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Not your mama’s pantyhose: Designer legwear becomes the splurge of the season

It’s nearly Christmas and women everywhere are getting ready for the annual round of pre-holiday parties: New dress, new shoes, maybe even a new piece of jewelry or two. But the priciest part of this outfit may no longer be the handbag or fancy bracelet, but the stockings. Welcome to the world of designer legwear, with designer prices to match.

It wasn’t too long ago that stockings and tights were an afterthought — worn to keep legs warm and bellies sucked in. Now, leg wear has become as much as an accessory as a belt, hat or scarf, and prices can reach hundreds of dollars for one pair of stockings.

“Women buy expensive hosiery because it makes them look and feel good at a fraction of the cost of a complete lingerie set or a new designer dress,” says Treacle, the blogger behind TheLingerieAddict.com. “Legwear is a practical indulgence. It is something women can wear anytime and with any outfit. They can play with trends, with color and with texture in the same way they can with any other piece of clothing.”

But luxury doesn’t come cheap. Wolford’s Passementerie legging with ribbons, fringe, lace and tassels sells for $495, while the company’s lace Roses tights, complete with flower texture and back seam, sell for $345. And if it’s too cold for sheers, there are the $170 Gisella Merino wool tights with a fine rib.

Wolford is hardly the only brand with triple digit price tags: It is joined in this ever-expanding club by luxury brands Bebaroque and Damir Dona among others, with Falke and Fogel selling some pairs for around $80.

  • Slideshow Photos

    5 fall trends you'll wear into the spring

    TODAY style editor Bobbie Thomas helps you make the most of your wardrobe.

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    5 fall trends you'll wear into the spring -

    By Bobbie Thomas

    Although most of us have yet to wear new favorites for this fall, the Spring 2012 shows just wrapped up here at New York Fashion week. And while Heidi Klum’s catch phrase “One minute you are in, and the next you are out!” may come to mind, there’s a glam silver lining. I’ve taken note of the looks we’ll be seeing again in the new year, so you can invest wisely now:

    Be bold
    The colorblocking trend that's all over stores this year continues to be a statement-maker for spring, with bold stripes and vibrant color on the runways at BCBG Max Azria, Tommy Hilfiger and others. The punchy pinks, bright corals, and neon-like yellows that turned up the volume on the runways could easily be worn this winter with black, browns, and caramel. Then come next year, lighten them up with white and beige.

    Neon Lace Mini, $82.33, Asos.com

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    Go long -

    Midi-length skirts, dresses and airy maxis flowed down the runways of Derek Lam, DKNY, Jason Wu and many more with hemlines of every kind – asymmetrical, scoop, handkerchief and slits have all been seen at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. So the longer lengths you’ve seen all summer and in stores this fall will be wise investments. Keep warm by pairing these ladylike styles with boots and textured tights and keep cool come spring by pairing with wedges or a simple flat.

    Box Pleated Hi Low, $58, Needsupply.com

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    Love leather -

    Forget the clunky coats of decades past – recent runways have shown sleek leather dresses and cute, cropped jackets. A slim pencil skirt in black or rust leather is also great buy; it can complement a soft sweater or tie neck blouse for the office and can be worn with a dainty tee or top for a fresh, seasonless style.

    Leather Front Tee, $100, Topshop.com

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    Prints and patterns -

    The fall runways were full of mixed motifs. Navajo met geometric, animal print paired up with stripes, graphics even met with polka dots. The clash of designs were seen again, and lots of digital prints were shown. Designers such as Prabal Gurung, Cynthia Rowley, and Alexander Wang paraded "look-at-me"-printed prints down the catwalk. Consider what’s already in your closet or pick up some bold pieces, so you can start experimenting now to perfect your favorite combos.

    Snakeskin Print Blazer, $79.99, Zara.com

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    Tribal motifs -

    Tribal motifs popped up on fall runways and again in the Spring 2012 collections. The earthy ethnic looks are a great year round way to mix in a bit of bohemian chic. For just a hint, pick up a statement necklace or handbag, pair with black for a little edge, or go for head-to-toe with a dress.

