Even though Millennials are known for dressing down, they’re pushing sales of hosiery higher.
“We haven’t seen a covered leg in seasons,” said Ken Downing, fashion director and senior vice president at Neiman Marcus. “I’ve spent decades getting women out of hosiery and now I’m changing my tune and getting her back into hosiery.”
According to NPD Group, women’s sheer hosiery sales gained 9 percent from May 2014 to May 2015 while tights jumped 24 percent. And Millennials are playing a big part in the category’s return.
“Millennials are changing the game for hosiery, just as they are in categories throughout retail, but they are also playing by different rules,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst, The NPD Group, “Traditional thinking and marketing approaches don’t apply to this consumer segment — it’s about being different, and marketers need to follow suit, even in a category with a strong heritage.”
The cohort, generally defined as between the ages of 18 and 34, now represents 27 percent of the $482 million sheer hosiery market. That’s an important source of growth for the U.S. hosiery market, which overall grew at just 3 percent to $7.3 billion for the 12 months ending in May.
Kerry O’Brien, founder and designer of Commando added hosiery to her undergarment business in 2009 and hasn’t looked back.
“Hosiery is a significant part of our business. Especially in the first half of this year versus the first half of last year, it has grown in very healthy double digits,” she said. “Our hosiery business has grown significantly year after year.
O’Brien attributed at least part of the appeal to younger shoppers to technological advances. “The hosiery your mother wore is completely different than today’s hosiery,” said O’Brien, “The technology has gotten so much better.”
Today’s hosiery fibers are lighter, stronger and softer. Commando uses special yarns that prevent snags and perforations from becoming runs. These types of technological advances have allowed Commando to patent a raw-cut waistband.
While Commando’s products are found in high-end department stores and specialty boutiques, many Millennials purchase hosiery in the mass markets. Statista pegged Hanesbrands Inc. as the leading vendor in the U.S. for pantyhose and nylons, based on sales of $150.9 million in 2014. The second leading brand with $47.3 million in sales is Kayser-Roth, the maker of No Nonsense pantyhose and Hue stockings, followed by private labels in third with $38.6 million and On the Go Hosiery in fourth place with $19.9 million. Spanx was ranked 5th with $11.6 million in sales.
There are several reasons why hosiery is enjoying a comeback. O’Brien said the popularity of the Duchess of Cambridge, who favors sheer stockings has helped boost the appeal.
Plus, retailers like Neiman Marcus have called out the “well-dressed leg” as a fashion trend for the fall. Neiman’s Downing said the Victorian look is another trend that is motivating women to present a covered leg.
“Even on the runway as we go into spring, we’re starting to see beautiful textured lace tights,” Downing said.
Over 20 different designers at NYFW chose Commandos products, including hosiery. One designer, Tracy Reese, specifically focused on colored sheers coordinated with dresses.
Hanesbrands recently showed colored sheers for spring in a presentation during New York Fashion Week. Goldman Sachs just upgraded Hanesbrands to a buy rating and said that the intimate category, which includes hosiery, is poised to return to growth in the third quarter.
“I bet most of my customers have not owned hosiery in a long time,” Downing said, adding that Neiman’s is educating the customer on her hosiery choices. “We’re even including it in the clothing departments for associates to pair with outfits.”
“I’m a true believer that everybody’s legs looks better in hosiery,” said O’Brien.