The world of hosiery can be challenging for some people.
This is understandable. Hosiery goes back and forth between being super chic and completely taboo. Thanks to a certain duchess named Kate Middleton, who is perhaps the most perfect, ladylike style icon since Jackie O., we're emerging from a period of hosiery hatred. Even nude hose, formerly the worst of the worst, have been reintroduced to our fashion repertoire because frankly, we all want to look like Kate.
Frostbite, ever so slightly less chic. We all get three exemptions -- New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day and our own birthdays if applicable -- and are otherwise required by Mother Nature to cover our legs.
Below, I've outlined some tips for buying a great pair of tights or hose, and some guidelines to remember for styling.
How to shop for tights and hosiery
-- Build on basics.
For each pair of neutral shoes or boots you wear the most, you should have a pair of coordinating tights. Unless it's a formal occasion, I prefer tights to hosiery because they're thicker and they act as more of an accessory. Where hosiery seeks to help your legs blend in, tights can be a standout piece. First, stock up on black, brown, camel or gray, plain or in a pattern such as herringbone. Once you've got the neutrals covered, experiment with colors. Tights cost $25, tops, so go for that color you never thought you'd wear if you're really in love with it.
-- Don't spend too much.
OK, so I got a little ahead of myself. Not that I don't support a beautiful pair of stockings, but for the average, slightly hurried gal who's no stranger to pulling on her tights too aggressively and ripping them, a $25 cap is practical. Many times you can go even cheaper.
-- Buy hose from a department store.
It's worth the extra few dollars to look at the fabric samples and pick a shade and texture that's right for you. Do not let me catch you in a pair of pearly, suntan-shade Leggs from CVS or there will be consequences. Nordstrom's hosiery department is my favorite for its huge variety and fairly affordable prices for the quality. They have a lot of tights from brands such as DKNY, but their house brand stocks perfect pairs of sheer hose to match any skin tone.
-- Steer clear of white.
I also avoid cream or anything else resembling white, because I've made the mistake and regretted it by my first bathroom trip and glimpse of myself in the mirror. If you're looking for a pair you can wear with anything, you'll be better served with subtly patterned tights in gray or camel or a pair of nude hose.
-- Be careful of fishnet-like patterns.
Again, it's a bit easier to test-drive a pair of tights or hose you've purchased in a department store, but remember that patterns stretch out when you put them on. Even if they're not actually fishnets, anything in the fishnet family has to have a pattern that's very small in the package. As a reminder, nobody loves fishnets more than I, but they're for costumes and burlesque shows only.
Styling your ensemble
Here's a quick checklist for what to do and not do with your tights:
-- Streamline as much as possible. For example, black tights look best with black shoes or boots.
-- Find your focal points for color. In general, a colorful ensemble demands neutral tights and a neutral ensemble can get a pop of color from tights. This is one area where color-blocking doesn't work as well, because a pair of tights makes one too many hues. If you're wearing several colors, go subtle for the tights.
-- Never wear a ripped pair, especially on the job. For business trips or other situations where you might be stranded without tights or hose, bring two pairs.
-- No open-toe shoes. This is part of the reason nude hose got such a bad rap -- people were wearing them in the summer with their strappy sandals. With tights, shoes should always be closed-toe, except in the case of peep-toe booties that are the exact same color as the tights.
(E-mail Kristyn Schiavone at Kristyn@simplestyleguide.com, follow her on Twitter at @KKSchiavone or write to her c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave, Ste. 1400, Chicago, IL 60611.)