    Flutter Sleeve Printed Chiffon Trim Handkerchief Hem, $34.99, Macys.com

    Getty Images/Macy's / Getty Images/Macy's

“These really expensive lines each have something unique that sets them apart from a regular black pair of opaque tights,” says Laura Godsal, owner of the online tights store AlexBlake.com. “The economy is quite tough these days, but if a pair of stockings or tights is really special or if it does something amazing to your body, then people are willing to pay higher prices. We have sold several pairs of a hand-embellished pair of Bebaroque stockings for $127, and we see over and over that good quality sells well.”

Longer lasting?Led by the likes of Kim Kardashian, Katy Perry, Beyonce, Duchess Kate and other female celebrities showing their glammed-up gams, women are buying — and spending — more on legwear than ever before. Sales of women’s sheer hosiery and tights totaled $1.4 billion in the U.S. for the 12 months ending in September, a 13 percent increase from the year before, according to market research firm NPD Group/Consumer Tracking Service.

Even babies are getting in on the craze for fancy tights: 4-month-old Harper Beckham was spotted earlier this week wearing a pair of Chloe tights that sell for around $50.

Humberto Carreno
-New York, NY -11/15/2011 Designer Victoria Beckham and daughter Harper spotted in Midtown Manhattan -PICTURED: Victoria Beckham and daughter Harper -PHOTO by: Humberto Carreno/startraksphoto.com -HOB_8349 Startraks Photo New York, NY For licensing please call 212-414-9464 or email sales@startraksphoto.com

“High-fashion leg wear allows consumers to update their classic and basic wardrobe. They are looking at investing in leg wear in a similar way to investing in handbags,” says Marshal Cohen, chief industry researcher at NPD Group.

The roster of designers looking to cash in on the craze for tights is growing. Designer Isaac Mizrahi just announced that he will launch a new legwear line, from socks to leggings, in the fall of 2012. His designs, which will include refined animal prints, herringbone, lace and stripes, will be sold at department stores and high-end retailers.

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    Ade Johnson / AFP

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    The best of bizarre style

    Full leather suits? Skeleton dresses? Take a look at our collection of designers' most unique, odd, and downright bizarre styles from fashion shows around the world.

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    Funky fashion straight from the runway -

    Think you could pull off these looks? Try not to stare as you take a look at some of the most unique and odd styles designers have created to grace the catwalks of fashion shows around the world.

    Riddle me this A model wears a creation by Belgian fashion designer Martin Margiela as part of his presentation for Women's Spring Summer 2012 Haute Couture fashion collection presented in Paris, Wednesday, Jan. 25 2012.

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    These shoes were made for gawking -

    A model cleverly struts the catwalk in a Martinez Lierah design that elevates the look of a broken heel to Gaga glam during the 080 Barcelona fashion week on Jan. 27, 2012.

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    Cell-out -

    A model shows a creation of Dutch designer Bas Kosters, a dress and hat featuring cell phones (hmm is this social commentry or are phones just fashion forward?) on the first day of the Amsterdam International Fashion Week.

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    Sharp angles -

    This On Aura Tout Vu dress, part of the Spring/Summer 2012 Haute-Couture collection, features embroidered crystal on the sleeves. The collection was shown during Paris Fashion Week on Jan. 25, 2012.

    Getty Images Contributor / Getty Images Contributor
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    Sculptured flair -

    Dubbing her collection "animality without being provocative," designer Yiqing Yin pleased critics during the Spring/Summer 2012 Haute Couture collection show, on Jan. 25, 2012 in Paris.

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    Cut and dry -

    A model presents a creation by Amapô during the Sao Paulo Fashion Week, Fall-Winter 2012 at Ibirapuera Park in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

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    Animal magnetism -

    Iris Van Herpen designed these shoes, reminiscent of a predator's teeth, and featured them in the Haute-Couture 2012 show as part of Paris Fashion Week.

    Getty Images Contributor / Getty Images Contributor
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    Scientific style -

    A model presents a creation by Iris van Herpen, whose collection was inspired by nature, specifically, microscopic organisms. This dress was shown during the Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2012 fashion show in Paris on Jan. 23, 2012.

