By  on May 12, 1994

NEW YORK -- Retailers are looking for gains in fall and holiday legwear business, buoyed by short hemlines and the return of feminine dressing but mainly the diversity of products.

"We're seeing a lot of new ideas this market," said Butch Mullins, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of Neiman Marcus, who was viewing the latest Hot Sox offerings on Tuesday. "That's what our customer responds most to.

"We're more optimistic today about legwear than we were last year at this time," he said. "There's more diverse product out there in terms of texture, pattern and color. Generally, I think that there is a greater optimism about ready-to-wear for fall, and that translates into accessories as well."

Mullins said the store is planning to see sales growth in the legwear department for the fall and holiday season, but he declined say how much. The popularity of short skirts and pants should continue to spur legwear business, he predicted -- short skirts for sheers and pants for trouser socks.

Nordic patterns, luxury fibers such as cashmere, sweater knits and new silhouettes such as thigh-highs are key ideas for holiday, he added.

"My business is coming back," said Linda Engel, sheer hosiery buyer for Macy's East. "Sheer business is still soft, but it's picking up from last year. Shorter skirts shown with a sheer leg are bringing customers into the legwear department."

Silver Lurex "freshened up with a little color" will be important for day-into-evening styles, she said. In the CK Hosiery showroom, she was looking at a palette of silver Lurex sheers mixed with pale pastels.

"Leg color is getting paler, especially with the more sophisticated nude tones," she said. "Shiny looks, such as a white tight with some luster, should do well because they're unique."

In general, thigh-high business has been growing, said Engel. "Although it's a relatively small part of the overall sheer business, the thigh-high trend is having a big impact in casual legwear," she said.

David Ecklund, hosiery buyer for Jacobson Stores Inc., Jackson, Mich., said metallic looks were high on his trend list."I'm looking for the dressy, fancy looks," he said.

In the showroom for CK Socks, whose merchandise is made under license by American Essentials, Ecklund was interested in heavier weight metallic socks which could be either for dress-up or casual dressing. He said that better-price styles, such as wool boot socks and socks of luxury fibers, are also of interest for gift-giving.

"March market was when we chose the basics for the fall season," he said. "This week we're looking for the frosting that will make the display special."

He expects to see sales increases for the fall-holiday season, he said. "With a lot of the more subdued colors in fashion for fall, legwear will become an even more important accessory."

"We're focusing on the importance of casual legwear as opposed to sheers," he added. "However, with the more feminine looks and short hemlines, there could be hope for sheer business."

Susan Kerner, buyer for The Leg Room, a chain of six specialty shops here, said she expects a strong fall and holiday season.

"We're very excited about socks and tights for fall because of the short skirts and especially since last winter was so cold. I'll bring wool styles into the store in September next year rather than October because people will be looking for the bulky, warmer looks."

Along with wool looks, she said, angora and cashmere are also important. For holiday, Kerner added, cashmere socks, such as a Ralph Lauren style she carried last year for $100, normally sell well.

"Cashmere socks don't sell in the same volumes as anklets, but people like them as a holiday gift item. For many, the price is not an issue."

Kerner is placing a lot of importance on the newest silhouettes, such as thigh-highs, over-the-knee socks and leg warmers, she said.

"Thigh-highs and over-the-knee socks are the hottest trends this season, in both solids and patterns," she said. "Sales are growing in both categories."

"For spring selling, very few vendors were carrying thigh-highs," she added, "even though there is a definite demand for them. The largest selection I've seen so far is at Hot Sox."

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