Ask Belle: Questions About Legwear

Feb 13, 2013

Dear Belle,

I am currently at my first internship and love it! However, I am having trouble figuring out what type of tights/hose to wear. My mom insists on nude or sheer black hose. My main questions are:

1. Is it ok to wear a skirt or dress of the office with bare legs?
2. Are nude hose acceptable?
3. Why is opaque better than sheer?
4. Are tights, hose, and stockings the same thing?

Thank you! Naive Intern

I’ve written a lot about legwear over the years, but it never hurts to cover it again.  So here we go.

One. It depends on your office.  In most offices, bare legs are fine in the warm weather months.  But look to the senior staff for guidance, what are those women wearing on their legs?  And if you’re confused, just ask someone.  Most women will be happy to offer a little fashion advice.

As for the cold weather months, I sometimes go bare legged, but I prefer nude micro-fishnets.  They give you just enough coverage, but they’re not stuffy.  And as long as you’re not wearing them with a mini-skirt or open toe pumps, they’re appropriate.  Just make sure to buy the smallest weave you can find, we’re not trying to catch Cod in the Bering Sea.

Two. Nude hose are a matter of personal preference.  I hate them, but I will wear them to a job interview or a meeting with the Queen of England.  If you like them, or you just feel more comfortable with a little Lycra on your thighs (name the movie), it’s perfectly fine to wear them.

However, if you do wear them, pick nylons that match your skintone in the sheerest material you can find.  You don’t want to look like a figure skater or a Hooter’s server.  Calvin Klein and Donna Karan both make ultra sheer nylons.  And never wear them with open toe shoes.  Not cool.

Three. When it comes to tights, I believe that opaque is ALWAYS better than sheer.  Why?  When the fabric stretches it becomes thinnest over the widest part of your legs.  The resulting sheerness basically shines a spotlight on parts of the body that most women don’t want extra attention paid to them.  Plus, I find sheer black or sheer navy nylons to be somewhat matronly.

Instead, I recommend tights with a high denier number for extra opacity because they can have a slimming effect.  Also, black shoes and black tights are my winter equivalent of bare legs and nude pumps.  They function as a neutral foundation for your overall look.  

If you’re looking for really opaque tights, I like DKNY tights for every day.  And Capitol Hill Barbie just turned me onto Topshop tights with 120 denier (be still, my beating heart).  I can’t wait for them to get here.

Four. Hose are full length nylons, usually sheer.  Tights are opaque, thicker nylons.  Stockings are thigh high nylons usually worn with a garter belt (meow).  But the terms are often used interchangeably, so it’s easy to get confused.

Bottom line, this is one area where the only way to know if you’re committing a faux pas is to look at the women above you on the ladder.  Some older professionals (men and women) can be very hard on younger staff who don’t wear nylons.  Others understand that as professional fashion has evolved, most younger women have moved away from nylons.  

But if you’re going to skip the nylons, you have to take care of your legs–shaving and lotion are required, self-tanner is optional.  And don’t just shave to the knee, either.  Because when you sit down, the thigh hair you elected not to shave becomes visible.

Good luck with your internship.  And just out of curiousity, how many of you ladies work in offices where legwear is required in spring and/or winter?  I’d love to see an informal poll.

Ask The Edit, Style

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  1. gingerr says:

    Robin Given formerly of The Post ranted on about white stockings the entire time she was in DC. If you look at pics of Hillary Clinton when she was the First Lady you'll see her in them. I say, don't go there! Bare legs are the thing now.

    If you office environment dictates sheer stockings then do it but don't go white. It makes you look like a nurse and even they don't wear them anymore.

  2. Meghan says:

    I quote Steel Magnolias every time I put on my beloved sheer hose, because, “honey , I haven't left the house without lycra on these thighs since I was fourteen.” Such a quotable movie!

    I am also quite grateful to Duchess Kate for helping my cause and making me less of an outlier when wearing ultra sheer nylons.

  3. Maharani says:

    I work in SoCal: leg wear not specified in my office dress code, which is otherwise quite formal. Nor is it usual in the summer.

  4. Liz says:

    Anytime I wear tights (black, navy, brown, whatever) I double up for added opacity and warmth.
    I always think about something I read years ago: it's ridiculous to wear hose/tights in incredibly hot weather (unless you're sitting indoors in air conditioning), and it's ridiculous not to in freezing temps. In between, it's whatever makes you comfortable. For me, that's all there is to it.

  5. joy says:

    At both my current job and previous job, bare legs were A-OK. I am positive that at both places you would get funny looks if you wore pantyhose (with the exception of tights). I think I would go nuts if I had to wear hose every day. I ruin pairs so fast that I would be poor just spending money on new hose.

  6. Lady Lawyer says:

    For cooler months, all legs are covered in our law office. Even staff, secretaries, and paralegals. In the summer, legs are not always covered, though I wear nylons for important meetings, court, etc., even though I loathe them. I've found a super sheer that is my color in L'Eggs. Super cheap, but when I need a pair immediately, I can get them at CVS.