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    Behind the mask -

    Netherlands' fashion designer Walter Van Beirendonck titled his collection Lust Never Sleeps, and featured male models wearing masks. This model walked the runway at a presentation of the designer's Men's Fall-Winter 2012/2013 fashion collection in Paris on Jan. 21, 2012.

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    Bug-eyed -

    These models presented creations by fashion designer Elin Engstroem during a show of Baltic designers at the Fashion Week in Berlin on January 20, 2012.

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    Eye of the tiger -

    On January 21, 2012, this model showcased a unique look during the Bernhard Willhelm Menswear Autumn/Winter 2013 show as part of Paris Fashion Week at Le Trianon.

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    Muscle man -

    This model walked the runway during the Thom Browne Menswear Autumn/Winter 2013 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on January 22, 2012.

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    Very high heels -

    A creation of fashion designer Gregor Gonsior, a model wore these shoes on the runway during a show of Baltic designers at the Fashion Week in Berlin on January 20, 2012.

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    Seeing red -

    A model walked the runway wearing this look during the Qasimi Menswear Autumn/Winter 2013 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on January 22, 2012.

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    The orchid thief -

    A design by Meiyi Cheung, this model showed off a unique look during the 'Arts meets Fashion' show on day one of Hong Kong Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2012 on January 16, 2012.

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    Pillow pecs -

    This model walked the runway at the Beautyberry by Wang Yutao show during the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Berlin, Germany, on January 20, 2012.

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    Splash of color -

    On January 19, 2012, a model wore this design by Osklen on the runway during the 2012 Winter collections of the Sao Paulo Fashion Week in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

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    Hair lines -

    This design by Eiffel Li Lun appeared on the runway during the Young Fashion Designer's Contest 2012 on day two of Hong Kong Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2012 on January 17, 2012.

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    Mysterious lady -

    On January 19, 2012, this model walked the runway at the Kaviar Gauche Autumn/Winter 2012 fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin.

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    Rainbow bright -

    During Men's fashion week in Milan, a model displayed this creation as part of the Versace Fall-Winter 2012-2013 Menswear collection on January 16, 2012.

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    Smurf-tastic shoes -

    This model wore a creation from the Vivienne Westwood Men's Fall-Winter 2012/2013 collection, part of the Milan Fashion Week, unveiled on January 15, 2012.

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    Candy cane stripes -

    On September 21, 2011 in Milan, Italy, this model graced the runway at the Roccobarocco Spring/Summer 2012 fashion show as part of Milan Womenswear Fashion Week.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
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    Fenced in -

    This look appeared on the runway during the Gareth Pugh Ready to Wear Spring/Summer 2012 show during Paris Fashion Week at Garage Turenne on September 28, 2011.

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    Metallic mania -

    Models presented creations by Indian designer Manish Arora for Paco Rabanne fashion house as part of the Spring/Summer 2012 Women's Ready-to-Wear fashion collection show during the Paris Fashion week on October 4, 2011.

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    Spike skirt -

    Displaying an outfit by Spanish designer Martin Lamothe, this model walked the runway during the Cibeles Madrid Fashion Week on September 19, 2011.

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  • Image: A model presents a creation from designer David Delfin's Spring/Summer 2012 collection during Cibeles Madrid Fashion Week

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    Wearing white -

    This look from designer David Delfin's Spring/Summer 2012 collection appeared during Cibeles Madrid Fashion Week on September 17, 2011.

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  • Image: Pasarela Cibeles Madrid Fashion Week S/S 2012 - Alba Cardalda

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    Futuristic -

    Presenting a creation by Spanish designer Alba Cardalda, this model graced the runway during the Cibeles Ego fashion show at the 54th Cibeles Madrid Fashion Week Sepetember 20, 2011.

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    Cotton candy vision -

    This outfit by designer Ibai Labiega graced the runway during the Ego Cibeles Madrid Fashion Week on September 20, 2011.

    AFP - Getty Images / AFP - Getty Images
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    White rabbit -

    This model wore a creation by designers Ayagoz and Botagoz Kirgizbayeva during the National Contest of Young Designers OPEN WAY in Almaty on September 30, 2011.

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    Jailbird -

    This outfit by Spanish designer Carlos Diez appeared on the runway during the Cibeles Madrid Fashion Week on September 19, 2011.

