THE LEGWEAR BOOMLET COULD CONTINUE, PROVIDED THAT THERE IS ENOUGH FOR CONSUMERS TO CHOOSE FROM.
Byline: Marc Karimzadeh
This fall, strong evidence points to legwear continuing its return to favor with the buying public.
In the past few years, the category had fallen victim to the growing trend of casualization in the workplace. Then there’s the fact that many women opt for the bare-legged look year-round.
But the recent success of fishnets has caused women to rethink the category. Not only have fishnets drawn attention back to dressing up legs, but they have also provided proof to legwear executives — sometimes criticized for their lethargic attitude toward change — that retail success can be driven by novelty fashion items.
In order to capitalize on the category’s current momentum, some firms have realized that legwear is just as much an accessory as a handbag or a pair of earrings.
“There is still a tremendous amount of attention paid to legwear as an accessory that completes the outfit and the look,” said Russell J. Klein, president of women’s legwear at Tommy Hilfiger. “It can act as a way to get into a fashion trend without the financial commitment to ready-to-wear.”
The continued interest in legwear at the recent round of fall haute couture shows in Paris gave vendors and retailers a reason to sigh in relief, as designers from Oscar de la Renta at Balmain to John Galliano at Dior and Louis Feraud showed a vast array of fishnets, textures and thigh-highs.
Plus, “[With the cold weather] people began to question whether it was stupid not to wear legwear,” said Carole Hochman, president and chief executive officer of Danskin, makers of Givenchy, Ellen Tracy and Round the Clock hosiery.
Vendors are buzzing with confidence about the coming fall legwear season, to be introduced to store buyers during the March market next week. Trends expected to turn up in showrooms:
Color continues to be important for hosiery in a deep, rich winter palette, from reds and burgundies to browns, camels, ecru and gold.
Graphics and textures, toyed with last fall, will become more prominent, with large houndstooth, zigzags and herringbones among the more popular patterns.
Fishnets will continue with expanded colorways, color mixes, metallics and a range of sizes in mesh weaves.
Luxe legwear materials will continue their rise, including angoras, wools and microfiber treatments. New yarn mixtures with Tactel allow more variety in patterning and depth, as well as durability.
Men’s wear will continue to influence many sock vendors, though patterns may be smaller and embroidered. Look for plenty of plaid, chevron, argyle, tweed and stripe patterns.
Knee-highs and thigh-highs — in nudes and wines, fashion prints and fishnet versions — will continue to play a crucial role in attracting younger customers. “Last fall, the stores said they planned business to be soft, but it was higher than expected,” said Karen Schneider, president of Wolford America.
In fact, retailer’s low expectations contributed to insufficient amounts of merchandise when customers came in demanding fishnets last fall, Schneider said.
“[Many stores] were trying to catch up all season; their pre-orders weren’t substantial enough,” she noted. As a result, Schneider expects stores to increase their orders this market, and although she declined to provide projections, she said Wolford expects to register double-digit increases.
“[Retailers] are going to have to anniversary the successful year they had, and they need the inventory to do that,” she said.
Still, an increase in interest does not necessarily mean that stores will be filled with merchandise from a vast array of resources. Some vendors said that despite growing interest in legwear, the market will inevitably be prone to consolidation in the next two years.
With more and more companies fighting for precious real estate, some industry executives said that because customers find the amount of available legwear confusing, many stores will be looking to simplify and streamline rather than diversify the shopping experience.
“In the sheer business, there is definitely room for narrowing and simplifying so that there is more of a specialty-store feeling and less confusion,” said Pat McNellis, president of women’s brands at Royce Hosiery Mills, the maker of the Nine West and Dockers hosiery lines.
“You can’t invest 30 minutes trying to find a sock,” Molly Mott, vice president of sales at Hue said. “It’s: How do you make yourself stand out and help the store make the shopping experience good for the consumers?”
For Hue, this means continued investment in novelty items, such as footliners with a fashion spin, and a growing line of athletic socks in fashion prints and colors.
“It’s time to lead with fashion and color,” said Jordan Lipson, president and chief executive officer at American Essentials. Danskin’s Carol Hochman echoed that sentiment, noting, “It’s time to rethink the classification and freshen it up. Now that the decline has stopped, it’s time to turn our attention to making hosiery departments look interesting.”