While some flight attendants and all Hooters waitresses are still required to wear flesh-toned pantyhose as part of their uniforms, almost every major American corporation has banished any mention of pantyhose from dress-code manuals. Outside of conservative law firms, an audience with the queen of England, or a southern debutante ball, the answer to the question “Are pantyhose necessary?” is a resounding no. But a good pair of sheer, flesh-toned pantyhose is a great life hack: They keep your legs a little bit warm when you want to go bare-legged in spring dresses while it’s still cold outside (that tiny barrier between your naked skin and the cold air really does help), they hide any imperfections you may not want to show the world, and they even act as a slippery layer so skirts and dresses don’t bunch or ride up as you walk.
And there is one corner of the world where pantyhose are still very much de rigueur: Hollywood. The women I dress for TV shows, films, and commercials almost never go on camera with bare legs — they all want a smooth, sleek leg line; the kind you can only get with leg makeup or flesh-toned pantyhose. But nobody wants it to be obvious that they are wearing pantyhose, so I swear by a handful of brands that deliver perfect-looking legs — without calling any attention to themselves. These are my favorites, and the very best.
The best pair of pantyhose — for any amount of money — are these by Hipstik. They don’t pinch, bind, dig in, or crush your guts and thighs mercilessly after a full day of wear. The waistband is made of a soft decorative lace that stays put and never rolls down — and if it happens to peek out of the waistband of your skirt or pants, it’s actually just a little bit alluring instead of totally embarrassing. Here’s the true difference: Hipstik sizes its pantyhose by height and body shape, not weight, and I think that’s what makes the fit so revolutionary. I’m five-eight and a triangle (meaning my hip size is greater than my bust), so I am a size B. The site has a sizing chart for those unfamiliar, but having the appropriate fit means I can wear them 15-plus hours with zero waistband squeezing or discomfort. They also come in extended sizes up to size H, the equivalent of a pant size 22/24. (For what it’s worth, Hipstik also makes an incredible pair of opaque black or navy tights.)
Donna Karan’s entire collection of “The Nudes” is ultrasheer — and the next best thing to bare legs. They come in either sheer-to-waist, panty, or control-top options and do a bang-up job of smoothing out minor imperfections and giving an ensemble a “finished” look without ever calling any attention to themselves. They have zero shine and are extremely lightweight — you really have to look hard to even notice that someone has them on. I buy them 12 at a time on TV shows and hoard them like old newspapers. Part of the reason “The Nudes” are so great is because they are close to 50 percent spandex — which makes for a slinkier feel and a firmer, tighter fit. (The general rule is, the more spandex in a pair of pantyhose, the sleeker the fit.)
Any time I’m dressing an actor outside of the “light nude,” “medium nude,” or “coffee” skin-tone box, I’m stuck custom dyeing multiple pairs of pantyhose in order to achieve the right match. The lack of pantyhose (and every other sort of undergarment you can think of, really) in a proper range of skin tones is a problem that few manufacturers choose to address — but Ade Hassan’s Nubian Skin line makes luxury pantyhose (in addition to bras, panties, and shoes) in shades ranging from Berry (a dark, espresso-hued shade) to Cafe Au Lait (a warm honey tone), and in sizes up to 3X. Made mostly from silky-soft polyamide (a synthetic fabric that is long-wearing and not as scratchy as pure polyester), they are a steal at around $15 per pair. (Also worth noting: Beyoncé herself wears Nubian Skin.)
If you want to be really fancy, try Kate Middleton’s preferred brand of stockings — the evergreen classic Wolford, made exclusively in Europe since the early 1950s. They’re not cheap, but they last forever and are so light and airy, it’s like wearing powder on your legs. I like their ‘Luxe 9 tights’ best, as they don’t have that built-in control top that can tend to peek out of shorter skirts and dresses, and the totally sheer, seamless toe means you can wear them with peep-toed shoes and nobody will be the wiser. If you want to go completely open-toed, try their totally toeless version.
If you want European sophistication for around $10 per pair, try these whisper-light, 8 denier ultra-sheer stockings from Italian super-brand Calzedonia. They feel fancy on your legs but are affordable (and right now, if you buy two pairs, you get a third one free). If you want a little more coverage from your stockings, try Calzedonia’s 20 denier ‘Totally Invisible’ version. It gives twice the coverage without feeling heavy or visible on your legs.
The slinkiest, wispiest, sheerest pantyhose you’ll find. They are completely seamless and have a raw, invisible waistband that causes zero lumps or bumps under clothes. They are the next best thing to totally bare legs, but are also the most delicate of the bunch — so make sure to handwash them with cool water and ultragentle soap (like the Laundress Delicate Wash) inside a lingerie bag always.
While it’s true that spending more money on pantyhose usually means that you get better quality, waltzing around in a pair that costs $30 isn’t always a financially feasible option. This $12 pair from Hue is the best intersection of style and price I’ve yet to find in a pair of pantyhose. They aren’t scratchy, provide great coverage without making it obvious that you’re wearing them, and don’t slowly shimmy down as the day progresses. Plus, even though this is technically a control-top pair, the superwide waistband doesn’t dig into your guts like cheapo pantyhose from the drugstore do.
The options out there for plus-size pantyhose are (not-so-shockingly) slim. Either you’re spending beaucoup bucks, or you’re stuck with a thick, shiny, dated pair that would be better suited to wearing on your head in order to rob a bank circa 1965. These by Spanx are the best-fitting, longest-lasting pair I’ve found for the plus-size actors I dress (they come in sizes that will accommodate people up to 6 feet tall and 325 pounds). They have a very light compression that actually helps fight leg fatigue, and they come in a surprising range of colors, too: You can take your pick of seven shades — from pale ivory to a deep, rich brown.
My other favorite plus-size stockings have long come from the shopping mall classic — Torrid. Most plus-size tights tend to bag at the ankle, as designers seem to think anyone over a size 14 has logs for legs, but Torrid has done an excellent job with their proportions.
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