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    Coat of many colors -

    A creation from designer Magnus Dekker, this model presented the bright look during the 15th International Amsterdam Fashion Week on July 15, 2011.

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    Mustard mayhem -

    This model walked the runway at the Henrik Vibskov show at Copenhagen Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2012 on August 5, 2011 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

    Getty Images Contributor / Getty Images Contributor
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    Hair apparent -

    On July 6, 2011, a model showed off this unique creation at the offsite show Triumph Inspiration Award during the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin.

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    Big hearted -

    This look appeared on the runway during the Kilian Kerner fashion show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin Spring/Summer 2012 on July 8, 2011.

    AFP - Getty Images / AFP - Getty Images
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    Waisted -

    In Rome, Italy on July 8, 2011, a model showcased this dress during Fausto Sarli fashion show as part of AltaModa AltaRoma Autumn/Winter 2011 at Campidoglio.

    Getty Images Contributor / Getty Images Contributor
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    Uneven -

    A model wore this look on the runway at the HTW Berlin Show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin Spring/Summer 2012 on July 9, 2011.

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    Gaga for gumballs -

    Wearing a creation by Belgian fashion designer Walter Van Beirendonck, this model walked the runway as part of the designer's Spring/Summer 2012 fashion collection presented in Paris on June 24, 2011.

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    This model graced the catwalk at the Iris van Herpen Show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin Spring/Summer 2012 on July 8, 2011.

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    Cocoon -

    Russian model Tanya Dziahileva wore a creation by Dutch designer Iris Van Herpen during the Haute Couture Paris Fashion Week on July 4, 2011.

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    This model showed off a style by Taiwanese designer Yang Yu Lin at the offsite show Triumph Inspiration Award during the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Berlin, Germany, on July 6, 2011.

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    This creation was showcased on the runway at the Austrian Fashion Design show during the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Berlin, Germany, on July 7, 2011.

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    Leathered up -

    In Milan, Italy, this model wore a suit from the Versace Spring-Summer 2012 collection during the Milan Men's Fashion Week on June 20, 2011.

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    Protecting assets -

    This model walked the runway during the Moncler Gamme Bleu fashion show during Milan Fashion Week Menswear Spring/Summer 2012 on June 19, 2011.

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    Potty humor -

    This look created by Georgian designer Alexandre Akhalkatsishvili was presented at the Fall-Winter 2011 Tbilisi Fashion Week, in Tbilisi, Georgia, on May 6, 2011.

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    Take us to your leader -

    Models presented creations by Hungarian designers Zita Csabai and Zsofia Farkas during a fashion contest at the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest on May 8, 2011.

    AFP - Getty Images / AFP - Getty Images
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    Dude looks like a lady -

    This design by Alistair Trung was presented during Rosemount Australian Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2011/12 in Sydney, Australia.

    Getty Images / Getty Images

But what if you take your brand-new, $300 stockings out of the package and snag them on what you thought was a perfectly manicured fingernail? Not to worry, say the pantyhose experts: New fibers like Lycra Fusion make it hard for a hole to turn into a leg-long ladder, while also improving durability.

But these new technologies are also helping to push up prices.

“The more expensive products are generally longer lasting,” says Godsal. “I have worn my Wolford Bonnie Dots about 10 times and they are still in good shape, and I have other tights that I wore for eight years before they ripped. I would say though that the European brands are generally better quality and have more interesting designs; about 60 percent of our sales are for European products.”

And just in case you do get a runner in your pantyhose, Spanx, which specializes in shape wear of all kinds, sells replacement legs for its Assets Ultra Sheers at $12, so you can get rid of the run without chucking the all-important shaper — an “ideal option for the fashion-loving woman looking to squeeze her tummy but not her wallet,” says the company, whose highest-priced pair, the Uptown Tight-End Tights, sells for $42.

So are luxury tights really worth it? Without a doubt, say devotees.

“When I buy luxury tights, I can keep them forever,” says Treacle, whose blog was originally devoted only to leg wear. “Hand-wash, hang to dry and they will keep for years in a way that budget pairs won’t. Factor in how versatile tights are and their ability to enhance the look of any outfit, and one can definitely begin to see why they're so popular.”

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