    What do you ladies think about white tights? I'm seeing them more and more in DC, and I can't help but feel that they make women look like 11 year old girls. Does anyone style the white tights to work? How do you do it? I get the appeal of having a white foundation for an outfit, but I'm not seeing it executed well.

  7. E says:

    It's so funny to me how people have such different views on this…I see tights and think of little girls clothing. I think hose are professional and appropriate for the workplace. I appreciate opaque tights only with skirts above the knee (for more “coverage”) but would never wear opaque tights with knee length or longer because it doesn't break it up the outfit enough.

    Also, I often see girls with tights that have clearly passed their prime (maybe they were put in the washer and dryer?) and are fuzzy and linty. Kills an otherwise good outfit!

  8. Katy says:

    Hose are not required in our office, but people will think you're crazy if you have bare legs in winter.

  9. A.J. says:

    I work in banking in the far upper midwest (like 80 miles from Canada, after working in banking in the deep South). It has been fine for me to go bare-legged in both places. I have never been customer-facing, but Birmingham was much more dressy/conservative. Now it's more of a function of the weather. If there is snow/ice on the ground (so basically from December to March/April) I wear dark tights (and if it's really cold, fleece-lined tights) and flat boots. Occasionally I'll wear dark tights with black heels in the winter, but only if it's not too slippery out. (I'd NEVER have worn tights/boots on a non-Friday in Birmingham. It's so much more casual here.) Then I'll transition in to sheer hose (I know, I know) until I don't feel pasty. Summer into early fall, I'm bare-legged all the way.

  10. Amanda says:

    I work in government (education sector) in the Northeast, and its a mix in the warmer months (November-March or April are generally freezing and everyone wears tights or pants). So, in summer, I see some of the 50+ set wear hose, regardless of their level of seniority, but I work closely with two senior staff of that age group who don't wear hose.

  11. C says:

    I work in a mid-size law firm in the midwest. Bare legs are acceptable in the summer months. Everyone's covered up in the winter – mostly due to weather. At my previous position – another law firm – nylons were required all year round.

  12. lisa says:

    I'm a fan of fleece-lined tights in the winter. They eliminate the need to put on two pairs of tights and they are also great under pants on those really cold/below 0 days. I work in a casual environment, so there are no requirements on leg wear.

  13. Holiday says:

    I work in a very conservative environment (medicine!) and I would go bare-legged in the summer (with an appropriate length of skirt of course) but no one would go bare-legged in the winter. Sheer hose is often worn with classic suits and opaque tights with less formal outfits (such as a skirt and different coloured blazer, or a dress).

    One thing that I sometimes see is opaque tights being worn with a skirt that is inappropriately short for the office. I suspect that some women think that the opacity of the tights makes a shorter skirt permissible, but it still stands out and looks unprofessional.

  14. Brittany says:

    What about legwear when you're wearing pants? I can't help but notice the people in my government office wearing trouser socks (but they wear loafers?) a lot. If I'm wearing a pair of slacks and heels, do I need something on my foot too?! I'm bare as we speak!!

  15. Anonymous says:

    Senate staffer here. Nylons mandatory at all times, required by the member. No exceptions. Pantyhose, both sheer nude and sheer black, are common year round.

  16. ER says:

    I’ve always wondered where the norms around the requirement to wear hose in a professional context originated. Is it considered risqué for bare legs to be seen in public? Or is there something else to it? Would love if someone could enlighten me on this one!

  17. shopper says:

    Belle – I found 200 (!!!!) denier tights at H&M last week. They're amazing. I'm wearing them right now.

  18. ChinaRette says:

    Now based in NC…my office is basically anything-goes, but I'd sure get some funny looks if I showed up bare-legged in the cold. I like to wear sheer hose just because it evens out my (very pale, non-tanning) skin tone and I've found a few pairs that don't look matronly on me. I think most of the South has caught on to Belle's rules about requiring hose being old-fashioned…except for a few ultra-conservative environments like Senate offices and certain courts.

  19. Pavo says:

    Steel Magnolias – naming the movie.

  20. Sarah says:

    I am so glad I am not the only one wondering about women in DC who wear white tights. I think sheer hose– nude or black– and tights are fine and up to the individual and their office's policy. But white tights on an adult is never OK.

  21. TS says:

    It's “lycra” on your thighs – not lacquer.

  22. I hope you like the Topshop tights! I'm actually wearing mine as I type. I'll second the recommendation for the fleece lined tights, I have a pair by Plush that I like a lot.

    I'll also throw my two cents in on the workwear leg debate. I'll only wear nude stockings for an interview, but I also feel that these days, wearing tights on a cold day is better than sheer black stockings. It's just soooo “Working Girl.” I would wear black or grey to a meeting, but reserved colored tights for more casual offices days.

