Funky hose, tights walk back into style

Since the mid-1990s, women have braved the cold with bare legs, free from saggy, easy-to-run pantyhose and inspired, some say, by the "Sex and the City" ladies.

But last season, major designers began moving back to covered legs. At fashion shows for this fall and winter, there were lots of brightly hued or intricately textured tights, boots paired with floppy socks, tailored skirts worn with opaque tights, even lingerie looks with old-fashioned but sexy nylon stockings, says Edward Miccinati, co-owner of New York-based StockinGirl, an online boutique. One of his current best-sellers is the swiss dot pantyhose, popular several years ago.

The runway may have spearheaded the revival, but the economy could be empowering it.

"If you're not able to really update your fall wardrobe, using legwear is a good way to do it," says Miccinati. "The price of entry is not as expensive as other accessories."

For instance, you can wear the same little black dress but add a $15 pair of lace hose. Or shake up your workaday black suit with some burgundy hose.

On the same economical note, Cydney Clemons, who writes a fashion blog, Raleigh (N.C.) Street Fashion, says tights give folks in warmer climes the chance to take lighter-weight clothing through cooler weather, extending their life.

And they add pizzazz.

"For my clientele, it's some patterns, but it's about color. It adds pop. It makes the whole outfit or can enhance what you have," said Kristy Hipple, owner of a clothing story in Raleigh that sells tights in lots of colors, as well as black hose with hints of silver or gold.

Ahead of the curve is Liz Bradford, a scientific illustrator who has 25 pairs of tights from fishnets, lace and polka dots to a pair of faux leather leggings so sleek they work like tights. Her passion for them started when she was at N.C. State University.

"It's another accessory, like necklaces and scarves," she says. "I like to wear them with shorts and skirts when it's cooler. I like black tights with my summery shorts."

And the look is not just for the young.

"We have a customer who's 75 that buys them," Hipple says.

You just have to make the first step, says Miccinati. And you don't have to go with pricey lines.

"H&M, The Limited, the chains have variety at fairly good prices," he says. "And if you feel uncomfortable, just take them off."

- Adrienne Johnson Martin, McClatchy Newspapers