Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK--With several seasons of steady sales behind them, hosiery buyers preparing for next week's May market said they will be looking for items to keep the momentum going.
Some retailers said they are counting on casual legwear, especially tights, to continue to be a key performer. Meanwhile, sales for sheer pantyhose remain soft in most stores.
May market, which is geared toward holiday items, officially opens here May 8 and runs through May 12.
Tights and boot socks continue to be important at Carson Pirie Scott, according to Margaret Scott, buyer for the Milwaukee-based chain. Hue, Hot Sox, Danskin, DKNY and Gold Toe are key casual legwear resources, she said.
Casual corporate dress codes have hindered the retailer's sheer business, she said. However, Jockey For Her's control-top sheers, Hanes Smooth Illusions sheers and Hanes Resilience sheers, introduced during March market, are doing well, she said. The three products offer durability, which is what most sheer customers want, she said. Sales for queen-size sheers by Berkshire, Jockey For Her and Hanes Her Way have also increased in recent months, she said.
Despite these winners, she noted: "First-quarter legwear sales were flat compared to last year."
But she added, "The sock business has been pretty good. Trouser socks, tights and basics continue to grow."
Business is "great" at Neiman Marcus and the company expects the momentum to carry through the end of the year, according to Leslie Freytag, vice president and divisional merchandise manager.
Unlike some other retailers, Neiman Marcus's sheer business is on the upswing.
Sheer pantyhose sales by Donna Karan, Wolford, Calvin Klein and Christian Dior as well as Neiman Marcus's private label are ahead compared with last year, she said. Skin tones and textured sheers are fueling sales, she said.
"We all got a wake-up call that the customer wants to buy fashion. The sheer business is not just a replacement business," Freytag said. "We have to keep ahead of the customer by offering them more variety."
Textured tights have also been selling well, she said. Hue, DKNY, Armani and Calvin Klein are key resources for socks and tights, Freytag added.
Kathy Hamilton, buyer for Jacobson Stores in Jackson, Mich., said she plans to order holiday items with Donna Karan, DKNY, Ralph Lauren, Hot Sox, Berkshire Hosiery and Anne Klein among other vendors.
April sales were flat compared with a year ago, she said.
"Women aren't buying apparel and that has had some effect on my business. Business has been kind of soft," Hamilton said. To boost holiday sales, the company plans to enhance its offerings for tights and trouser socks, she said. Glitzy looks should add some newness for holiday, Hamilton added.
For sheers, Donna Karan's spring collection has been a bestseller at Jacobson, Hamilton said.
"Sheers haven't been bad. Socks and tights have just been better," she said.
Socks and tights are still strong, especially in the California market, according to Anne Fahey, buyer for the Los Angeles-based Broadway Stores Inc. The retailer plans to maintain the same market budget as last May, but a large portion will be allocated for tights, she said.
Fahey said she plans to review casual legwear at Trenders, Hue, Liz Claiborne, Kenneth Cole and Ben Berger. In recent weeks, sales for sheers have rebounded, with Hanes Silk Reflections, Jockey For Her, Berkshire queen size hosiery, Calvin Klein and CK by Calvin Klein sparking the business, she said. "Business is better than last year. We're keeping our budget even to try to be cautious," Fahey said.
"I wouldn't think that sheers will be a big growth area. But it's a huge business and obviously, we want to hold onto that business."
Broadway plans to go after its Kenneth Cole socks and Hanes Resilience business "in a big way for fall," she said.
With sales for sheer pantyhose continuing to decline, legwear sales are off compared with a year ago at Accessory Lady, a 144-unit Dallas-based chain, according to Linda Culpepper, hosiery buyer.
However, casual legwear such as Ben Berger's $6 anklets with cats, dogs and other whimsical motifs and private label have been a bestseller at Accessory Lady.
The company's private label trouser socks, which retail for $5.50 or three pairs for $12, have also been strong.
To strengthen fall and holiday business, the company will double the size of its private label tights collection for holiday, she said.
"There's a lot of opportunity to build business," she said. "But that won't totally offset the drop in sheers."

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