By and  on March 20, 2006

NEW YORK — After leaving legs out in the cold for years, designers are warming them up again.

Runway presentations from here to Paris sidestepped the nude trend of previous seasons and featured a range of options for full coverage from head to toe, including opaque tights, leggings, legwarmers and over-the-knee socks.

Hosiery makers are ecstatic about the shift, projecting the trend could pull them out of a slump and result in as much as a 35 percent increase to business compared with last fall.

Sales of hosiery, including socks, sheer hosiery and tights, fell 5.3 percent for the year ended Aug. 31, according to NPD Group, a research firm based in Port Washington, N.Y. The sheer hosiery category plummeted 15.6 percent, to slightly more than $1 billion, while tights slipped 13.6 percent, to just under $113 million. The socks segment was the only bright light; sales were up 3.5 percent to $1.6 billion.

"It's all about leggings and opaque [tights]," said Ed Burstell, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of beauty, jewelry and accessories for Bergdorf Goodman. "The silhouette for fall is covered up and [legwear] is very much in line with what's happening with [showing] less skin. There's a little more sobriety for fall. It's about restraint, but in a way, a bit of modesty can allude to a higher sexiness."

Carolina Herrera showed everything from day dresses with matching coats to whisper-light evening gowns with brown ribbed tights on her fall runway.

"I love stockings," Herrera told WWD in February. "I like it better than bare legs in the middle of a winter day. It's a good look."

Thakoon Panichgul, designer of Thakoon, used opaque tights and leggings on the runway to compliment the season's rising hemlines.

"It's about being covered up in a sleeker way, but not too covered up," Panichgul said. "Leggings enhance the sexiness, so you can see that sliver of skin between the legging and the bootie."

Anna Sui paired many of her runway looks with either demure ivory tights or retro-patterned hosiery with an orange background.

"Patterned or textured tights make an outfit look very fresh," Sui said. "It is a key trend of the season. Women who love the art of dressing up are most likely looking for new ways to accessorize."

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