NEW YORK — Although legwear remains one of fashion’s msost challenged sectors, many makers are approaching spring with some renewed hope.

The reason for their tepid optimism? A better-than-expected fall selling season.

Legwear sales got off to a slow start at retail this fall, but shoppers in the past few weeks have stocked up on tights and socks as colder weather set in. The popularity of boots this season has also helped push sock sales, and legwear was shown on the runways for fall and spring, which has helped reinforce its status as a fashionable product.

"People need to have fun with legwear, and approach it as a fashion item," said Laurie Mallett, president of legwear maker Ozone Design Inc. "It needs to be looked at as an accessory that can change the way you look."

Novelty styles are still driving the industry, and the spring offerings shown at last week’s market are filled with bold colors, graphic and humorous prints and plenty of stripes. Athletic looks also continue to be important, and a number of firms have added new novelty takes on sporty styles.

While November, traditionally one of the year’s smallest legwear markets, usually is filled with spring offerings, some makers noted that buyers were looking for immediate deliveries since they had kept their inventories extra lean for fall, and needed to replenish their stock.

Legale Legwear introduced athletic wear with a fashion twist by introducing styles that have a combination of cotton and terry materials. Other styles on tap include socks made in microfiber.

"We expect our spring business to be at least as good as last year," noted Barbara Russillo, president at Legale, which is celebrating its 20th year in business.

At Ozone, new socks include patterns of all stripes, print lace designs and sheer dress socks. Tall tube socks continue to be a popular motif and, for spring, they are available in colors such as orange, lime green and pink.

The two-year-old line, sold primarily in specialty boutiques, also is offering a range of other prints, such as Op-Art styles and polkadots.

At Royce Hosiery, the maker of Nine West socks and other lines, top looks for spring include cotton terry, florals and "lots of color," said Pat McNellis, Royce’s president of women’s brands. "Novelty will definitely be where people get increases this spring," she noted.Soxland, meanwhile, continues to introduce socks with fun prints and motifs such as oversized ice-cream cones, butterflies and bright stripes. Crocheted styles are another new item, and the firmalso launched a size of socks that’s in between crew and ankle lengths.

At ETC Hosiery, new offerings include striped looks in bright colors and flower prints. ETC has taken some conversational styles and made them into short socks, as a fashion twist on the athletic look.

Robert Sussman, president at ETC, said: "So many ladies are wearing white clothes now and they want to add some novelty."

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