Tips for finding the niftiest nylons without running your legs off

WHOSE HOSE IS IT ANYWAY?

August 14, 1994|By Holly Selby

Be tall. Be thin. Be young.

Alas, that's what one fashion director recommended when asked for tips on how best to coordinate hose with fall's new outfits.

Well, if you're all of those things, you've got it made. If not, applaud her honesty. . . . and remember, she also said that there now are so many options for legwear that you're sure to find something flattering.

And she's right: Driven by a combination of innovation, technology and pure marketing, women's hosiery is available now in a truly bewildering array of shades, weights and styles. For example, the Hanes Silk Reflections line alone annually offers 447 different styles and colors from thigh highs and ultra sheers to body shapers and light support hose.

The only problem with choice, as every woman who has ever dressed in a hurry is well aware, is that one must actually make a decision.

What follows is a roundup of information designed to help when you're standing in the middle of a department store in the grips of a very real pantyhose panic.

DESPERATELY SEEKING -- WHAT?

Last spring, designers Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Isaac Mizrahi and Richard Tyler tipped us off that black opaque hose would no longer reign supreme by showing models sporting sheer and nude hosiery.

Sure enough, this fall, skirt lengths are all over the place -- and so is the accompanying legwear. Everything from thigh highs to boot socks or from tights to sheer pantyhose goes. To top it off, an increasing number of companies offer pantyhose with varying kinds of control.

And after years in which neutrals and black were fashion mainstays, color is making a splash. Winter whites and ivories are plentiful and are sometimes matched with pastels. Tonal looks -- for example, a dark green outfit paired with dark green hose -- are also a good choice because they create a long, clean, slim look.

"Your best bet is to create a head-to-toe line [of color]," says Heather Femia, fashion director for Nordstorm in Washington and Baltimore. "However, I'm not advocating people going around in all-orange outfits. To compromise, wear a burnt-orange dress with brown hosiery and brown shoes."

So, if you love short skirts -- wear them. And pair them with opaque hose or anklets, or try bulky socks and clunky boots. If you prefer higher fashion looks, try sheer pantyhose in nude or pale colors from gun metal to eggshell with mid-length to short skirts.

Paler tones worn on the legs call for a bit of discretion, however. "Don't wear stockings that are lighter than your skirt because it visually chops you in half. And don't wear shoes that are darker than the pantyhose, it will look clunky."," says Nancy Schnurnberger, spokeswoman for the National Association of Hosiery Manufacturers.

Aim to create a clean visual line, she says. "It will make you look taller and who doesn't want to look taller?"

If shock value is your version of fashion, try a super-mini with thigh highs. But, says anonymous the fashion director: "If you're not very young, very thin, think of another look."

There's no need, however, to throw out the old standbys -- black opaque hose or black tights. If that's the look you like, wear it. "I say, 'Don't part with those opaque tights,' " says Ms. Femia. "Just keep on with the black, black, black, but try brightening your look with a black skirt, black turtleneck and a bright jacket."

With all the options out there, says Ms. Schnurnberger, "You can have fun with pantyhose -- like with jewelry."

THE PANTYHOSE JUNGLE

All you have to do is find your way through the jungle of pantyhose that is in every department store.

After all, it's a simple matter of choosing what color (anything from black to never-so-nude) and what style (anything from sheer, with sheen, without sheen, opaque, no control, light control or grip-you-till-you-can't-breathe).

Just chant to yourself: "Pantyhose manufacturers need me, not the other way around."

In fact, the trend toward more casual dressing, a rise in popularity in pantsuits and trousers, and America's love affair with tights caused pantyhose sales to drop 7.5 percent last year. And, in the past five years, the volume of sheer pantyhose sales has dropped nearly 40 percent, says Frank Oswald, marketing consultant for Du Pont Co.

"Sheers were your mother's everyday uniform," he says. "But the role of sheers has changed from 'my everyday legwear uniform' to 'I now wear sheer when I need that look.' "

Slumping sales or not, American women go through an average of 17 pairs of pantyhose a year, according to the NAHM. And last year they ran up a hosiery bill of $2.4 billion.

Most salespeople recommend initially surveying the market by buying several brands and styles of pantyhose before choosing the one that works for you.

Though this suggestion seems incredibly time-consuming and annoying, I found testing hosiery for this article [see box] extremely illuminating: All hosiery is not alike. It's worth the time and cost to find which brand you prefer.

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