    Also, I swear if I see anyone wearing nude tights and open toed shoes, I will lose it.

  23. Kallie says:

    I work in finance – fairly conservative office. I rarely see a bare leg November-April in our office, but that's largely because of the weather. I'm out West and it's snow/rain/slush/wind during the winter; us ladies would freeze without tights!! However, it's pretty much black/brown for the color. As soon as it warms up, bare legs are fine. Nobody wears nylons in the summer.

  24. Lindsay V says:

    I would HIGHLY recommend you stick to Belle's suggestion about asking senior staff…The most senior staff woman in my office (and I mean like, you want to be on her real good side) cannot stand if women do not wear nylons/hose everyday (if baring leg). Even in the 100 degree weather, it is a must if you are going to be seen by her. So I would err on the side of wearing them, but ask, ask, ask!

  25. Lynn says:

    I work for a government agency. We wear tights in the winter, bare legs in warm months. However, our “senior staff” is barely 30, and I noticed that she wears hose when meeting with SES and such.

  26. IM says:

    I work in a law office in DC with a fairly relaxed dress code. During the winter months, the attorneys and staff opt for tights or hose (or a micro-fishnet, as Belle suggests) because a bare leg looks out of place. To me, a bare leg during the winter makes no sense…would you walk around outside wearing only a sleeveless dress on a cold Winter day? I see Michelle Obama does it, but I don't really understand it on her, either.

    During the summer, no hose are required, although as other have mentioned, I would definitely wear sheer hose to important meetings or interviews.

  27. Perry T. says:

    You know, there are parts of the civilized world where sandal-foot hose are worn with open toed shoes. In fact, that is what the style of hose was made for.

  28. Nina S says:

    Thanks for nude micro-fishnet rec! I barely stopped myself from asking a stranger where she got hers today. I've not seen them and didn't have the vocabulary to Google exactly what I was looking for. Belle saves the day again.

  29. Sarah says:

    I found the Hue micro-fishnets on Bare Necessities for $8.50 a pair and they have 20% off coupon code right now.

  30. TXAtty says:

    Partner at a law office in Texas. I only wear hose for trial. Otherwise, bare legs – all 4 seasons. Some of the associates will wear tights in winter months, but it's not that frequent. (It's also not that cold.)

  31. CynthiaW says:

    I live in Texas, so the weather isn't much of a factor – I think that I worked in one of the last places that hose were required between October – April, but even my boss gave it up a few years ago. I think that she finally realized that we all just wore pants for those seven months and decided that she'd rather have us dress up more and not wear the hose.

    That being said – many of us do wear tights in the winter, if it gets cold enough, and my boss and some of the other office staff staff still wear pantyhose.

    I pretty much only wear pantyhose for funerals – and often end up wondering why I bothered considering what some other people wear to them. Although I have been known to wear the micro-fishnets and even a super sheer pair of hose if tights just wouldn't work with the look I was going for and it was chilly enough.

  32. Caroline says:

    Hmm, well, the first rule would be hard for me to follow since I work with 60-year-old men and I don't see any of them wearing tights or pantyhose. 🙂

  33. DC says:

    I work in an architectural office and the dress code is pretty much “look young, stylish, and creative.” Never any hose (you'd get laughed out of the office), but opaque tights (or colored, patterned, etc) are embraced.

  34. Stevie says:

    Hi everyone,
    I feel totally liberated, feminine, happier and less stressed when secretly wearing super comfy pantyhose while doing tasks at the workplace–and especially away from a workplace! I have looked up to my female coworkers and always ask them, or strangers I meet on the street, where did they get, or brand, of attractive pantyhose or comfortable shoes/boots they’re wearingat that moment. I usually rush out to get those immediately ( I must simply ahve them to keep me going!). One of my caring xx coworkers wrote a little card sign which I look at: “Its OK to wear womens’s shoes and hose!!!” (I am xy)

  35. Ellen says:

    Call me old-fashioned, but I hate the bare legs look at the office. People look like they are going to the beach. I see women downtown where I live wearing a nice office suit, bare legs and flip flops, which squeak. I think wearing hose (or tights, etc.) at the office completes a nice, professional look. And put away those flip flops!

    • Belle says:

      Agree on the flip flops, ick. But on the nylons, it depends on the office. It’s so hot in D.C., I would only wear them for an interview or for meeting the Queen.

  36. Julie says:

    Do you think that a Senate summer internship requires hose? The dress code is business attire but does not mention having to wear hose, but these comments make it sound like the Senate is the most conservative work environment you could find.

    Also if the intern was actually to accompany the Senator to the Floor (the current dress code being business attire) would he/she need to dress radically more conservatively than in the office? What would be appropriate?

    Thank you for your great advice!!

    • Belle says:

      Wear them the first few days until you see whether that is the norm. If you’re going to the floor, you should be wearing a suit, or at least a jacket.

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