Byline: Wendy Hessen

NEW YORK — While they still account for a small portion of total sales, thigh-high hosiery and over-the-knee looks have seen a lift in sales lately.
The renewed interest in these styles has given grasping hosiery makers something to latch onto in hopes of attracting new consumers as well as those that have recently eschewed their hose.
Long regarded as a classic, yet occasional item with decidedly sexy overtones, thigh-highs are now being thought of more as fashion accessories, while over-the-knee styles have become a recent favorite of the fashion-obsessed junior customer.
When Nine West sheers were launched at retail last November, the collection included just one lace-topped thigh-high as a holiday item, according to Pat McNellis, president of women’s brands at Royce Hosiery, Nine West’s licensee.
“That thigh-high has turned out to continually have the highest sell-through,” McNellis said. “As a result, we introduced four more styles, which are currently shipping to stores for fall and holiday.”
Among the styles Nine West has added are a 40-denier opaque with a satin band, a fishnet, a 10-denier nude with a net band, and a 10-denier shimmer.
“Many of our stores are planning an entire thigh-high fixture in their top doors beginning in mid-November,” McNellis said. “I think thigh-highs have longevity. There is a customer that looks to wardrobe her leg in thigh-highs and we see them as a year-round business. Thigh-highs are now hovering around 15 percent of sales, but with the addition of the new styles, I could see them hitting as high as 25 percent.”
Hi Riders, part of the Tommy Hilfiger line, focuses on these silhouettes.
“We saw a chance to bring out a casual side to thigh-highs, which were previously sheer and sexy,” said Russell Klein, president of Tommy Hilfiger legwear, which is manufactured by Holt Hosiery. “Our objective was to bring freshness in design with value.”
Though Klein said the contribution to overall sales is still small — between 5 and 10 percent — the company is expanding its offerings for holiday and spring. For holiday, a fishnet thigh-high with a Tommy logo top is being added.
Encouraging Hilfiger’s hosiery purchases in general, and that of thigh-highs and over-the-knee looks in particular, is the company’s value purchasing plan. If a customer buys three items, which can be socks or hosiery, she receives a 20 percent savings on her total purchase.
“A customer could buy one sock, one knee-high and one thigh-high,” said Klein. “It makes for multiple purchases, moves units and encourages them to try something new and buy it now instead of waiting for a sale.”
Thigh-highs have always been a part of the Wolford collection, according to Karen Schneider, president and chief executive officer of Wolford America.
“Currently, there are eight [thigh-high] styles in the permanent range, from an 8-denier sheer to a much heavier satin opaque,” said Schneider. “I have never really quantified how much it represents, but it is a consistent business and is on automatic replenishment in both department stores and our own stores.”
For spring, Wolford is injecting major color to the thigh-high arena, including hues such as tomato red, kiwi and purple, all in an effort to take a classic product and make it new, said Schneider.
Color aside, Wolford is also adding a thigh-high for its more forward customers: Chelsea is a sheer style overlaid with what looks like darker ribbons wrapped around the length of the leg. It is available in black with black ribbons or black with colored ribbons.
“We’ve opened up 60 new accounts in the last three weeks and thigh-highs are a key to that success. Even conservative stores are interested in them now,” said John Flynn, vice president of sales at Levante. “We have seven thigh-high styles in our basic line. Currently, fishnet thigh-highs are our top seller.”
Flynn said thigh-highs are “probably running about 25 percent of our total volume now.”
Legale president Barbara Russilo, said thigh-highs can go both ways.
“They can be very young and sexy or more utilitarian. In the junior market, where so many girls are wearing short, pleated skirts, over-the-knees are very new to them and seem fresh — exactly what the junior customer wants.”
Russilo said a one strong seller has been over-the-knee fishnets, usually in black.
“We shipped them for Halloween assortments in Halloween packaging, but the volume suggests that girls are buying them more for fashion than for Halloween,” Russilo said. “They think they’re sexy. They watch VH1 and look at the magazines. They also have to be comfortable, and fishnets nowadays are, with the advent of Lycra. Young girls today are very into being in shape and they want to be a bit more provocative.”
Russilo said the most important thing coming out of the demand for these items is that they are “calling attention to new products that will hopefully draw more customers.”
“I don’t think they will be the next volume trend,” she said, “but they are important for stores to represent.”
Attracting younger women into department stores to buy hosiery has been an added gain from the decision to offer more thigh-highs and over-the-knee items, according to Deborah Boria, executive director of design and merchandising at Sara Lee Hosiery.
“It’s hard to get young women into the place where she thinks her mother shops,” Boria pointed out. “These girls are incredibly interested in fashion, even more so than past generations. It’s our challenge to recognize that and get to her with fun packaging that shows we’re on top of what’s happening in music, etc.”
The spring assortment of the company’s licensed DKNY line will include hot colors like bright pink, coral and blue, and more casual fixture areas, Boria said. The packaging for each item will include a photo of the style and be placed in a clear bag so customers can easily see the color.
The DKNY thigh-high assortment includes sheers with glitter yarn tops and opaques.
Though Boria declined to say how much of an increase the company has registered with thigh-highs and over-the-knees, she said she does see both going forward, especially in light of the strong presence of short skirts seen in the recent designer collections in the U.S. and Europe.