The Top 10 Legwear: Back In Favor

The category gains momentum.

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD 100 issue 07/23/2008
1. Hanes
2. L’eggs
3. No Nonsense
4. Calvin Klein
5. Nine West
6. Danskin
7. Gold Toe
8. Burlington
9. Donna Karan
10. Spanx

After years of showing bare legs on the runway, designers have embraced hosiery once again, and legwear makers are loving it.

Last year was a strong one for the hosiery industry, and brands benefited from designers’ interest in covering the legs. Now, as the momentum continues, they are experimenting with color and texture, and brands like Proenza Schouler, Betsey Johnson and Anna Sui presented fall collections where the hosiery was not just an accessory, it was a central part of each look.

With its consistent presence on February’s runways — in such styles as sheer, sparkled Lurex and strong blocks of color — the category shows no signs of slowing and has led to healthy sales at department and specialty stores.

U.S. legwear sales grew 6.2 percent to $3.04 billion last year from $2.9 billion in 2005, according to market research fi rm The NPD Group. Tights led the gains, surging 52.8 percent to $172.2 million.

Vendors are optimistic that the pace will continue for fall, especially with regard to novelty trends. But even the sheer category, which was deemed out of fashion in recent years, could be rediscovered because of its exposure at fall shows including Chanel, Hervé Léger and Phillip Lim.

Socks again proved to be one of spring’s strongest performers and this is expected to extend into fall and holiday. Designers are trying varied novelty trends in the category, showing feminine ankle socks in cotton and nylon that retailers are pairing with high heels or ballerina flats.

In keeping with today’s eco-friendly movement, a common thread among the brands on the top 10 list is the push toward natural fibers and nontoxic technologies. Bamboo is now a common fiber, and natural cottons and harm-free dyes are also popular. Additionally, legwear brands are adding shape and bodywear to their selections, offering women comfortable and affordable ways of looking great under their garments.

Sister brands Hanes and L’eggs once again top this year’s legwear list, ranking one and two, respectively.

This spring, Hanes introduced Silk Refl ections Transparent Sheer Toeless, which is designed to match any skin tone. The toeless styling was created to complement sandals. Key features include a breathable control-top panty and a sheer nylon and spandex combination to provide a great fit. In terms of bodywear, the Hanes Smooth Illusions Go Figure collection expanded its offerings with the Go Figure Seamless Waist Smoother. The seamless styling does not cling to clothes and provides a sleek look. The fi rmer compression allows for more smoothing and slimming. Additionally, Hanes is introducing two tights styles under the Silk Reflections brand, in opaque and ribbed varieties.

L’eggs continues to be the leading hosiery brand for the budget-conscious, but style-driven consumer. Its legwear emphasizes comfort, fit and feel. Recently, the brand introduced the Silken Mist Waist Cinching Shaper, offering high-waisted styling that smooths and shapes natural curves. Additional bodyshaping collections include Profi les, Smoother and Toner, which will hit selling floors in time for the holidays. According to the brand, nearly two-thirds of women look for more comfortable styles when purchasing hosiery. In response, L’eggs created Waistband Free technology for its Silken Mist and Sheer Energy collections that gives a more comfortable fit.

Placing third is Greensboro, N.C.-based No Nonsense, which marked 35 years in business this year. It has stretched beyond its familiar little orange packets of sheer hose by launching product in updated packaging and casting its first ad campaign in 10 years. Where hosiery once accounted for 90 percent of the brand’s portfolio, according to Julia Townsend, executive vice president and general manager of Kayser-Roth Corp., No Nonsense now has 50 percent of its offerings in hosiery, 45 percent in casual legwear and 5 percent in intimates. The company also struck a deal with Fashion Bug to produce and distribute an exclusive line of sleepwear. In November, No Nonsense inaugurated an ad campaign “that celebrates the No Nonsense woman,” running in magazines including O, the Oprah Magazine, In Style and Glamour.

Ranking fourth this year is Calvin Klein hosiery, licensed to American Essentials. Known for its neutral hues and ribbed styles, Calvin Klein has helped establish legwear as a prominent trend. According to Michele Slade, vice president of sales and marketing for American Essentials, the designer brand is incorporating mohair and merino wool into its cabled ribbed styles. It’s moving forward with the layered look from the runway, in which women can pair opaque tights with over-the-knee socks and legwarmers, which are all under the Calvin Klein legwear umbrella.

Nine West comes in at number five, up two spots from last year. With creative director Fred Allard at the helm, Nine West is becoming a more full-fashioned brand, taking inspirations from runways and making them more budget-friendly. It also continues to focus on basic opaques in a range of colors.

In sixth place is classic dance brand Danskin, which is still prioritizing feminine, fashion-forward styles that are eco-friendly and budget-conscious. The exercise market has also become a point of focus. Danskin is offering legwear in a variety of fi ts geared toward running, lifting or yoga. Within the collection are premium technical fabrics that offer comfort and moisture management. Styles include such attributes as UV protection in the fabric as well as antimicrobial properties to inhibit bacterial growth and odor.

Gold Toe, at seven, is having a strong year. With a line of athletic styles launched under the Sport Tec banner and the Gold Toe Women’s All Day Comfort collection, the brand is clearly targeting the athletic market. It is also making a big environmental push, using more bamboo, soy fiber and organic cotton and hemp to make up the Eco FX collection. During the second half of 2008, Gold Toe will launch an e-commerce Web site with information about legwear trends, socks and leg health.

Burlington continues to focus on the sheer market, where its nylon collection offers a variety of styles, sizes and colors. It landed in the eighth slot on the list.

At number nine, Donna Karan offers basic pantyhose as well as trendy, stylish opaque tights. In keeping with Karan’s modern, urbane aesthetic, her legwear in hues such as cobalt, gray, chocolate and brown have seen solid success at retail.

Finishing up the list is Spanx, which is adding to its product offerings to comprise more than the body-shaping pieces that made it famous. Updated categories include regular hose and fishnets, both with Spanx’s tummytucking capabilities.