In the UK, the word “tights” refers to any hosiery covering the lower half of the body, no matter the denier or opacity. The same is true in France and Italy, where they use the word “collants”, and in Germany, where they use the word “strumpfhose”. But in the USA, “tights” commonly refers to opaque hosiery. Once the hosiery denier is lighter and the appearance is much more sheer, they’re called “pantyhose”.
Pantyhose was invented in the 1950’s as a simplification of sheer stockings (no garters and girdles to mess with). They really took off in fashion during the 1960’s, although there was increasing competition from tights at the time. Women like Edie Sedgwick and Twiggy popularized the look of opaque tights, from black to all kinds of bold bright colors.
But that opaque look melted away back to sheer during the 1970’s and onward.
According to sales statistics, pantyhose were becoming less popular over time, and by the 1990’s it was estimated that nearly 50% fewer women were buying them than in the previous decade. In the fashion industry, the nude leg became highly preferred over pantyhose. Maybe it was the popularity of the exercise and tanning movement, where women with lucky genetics and fastidious care could show off the most perfect looking sculpted legs not needing any enhancement from pantyhose.
But by the early to mid 2000’s, tights were starting to make a comeback. Mostly it was tights in black and some dark earth tone colors, but as the decade advanced more bold colors began to appear. And by the end of the decade, it became fashionable to draw attention with eye captivating tights in red, yellow, and blue. Today, colorful legs are all the rage in fashion. If you had previously looked back on the styles of the 1960’s and longed for them to return, your day has finally come. Tights seem to have given a TKO (technical knock out) to pantyhose. 🙂
There is something quite different this time around, though. Textile technology has advanced to such a degree that most well crafted tights are now very comfortable. Lycra, Tactel, and microfiber have turned a garment that was sometimes uncomfortable into one that women can appreciate wearing. Also, with breathable synthetic fibers, women can wear semi-opaque tights during the summer and remain remarkably cool.
So… what about pantyhose? It seems like the obvious proliferation of tights has cast a deep dark shadow over them. I rarely see women wearing pantyhose these days. Some women have blogged about it, some thankful and others lamenting what is a very nice form of hosiery.
As I see it, pantyhose is not as versatile as tights. They expose a lot more of the leg, requiring the wearer to have skin free of eye catching blemishes and toned or lean leg and thigh muscles. The subtle effect of pantyhose can work well, if you’ve got the right legs. Tights are not only comfortable, but they hide much that women would rather not be noticed. Plus they provide for more wardrobe style experimentation. Personally, I like the opaque effect, as there is something more alluring about what is hidden over what is revealed, while still offering a strong idea of shape (although you can also mute the leg shape with a clever pair of black tights).
I think tights have won over pantyhose for a good while. We will always see some women wearing sheer hosiery, especially in the warmer months. But for most of the time, when the legs aren’t covered by trousers they will be shrouded in tights, if not nude. The range of textiles, colors, and patterns available in tights have really become so diverse and attractive, I don’t think that tights will ever go completely out of fashion again.