Kate Middleton gave a much-needed jolt to the legwear industry, and now consumers are demanding even more fashion.
Whether it’s opaque tights in a kaleidoscope of fashion colors, earth tones, semisheer geometric patterns or textured laces, the $6.62 billion legwear and sock category continues to build momentum for fall 2014. Men’s wear and haberdashery prints such as houndstooth, stripes and tweed effects, as well as stretch faux leather looks, are projected to be strong influences. Sportswear-inspired leggings and styles that are sleek and embellished are also expected to be top ideas.
Key colors for fall 2014 include magenta, deep crimson, burgundy, chalky white, mustard, gray, charcoal and inky blue accented with feminine pastel hues. Metallics, especially gold, and pearlized and coated surfaces will add a luxe touch. Despite the demand for bold color, there’s also an emerging back-to-basics palette of neutral tones such as oatmeal, camel and a family of warm beiges — as well as a return to classic black — on the agenda.
The wake-up call for fashionable legs began after Middleton’s engagement to Prince William in fall 2010, when the world began watching every fashion item the soon-to-be-royal wore, including legwear. Since then, her choices for all occasions have included matte and shiny nude-tone sheer hosiery, as well as basic opaque tights.
But now consumers have moved beyond the Middleton effect to demand even more fashionable legwear. Over the past year, the popularity of tights — particularly tights that dress the leg, create a fashion statement, and address casual or dressy lifestyles — has taken the lead role, while the demand for princesslike shimmery sheers has waned dramatically.
Data released by The NPD Group Inc./Consumer Tracking Service confirm the momentum in the sheer hosiery sector reached a peak this past year. Total dollar sales of sheer hosiery slid 3.1 percent to $513 million, while units of sheer hosiery fell 7.3 percent to 137.5 million in the 12 months ended in November. In contrast, dollar sales of tights increased 12.2 percent to $775 million, and unit sales of tights grew 12.5 percent to 108.5 million in the same period.
Socks for men, women and children continue to be a robust category that generated a 3.1 percent gain totaling $5.34 billion; unit sales reflected a modest 0.5 percent increase to 3.13 billion.
As a result of rising demand for fashion legwear, a number of vendors are expanding collections for fall 2014 with a plethora of colors, textures and patterns.
Isaac E. Ash, president and chief executive officer of United Legwear Co., sized up the legwear business this way: “Today’s consumers still consider legwear a key part — not an afterthought — of their wardrobes. Fashion and color remain critical components.…Socks and tights continue to grow as both fashion statement pieces and as part of an essentials collection.”
ULC’s portfolio of legwear and sock brands includes Skechers, Puma, Happy Socks, Tretorn, Weatherproof, Cynthia Rowley and Adrienne Vittadini.
Fashionable coverage for the legs is a main reason tights have been a top-selling category, said Lisa Cavallini, president of Mostlytights LLC, the U.S. unit of Florence, Italy-based Emilio Cavallini.
“A lot of women really want coverage on their legs,” said Cavallini. “We believe fashion will continue to be important for fall 2014, but in more of a subtle quality.…Colors will be more subtle and natural, as well as knit ombrés.…There will be nothing optical or black and white the way it was in 2013.”
Cavallini added that business over the past year has been “very strong” on emiliocavallini.com, with increases of 30 percent in the designer brand’s online business.
“We also began selling on Amazon beginning this Thanksgiving. We also saw a 20 percent increase in our [brick-and-mortar] store business, especially in Asia,” she said.
Russell J. Klein, president of Easton International, the U.S. distributor for German luxury brand Falke, said fashion colors will play a key role for fall.
“Color is still very important, and the appetite for fashion remains very strong. We are still selling fashion tights, socks and fine hosiery as an accessory to ready-to-wear,” explained Klein. “Our fashion business stays around 25 percent of our sales, but our color story has expanded in 100-denier, 80-denier and 50-denier tights, and colors are expanded each season within the basic collections.”
Socks and legwear as layering pieces will be a big trend for fall, said Catrinel Popa, vice president of design at Kayser-Roth Corp.
“We see layering pieces, such as boot socks, knee socks, over-the-knee socks and leg warmers, as key fashion accessories, and have created a collection that includes a lot of texture and color that works with fall ’14 boots. Along with fashion trends, we look to footwear and boot trends to navigate the layering collection,” said Popa. “Denim continues to be a strong trend. Updated prints, such as tonal denim prints and digital prints, update the category, along with new denim washes, color washes and treatments. New silhouettes play an important role in our leggings category, such as the Hue denim biker jeans leggings and denim overalls, as well as trouser-inspired details in leggings, such as pintucks, cuffs, piping and leather blocking and trim.”
Popa singled out “leatherette and microsuede” as bringing a strong fashion edge to leggings assortments.
“There seems to be a big theme of softness and comfort for fall,” said Juliana Prather, president of Lyssé, a shaping leggings specialist. “Leggings business has been terrific, and I think it’s a little bit about wanting to be dressy but comfortable as well.…Fall will be very exciting for us because we’ll be experimenting in two directions — fabrics and prints and mixed materials. We’ve been playing with pontes and twills, zippers and washed cottons with seaming and even faux leather panels.…We can do it tone-on-tone or mix it with fabrics like Ultrasuede or soft, vegan leather with four-way stretch.
“We also think that after two years of color in bottoms, people will want to go back to black. It’s part of the new neutral story,” she added.
At Hot Sox, a combination of Americana and pop culture are the main themes for fall, said Emily Ross, national accounts manager.
“We are using a lot of bright ‘pop’ colors like purple, pink and turquoise accented by some very natural tones of black and oatmeal,” said Ross. “The consumer is still looking for fashion and different textures and yarns.…We added more over-the-knee sock[s] because the consumer is really stepping out with fashion socks.”
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