Ask Belle: The Skinny on Tights

Oct 18, 2011

With Fall here I’ve seen a lot of people pull out tights and I had a few questions regarding appropriate tight wearing:

-Are colored tights allowed in the office or is that a no go?

-Also I heard once that your tights should never be a darker color then your shoes, is that true? Or can I wear black tights with red heels?

Thanks! Elizabeth

A lot of readers send in questions about how to wear tights.  So, I thought, let’s nip this problem in the bud, once and for all, with the help of some visual aids.

No Tights

Polyvore Set Here.

It’s true, I’m not a big fan of women who wear tall boots without tights.  First off, I don’t want to see your pale, I-didn’t-shave-my-legs this morning gams.  Secondly, it can make an otherwise professional pencil skirt and boot combo look a little low class.  But sometimes, with casual attire, there’s no other choice.

Take this paisley dress for example.  If you want to wear boots with this, you probably won’t want to wear tights.  So choose a lighter brown boot.  If you do want to wear tights, and keep with Belle’s Two-Out-Of-Three Rule (more on this in a moment), you could do medium grey boots with medium grey tights.  But even I probably wouldn’t wear tights with this dress.

Two-Out-Three Rule

The Two-Out-of-Three Rule is exactly what it sounds like.  If you are wearing tights, they must either be a) the same color as your skirt/dress or b) the same color as your shoes.  There are very few, if any exceptions when you work in a professional office. 

Nothing makes a woman look more disjointed and discombobulated than when she wears a grey skirt with purple tights and black shoes (or some similarly tryptic combination).  Yet, I see this look all the time on women who want to wear colored tights, but don’t realize that by wearing three different colors, they’re breaking themselves into thirds.  This makes you look shorter, heavier and less chic.  And none of those are good things.
Colored Tights

So you want to wear colored tights?  Not my favorite thing, but it’s a personal choice.  And if you want to be bold and fun with your legwear, who am I to judge?


Even when wearing colored tights, you need to observe the two out of three rule.  Here, I paired a purple dress with purple tights and chocolate brown boots. 

If you want to wear colored pencil skirt this fall, the easiest way is to wear neutral tights (grey, black, navy, chocolate brown) with boots or shoes of a matching color.  However, if you want to, you could in theory, wear a teal pencil with teal tights and grey or black boots.  But you CANNOT wear it to work if you work in a professional environment. 

Teacher, casual office, etc., wear teal tights.  Capitol Hill, I advise strongly against colored or patterned tights at the office.


 With Lighter Shoes

Polyvore Set Here.

As for the question about lighter shoes, I’ve never heard that.  I routinely wear the combo above, navy with grey, and I’ve never had a problem.  I think as long as your tights match your skirt/dress, the lighter shoes aren’t a problem.  But I can see how it might be if you had say, grey shoes with black tights and a grey skirt.  That would just look odd.

Two-Out-Of-Three, ladies, it’s sweeping the nation.

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  1. Chelsea says:

    I actually couldn't disagree more with this post regarding how to wear colored tights. It think, in a business casual environment, it is perfectly acceptable to wear purple, red, etc. tights without having them match either the dress or the shoes. For example, I recently paired a black and white dress with subtle polka dots with purple tights and black flats, and it was a fantastic outfit. Obviously, I wouldn't wear that in a very conservative environment such as Capitol Hill, but I disagree that there are “No exceptions” to the “Two out of Three” rule and, in general, find “The Rule” to be way too conservative for business casual environments.

  2. Belle says:

    Chelsea-Every workplace is different, but when I see a woman at the capitol wearing bright red or polka dotted tights, they look juvenile. In a more casual environment, it's probably fine. But there are no exceptions in a professional, conservative place like the Hill.

    As the post said, if you're a teacher or work in a more casual place, you have to judge whether it's okay for your office.

  3. Meg says:

    Great post. I literally had an argument with my friend in the middle of the shoe aisle at Nordstrom Rack this past weekend, because I told her I would not let her buy a pair of grey booties, unless she also bought grey tights at the same time or promised to wear with a grey shirt/dress. I've already forwarded her this post : )

  4. Anna Louisa says:

    Yes! I was just going to buy some new tights for this season, and your two-out-of-three rule is always a good reminder 🙂

  5. Emily says:

    How do you feel about skin colored tights that have some texture? Like anyone from our generation, I'm not a fan of plain, shiny nude hose, but when I came across a pair of herringbone tights in tan last fall I thought they looked pretty awesome with something similar to that first dress + boots combo.

  6. LS says:

    Thanks for the tights refresher! I always struggle with choosing tights for cognac/medium brown flat boots. I feel like brown tights would look weird, so I always match the skirt/dress color. This look is pretty limiting and causes quite the dilemma when I want to wear a patterned dress. What's your advice Belle? I also don't like the look of boots on bare legs.

