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A Fashion Dilemma: What to Wear on Your Legs This Winter

What’s a woman to do when the air turns chilly and she wants to wear a dress?

spinner image womens legs wearing tights in black pink and turqoise
Vaselena/Getty Images

I feel bad about my legs, and I always have. Even when I was a teen and they were tight and tan, I thought of my legs as unappealing, to me and anyone else. At home they were called “the Lynch legs” — meaning, their shape was inherited from the Irish side of the family, where generations of peasant women had full thighs, oddly-shaped knees, short calves and, possibly, thick ankles.

This would not be worthy of discussion were it not for our return to the time of year when women in cold climates face a question: What to do about leg coverings when wearing a skirt or dress?

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In warmer climates and for many months of the year, women of all ages freely go bare legged into the good day (or night). Smooth, tan, fit, uncovered legs look terrific in skirts of all lengths, not to mention shorts. Women of a certain age may apply self-tanners to disguise the spots and spider veins that come with each new year or — as I do — wear mid-calf length skirts, cropped pants or wide-legged linen palazzos to bare as little as possible. My friend Tracey solves all fashion problems, bare legs included, by wearing kaftans.

But, baby, it’s cold outside. What’s a woman to do about her legs when it’s winter? When she has a lovely velvet knee-length dress for the holiday party in Minnesota? Or a sparkly sheath for New Year’s Eve anywhere above the Mason-Dixon line? Nothing looks worse than trying to get away with naked legs in those circumstances. Trust me.

Flesh-toned or nude pantyhose were once de rigueur for office outfits, fancy dress or casual date night wear. I shudder to think how much money I spent in the ’70s, ’80s and into the ’90s on those plastic eggs from which L’Eggs hose were dispensed. Back then, we wore pantyhose all year round and went through tons of them because we typically wore them every day and they were not built to last. In winter, they may have done nothing for warmth, but they made our legs look better. Not pasty, showing flaky skin or a bit of stubble.

Things got more natural and casual in the ’90s. Women wore pants to work and to other events, even the glam ones. I remember covering the 1989 Oscar red carpet when Demi Moore made a splash in an inventive outfit of her own design, the main feature of which was bicycle shorts. That was extreme. But it was an indication that fashion was moving in more daring and baring directions.

Unsurprisingly, sheer hosiery as a fashion category fell out of favor in the ’90s, and until recently, we have seen little of it. I’m a tiny bit sorry I finally threw out a few pairs of nude hose balled up in the back of a lingerie drawer. I did not, however, dismiss my multiple pairs of opaque black tights. I’m not talking leggings — which I define as leg coverings without feet. I’m talking about tights, with feet, that are black and not see-through. They are classic.

I’ll admit, tights don’t give me the long, stylish stems I dream about — instead of highlighting my legs in a shorter dress, they effectively camouflage them ... a dark, nondescript backdrop. But they do allow me to be bare above my ankle with dignity and provide a thin layer between my legs and the cold winter air.

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I do wish I had the legs for some of the fun hosiery trends we’re seeing in the fashion media this season. My favorites are the sheer tights in pinks, blues, lime greens and other jelly bean colors, though for fear of looking ridiculous I’d never slip a toe into any of those. Then there are the pantyhose with bows tied along the legs or interesting patterns and designs running from ankle to thigh — sometimes only on one leg. Or, most puzzling, a “pair” of pantyhose that has only one leg. I’m not going near those or another troubling trend: wearing tights as pants. That’s right. Just the tights, waist to toe, with oversize shirts, boyfriend blazers or even crop tops.

No, I have made peace with the tights season and my classic black opaques — even if I still feel bad about my legs.

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