HYPE OR HOPE? A LITTLE OF BOTH

Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — For some, the long-awaited comeback of sheers is a milestone. For others, it’s just a myth.
In the last few years, sheer hosiery became something that many women — especially young ones — only wore for weddings and job interviews. Now sheers are cropping up on designer runways and in fashion magazines.
That level of publicity has prompted some stores to suggest that sheers are on the verge of a resurgence.
Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director for Neiman Marcus, said, “Our sheers business is booming. It’s a major part of our replenishment business and a major part of our total business. All of our top sellers are sheers.”
Neiman Marcus has been selling Wolford, Donna Karan nude control, Calvin Klein Infinite Sheers and Neiman Marcus’s private label sheers, with control top or some sort of support feature, Kaner said.
Private label fishnets in black or nude have been “very important,” she added. Next month, the retailer will bring in more fishnets from Wolford, including some larger open-work styles and styles in chocolate and magenta.
Judy Collinson, executive vice president and general merchandise manager for women’s at Barneys New York, expects the legwear category to gain momentum for fall.
“Our hosiery business is fine for spring, but I don’t think it will happen until fall shoes and clothing arrives,” she said. “A lot of the spring shoes are still open-toe and they don’t require hosiery.”
With a “ladylike finish” becoming more important for fall, consumer interest in legwear should be evenly distributed, Collinson said.
“We’re going to see the return of leg coverings again,” she said. “There will definitely be more than we’ve seen in several seasons.”
Opaques in a variety of colors, especially plums and greens, should help fall business. For fall, Barneys has added about 10 more colors to its offerings.
Sally Scott, director of promotions and marketing for Holt Renfrew, an 11-store chain based in Canada, is another fan of sheers.
“I think the whole hosiery phenomenon for fall is going to be a big push [for the business]. We’re seeing everything from patterns to nudes. It’s almost as though anything goes,” she said. “On the sheer side, the interest seems to be coming from the early Eighties glam look with sheer nudes. Everyone remembers how L’eggs had sheer nudes in the [plastic] egg.”
Scott said she expected interest in sheers to last for a while. That interest should be reminiscent of how women latched on to black opaques in the late Nineties.
“I think sheers will be with us for a bit. We see it going into next spring, which will be nice to see,” Scott said.
Lavelle Olexa, senior vice president of fashion merchandising for Lord & Taylor, was a little more cautious.
“We certainly are hopeful that sheers are coming back. It’s yet to be determined because the fall season will tell the story,” she said.
For the time being, really sheer styles, especially nude-colored ones like Hanes Beyond Bare, are accounting for the bulk of legwear sales at Lord & Taylor. Nine West’s lace-top thigh-highs have been another standout for spring, Olexa said.
“The encouraging thing about that is, we assume it is a younger customer,” she said. “That means a fashion customer is interested in hosiery. That could be a very good thing.”
For fall, Lord & Taylor will introduce Nine West’s fishnet thigh-highs.
Not everyone is sold on the prospect of a major comeback.
Kohl’s, a 298-unit chain, expects its sheer business to remain “very consistent” without any “major resurgences,” said Julie Gardner, senior vice president of marketing. With casual dressing continuing to be “the trend,” Kohl’s is seeing sales increase for sport socks and trouser socks.
“There are still several pretty large companies that have recently gone to business casual, even though it’s been around for a while,” Gardner said. “That’s where the growth is. Women and men are changing out their closets to conform with what they wear to work. It takes a while for people to understand what business casual is.”
Fitzgerald Morgan, buyer for Clothestime, a 280-unit chain, said, “The market is very unsettled right now. A lot of people are waiting to see what the sheer business does in Europe. Animal prints are making a big comeback. Sexy is in. Sheers have not made a huge impact on the market yet.”
The popularity of animals prints in a variety of areas — tights, apparel, cowboy hats, outerwear trimming and even merchandise made of PVC material — reflects the trend’s staying power, Morgan said.
Sheers account for about 30 percent of Clothestime’s legwear sales, nearly consistent with sales a year ago. Should the interest in animal prints die down, the retailer would “most definitely go more heavily into sheers,” Morgan said.
Nevertheless, there are plans for a holiday blitz for sheers.
“More than likely, we’re going to pump sheers as a great holiday item. We’ll do direct-mail pieces and in-store advertising,” Morgan said. “We’ll polarize it and go for it. That’s what you have to do to get a trend going.”
Stacey Dorfman, owner of Sheers: The Bodywear Bar, a two-store operation in Dallas, said, “I think it’s all hype. I don’t think it’s coming back. I’m not saying we’re not going to sell any sheers, but it’s not anywhere like it used to be.”
Dorfman noted that the prominence of sheers in fashion magazines was a bit misleading.
A few customers have phoned Dorfman to see if she carries pink sheers like the ones featured in Gucci advertising. But calls to Gucci, Prada and some of the other major design houses proved that even they don’t sell them, she said.
“No one is buying it down here. Even Donna Karan’s color-wash products in powder, blush and sea foam we sell only to a couple of brides and bridesmaids,” Dorfman said. “For the most part, it’s really pathetic.”
Fishnets, this spring’s must-have legwear item, are not selling as well as everyone says they are, she added.
“It’s depressing. I hope it does change, but I don’t see lifestyles changing with business casual, the heat coming on and capri pants still being big,” Dorfman said. “I don’t see them coming back, at least this year.”