  7. Beth says:

    Emily – some of the patterned flesh toned tights kinda creep me out, and here's why… I feel like from a distance they make you look like you've forgotten to shave your legs for, I don't know, months! There was a model on the site wearing them and I've also seen a similar pair on someone in person, perhaps it's the particular style. I would be curious to see some cute flesh toned ones where I wouldn't have to worry if people would think I forgot how to wield a razor.

  8. L says:

    I second the question about what color tights to wear with cognac boots. I always wear black dress/tights or a grey sweater dress/charcoal tights with them. I have a blue dress (a lighter navy) and would love to know what color tights to wear with it if I wear the cognac boots — navy tights might be too dark? Brown tights would be too dark for the boots? Similarly I have a lovely deep purple dress that would look great with the boots, but the tights are the question…advice?

  9. e-liz says:

    There's nothing wrong with wanting to look pulled together, but I don't think being bound by such rigid rules is the way to go. I routinely pair my navy skirt with a pair of (very subtle) chevron-patterned (grey+black) tights and my cognac riding boots. I have a great pair of Kate Spade green wool tights that I pair with the same boots + a grey skirt. There's a place for rigid rules, such as conservative office settings, but I don't think women have to limit themselves this much, especially on the weekends or with post-work attire. The whole idea of using the words 'no exceptions' when it comes to fashion seems unnecessarily strict to me. Some of the best fashion blogs/best dressed ladies out there ARE the best because of their creativity and their willingness to show that taking risks pays off. (“Wow! I never thought of putting those two items together!”) Women shouldn't have to stress about “ZOMG does this follow 'THE RULES.'” Fashion's more fun than that.

  10. M says:

    Thanks for this post. One question, if you wear a patterned dress is it best in that case to just stick with tights that are the same color as your shoes or can you wear tights that are one of the colors on the dress?

  11. w says:

    Totally agree with e-liz!

  12. Kelly says:

    It should also be mentioned that nude shoes should not be worn with black tights. I feel like the whole point of the nude heel (making your legs look longer) is canceled out when worn with tights, creating that thirds problem mentioned above. You would think that it would be fairly obvious, but I've seen a few offenders recently. Nude shoes = Nylons or Bare.

  13. Beth says:

    Belle, this may not be quite the place to post this… But PLEASE tell me you've seen this, in one word, AMAZING! It's a video for Uggcitrin, a “vaccine” against Ugg boots!

  14. Another option says:

    I agree that forgoing tights with tall boots and a dress looks a little…odd. But another solution is to wear some cute high socks that can be pulled above the top of the boot. It's a cute look and also helps you stay warm and toasty.

  15. Another option says:

    here's a visual to illustrate my point

  16. Belle says:

    e-liz-The post specifically says that this is for the office, and that if you want to otherwise in your casual time, that's your business.

    kelly-I agree on the nude shoes. You either need bare legs, hose or nude fishnets to wear them. They look dumb with tights.

  17. e-liz says:

    Phew! Because when I read “If you are wearing tights, they must either be a) the same color as your skirt/dress or b) the same color as your shoes. No exceptions,” that sounded like there was no wiggle room whatsoever–office or not. Just want to make sure people know this 'rule' is more of a guideline than an MUST DO in all situations.

  18. kate says:

    Wow, does everything have to be so accurate? If you don't agree, just move on. This was a great post!

  19. e-liz says:

    the post is fine. the wording used just sounded SO black and white and life's not like that. fashion's not like that either. that's all. that was my only comment. calm down.

  20. CH says:

    If we're all supposed to agree all the time, what would be the point of having a comments section?

  21. Angie C says:

    I really like this post! I never thought of a colour trio breaking apart the body, but that's true. I'll have to try this snazzy 2/3 rule and hopefully see the lengthening effects.

    pandaphilia style

  22. DB says:

    I'm a big fan of the two-out-of-three rule at least for helping me feel put together. But I always have to wonder where to the two-toned riding boots you featured a few weeks ago fit in? I just bought a pair and, while I know I could always wear black, I'm facing the same “what do I wear to match cognac leather” dilemma as mentioned above.

  23. Rachel says:

    Belle, can you post some thoughts on patterned tights? Obviously these would also be for a casual or at least less-strict work environment, but do you have any guidelines or suggestions for those of us who want to try them?

  24. EAC says:

    Belle, some of your readers, such as myself, are women of color. I don't have pale legs, but I wear tights w/ my boots anyway.

  25. Belle says:

    Please don't read too much into comments like that. Not every comment is directed at every reader.

  26. Belle says:

    Rachel-Patterned tights are tough. Like the reader above said, lace tights can look like hairy legs. I don't think dotted tights are appropriate for work, most of the time. Nude fishnets can work, but only on some people, and black fishnets are too sexy for work.

    Frankly, if you want to wear patterned/colored/lace tights in your personal time, feel free. I have a tough time imagining how I would take a staffer in chevron or dotted tights seriously. Which is weird, because I almost never say that, but I think trendy tights are such a young thing, I would have a hard time thinking of that staffer like a grown up.

