Heist touted as the new authority on British tights
There are many adages counselling when exactly is the right time to reach into one’s hosiery drawer and declare tights season to be open again. Some say you should only wear tights if there is an “R” in the month, or reserve them for temperatures sub-14 degrees. In normal circumstances, at around this point in October, the switch would be unanimous for all from the city commute to the school run; it’s officially too cold for bare legs.
But in this most extraordinary of years, how will sightings (and sales) of tights fare? With most still advised to work from home where possible, and without much of a party season on the cards, might tights be the latest sartorial casualty of the pandemic?
Not so, say the retailers, who have still bought hosiery in hauls. In fact, the prediction is that sales will be just as strong as in any recent year, and that we might even embrace a greater variety of designs than ever before.
The business of classic black tights is well established with two key players: Heist and Marks & Spencer. The former is the new authority on British tights, and now delivers an eco-friendly version of its perfect light tint in a 35 denier (£24), or 60 denier opaque (£26, both heist-studios.com). The latter is the true authority – M&S has sold tights since the Sixties and is still the UK market leader, selling 5.4 million pairs per year. Black tights will soon get a starring role on our winter lockdown TV agenda, too – Nicole Kidman’s Manhattan chiller thriller The Undoing starts on Sky on October 26, and delivers excellent coat, boots and smoky tights combos throughout.
But it is this fun caveat – that this year we might all stray from the standard issue styles – which is most interesting. The problem with thick, colourful, knitted tights, historically, has been that they look bonkers with most shoes. This year, when padding around the house, I’ve barely worn shoes. Problem solved. Tights may finally move on from being dubbed “solutionwear”, to becoming the main fashion event.
“The rise in working from home has made us reflect on what is important in our wardrobes,” considers Soozie Jenkinson, head of lingerie design at M&S, noting that searches for tights have increased on the retailer’s website by over 30 per cent in the last week. “As temperatures drop, we will look to warmer layers to keep us cosy. Loungewear and cosy, comfy styles have become our go-to work-from-home favourites and those principles apply to legwear too.”
A chunky knitted pair of tights like Jonathan Aston’s grey cotton cable design (£16, tightstightstights.co. uk) would be ideal with a cosy oversized jumper dress. Beige and brown ribbed wool knits can be found across the high street at COS, John Lewis and Falke, as well as M&S.
Bolder colours that usually would stumble with the aforementioned shoe clash can also be embraced. Off for Sunday lunch at a friend’s house with a cold hardwood floor? Pick a colour out of a rich winter floral dress, and match it to the teal, navy or terracotta version of White Stuff ’s bestselling organic cotton Patty tights (£12.50, whitestuff.com). Heist launched khaki, mustard and a new bestseller in a mocha colour in September, in direct response to a customer poll conducted in April. Prada’s from-the-catwalk cerulean ribbed silk pair (£300, net-a-porter.com) is another way to go. Katherine Schwarzenegger offers the best advice for anyone needing to keep shoes on with coloured tights: just go tonal.
When M&S began selling beige nylons for 3 shillings and 11 pence in the Sixties, it released an advertisement for its “up-to-the-minute stocking fashion”. “Skirts are shorter,” the text urged, “give your legs the lovelier look with St Michael nylons”.
From 20 million pairs sold in 1964 to 5.4 million in 2019, M&S’s hosiery history is a reflection on how social formalities, hemlines and style preferences between skirts and trousers have all changed over the decades.
Today, beige nylons are barely there compared to the dominance of black 50-60 deniers, which are by far the best sellers for all brands mentioned here. Might 2020, and the working from home era, spark the next legwear revolution?