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

Christmas is coming, 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. But the priciest part of this outfit may no longer be the handbag or bracelet, but the stockings.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

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.

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“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.

-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.comHumberto Carreno

“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.

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.

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.”