NEW YORK — The new, sophisticated take on skin-toned sheers that imitate the look of a bare leg will be one of summer’s hot tickets in hosiery departments, forecast retailers.

Anklets, knee-highs and thigh-highs are other key looks retailers see as complementing the ever-rising hemlines of the season. Textures and laces also continue to be popular interpretations of a variety of silhouettes.

While a good share of spring and early summer programs is already laid out, retailers say they will be keeping an eye out at next week’s market for new items that can further freshen the season’s inventories.

“Hosiery in natural tones is going to be important for spring and summer,” said Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director of Neiman Marcus. “I don’t think women will go to the office bare-legged when they can get the same effect with flesh tones. I’d like to see a little bit of shimmer with the skin-toned palette to give it some sophistication.”

For the more adventuresome legwear customer, Kaner said, she’ll be offering a variety of ideas in silhouettes and textures.

“There seem to be a lot of options,” said Kaner. “Bill Blass showed white opaques with his spring fashions, and several designers were showing novelty looks, such as mesh and lace for evening as well as thigh-highs. Looks such as knee-highs and anklets become important, especially for the younger, more ‘with it’ customer.”

Legwear business in general, said Kaner, has been “good, and we hope it will continue.” The store will be using direct mailings and catalogs to keep up customer awareness of the department.

At Macy’s East, fashion director Benny Lin said he feels there is a lot of hosiery interest among designers.

“The schoolgirl look is very big this season, especially with white knee-highs and anklets, as well as black sheer thigh-highs and anklets,” he said. “These styles offer a very new look. For the consumer, these looks are easy to understand and the pricing is not prohibitive.”

Silver hosiery, Lin said, is another hot trend, especially worn with white clothing, and in April he plans to bring in a palette of bright, “candy-colored” tights. White hosiery will also be important with the season’s neon-toned clothing, he predicts, and lace is another key trend.

In terms of hosiery exclusives, Macy’s East has been extremely active. In late October, Macy’s launched the new bridge line for Christian Dior Hosiery, CD Etoile. Starting this month, the new Easy Spirit Legwear line, licensed by Kayser-Roth Corp., will be exclusively available in the store’s shoe and hosiery departments for the first half of the year.

“Legwear is primarily a basics business, but it’s the novelty items and the excitement of a new brand that spurs multiple sales in the department,” said Lin.

At Jacobson Stores, buyer David Eklund stressed the importance of sheer hosiery in pale and skin-toned colors.

“Although we’ve seen a drop in sheer business in the past year or so, I think that spring and summer offer a chance to revive that category, especially with the short skirts,” he said.

Besides the skin-toned legwear, Eklund said, key trends include textures, net looks and especially socks in all silhouettes.

In terms of promotions, hosiery will probably be included in specialty catalogs, such as sportswear and large sizes.

“We’re anticipating a strong spring and summer legwear season,” said Lavelle Olexa, vice president of fashion merchandising at Lord & Taylor, citing natural colors and textures as top trends.

One line the store is particularly enthusiastic about is DKNY Coverings. “Their offerings look great,” said Olexa.

Nude-colored sheers are a major area, said Susan Kerner, hosiery buyer for the Leg Room, noting that vendors are beefing up their offerings in that category.

“Before this year, there were only one or two vendors offering skin tones,” she said. “Now there are Hanes, Christian Dior, Donna Karan and Calvin Klein. It’s a big turnaround from years past. By merchandising added colors and making them part of a special group, such as Donna Karan’s Natural Foundations, the customer has more faith in the trend.”

For fall, Kerner added, black was the number one color in the store’s Donna Karan business, but light tones, such as palomino and “bare” now are picking up.

Thigh-highs, after a strong fall, are another major statement for spring and summer, Kerner said.

“My fall thigh-high styles have been selling out almost immediately,” Kerner said. “I’ve had to place reorders.”

Brands that have clicked with thigh-highs include Hanes Silk Reflections, Calvin Klein’s opaque styles and DKNY’s microfiber nylons.

Over-the-knee socks, which Kerner describes as “elongated knee-highs” are another look she considers important, paired with miniskirts and shorts.

“It’s been difficult to find the over-the-knee silhouettes,” she said. “I think that vendors are playing it safe and they need to be more novel.”

Kerner is also focusing on lace and crochet anklets and tights.

“I expect to see increases in business for spring and summer,” she concluded. “Unlike last year, it’s been easy to spot the trends, and fashion looks in general are leaning significantly toward hosiery.””2.X>