  27. EFL says:

    My biggest issue right now is : what to wear with a warm, red wool winter dress ?

    I work in an over-casual environment, so this is not a problem, but I'm pretty conservative in my sartorial choices, so no patterns or fishnets.
    Black+red is too harsh/90s.
    Grey tights make me look like a corpse.
    Red tights are out of question, of course.
    While I'm not averse to nude hose as a rule, I've never found one that looks right on my whiter-than-white legs.
    And I commute on foot, 1/2 hours each way, so bare legs are out of question when it's below 50.

    Oh well, II guess I answered my own question : sell this dress and buy a black one with the money 😀
    Would love your input, though !

  28. wow says:

    I don't think I've ever noticed your going back and changing a post like that. You seemed pretty confident when you first wrote about the rule, and I always liked how you stuck to your guns–even if disagreement arose in the comments. I mean it's fine with me since this is a “rule” I'd never want to see “sweep the nation.” Wear what you want, ladies. Everyone knows what works in their office and what won't slide. I have to say though, it's sad that you'd judge someone THAT harshly for wearing tights with a subtle pattern. I'd wear these in a professional setting without a second thought:

  29. Belle says:

    EFL-What about a pair of thick, opaque, dark grey tights? Navy tights would look lovely, but finding navy shoes is always a problem.

    I do agree with you on black being too 90s. If it were me, I'd wear nude fishnets and camel boots. But I don't know if that will work to keep you warm on your walk. Though, I have, on occasion, worn leggings over my nude fishnets and changed them when I got to the office. Just something to think about.

  30. Amy says:

    Belle, what is your thought on tights with open toed shoes?

  31. M says:

    I read the original post and thought it was great. I don't understand the problem's with people that came out of this. The majority of your posts are about the conservative work environment of the Hill and it was clear that about that. You even mentioned more casual work environments and dressing accordingly to that environment.

    I'm at a loss and a bit dumbfounded about the little drama this post started.

    ALSO, thanks for posting this because it definitely just helped me figure out what to do with a dress I've been trying to come up with a shoe/tight styling for way too long.

  32. Kaylee says:

    I generally follow Belle's 2-out-of-3 rule not only because it looks more polished, but also because it is just more flattering! Of course, I have pretty short legs, so your mileage may vary, but I think most women look better when their bodies aren't being chopped up into multiple blocks of different colors. Of course it's not a steadfast rule for all situations, but it's odd that people got so up-in-arms about it, considering that Belle is only one of many, many bloggers/ladies in the world of fashion/people in general that preach this rule. I mean, it's nothing revolutionary; it's a pretty basic tenet that a lot of women follow. (This is not to say you should not keep writing about it, Belle, as apparently some people have never heard of it, it just seems so intuitive to me that I assumed it was something all women went by.)

  33. I have to say, I would never wear a purple dress with purple tights, or a teal dress with teal tights. I'd rather be cut into thirds than awkwardly pair (inevitably different) shades of the same color in that way.

  34. EFL says:

    Thank you ), so I'll have first have a shot at nude fishnets+cognac boots. It talks to me a lot, and a tiny slice of fishnet peeking between boot and dress should be OK, both for warmth and looks.

  35. cupcake says:

    I work for a Property Fiscal Office in my military uniform. However, on Fridays we have “aloha attire”, which is business casual with a Hawaiian shirt. Seeing as how i look like a tourist in anything with floral print, i have to switch it up. I buy usually a blouse that's a solid black or white, but it's got splashes of neon or bright flowers (per our regulation). I pair that with a black pencil skirt an plain black booties or flats. My issue is that i usually wear a pair of tights with this outfit that match a pop of color on the shirt. Pink/purple/blue/green/etc. I get picked on regardless of if i wear khaki's with an aloha shirt, or my tights. I really can't win and keep getting into some issue with a higher up officer about it.

    I've finally given up. Ver batim the reg states, “Aloha attire shall mean any garments reflecting Plynesian, tropical, or traditional, e.g., palaka, designs/prints.”

    I wear my bright tights professionally and look just fine. The bosses can't quote regs. It looks professional, albeit a little bright, but we're all traipsing around in bright flowers anyhoo, i don't get the big deal.

  36. Belle says:

    Cupcake: In your case, I do not think it's a big deal. If you're wearing a floral shirt, the rules are already out the window 😉

  37. […] rounded, but with the heel, it’s less of an issue. I also always try to follow Belle’s two-of-three rule when wearing boots, which consistently provides a longer leg […]

  38. Besha says:

    I had a total crisis last night about how frequently I’ve been wearing black boots/tights and I thought to my self “well, I’ll check with Belle and if she hasn’t already had thoughts I’ll ask”. Putting “Tights” in to the search box helped! Thank you!!

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