different styles of control-top leg wear this spring, including its Bodyshaper Short which can be worn under clothing or teamed with a blazer or long blouse.
And while fashion hosiery is getting more control, queen-size hosiery is getting more fashion.
Larger women no longer have to settle for black, bone and neutral. It Fits It Fits, a division of Mayer/Berkshire Corp., began expanding its color palette of queen-size hosiery last fall, adding such colors as dusty teal, electric blue and sunburst yellow for spring.
J.G. Hook launched its first queen-size leg wear last fall, specializing in tights. And L'Allure, the queen-size division of Christian Dior hosiery, will introduce four new hosiery options by fall -- a dot pattern, shiny opaque, light support and ultra-sheer styles.
"Queen sizes are one of our biggest growth opportunities, provided this customer is not treated as a stepchild," said Louise Steccone, vice president of Christian Dior leg wear at Hampshire Hosiery.
The mother-to-be is also getting some attention. Hue plans to launch maternity hosiery this fall, featuring a unique 4-inch waistline geared to sit higher over the stomach and not dig in. The maternity pantyhose, geared to fit until the baby's born, is available in opaque and sheer styles for $14, and a cuffed legging priced at $70.