Most tights are terrible. For a pair to make it beyond a third or fourth outing without forming a hole where your big toe was once contained, or snagging on the surface of anything that is not 100 percent smooth, or acquiring a long, conspicuous run just from pulling them up your leg in the morning, is not something I’ve experienced.
In short, a long-lasting, attractive, and comfortable pair of tights, as Flannery O’Connor once sort of said, is hard to find. This is a bummer. So, I decided to hunt down the loveliest pair that not only feels fantastic but also can make it through an entire day without damage. Because if you manage to lay your hands on a good pair, you’ve got a foundation that can be dressed up or down to achieve an outcome that is alluring nuanced. Meantime, your legs are swaddled like a baby and look better than they do naked.
Of course, there are as many varieties of tights in this world as there are stars in the sky, so I restricted my search to the best version of the most basic yet essential kind: the black, semi-opaque, goes-with-everything tights, the kind that are sheer-ish, have a soft texture, and a pleasing amount of elasticity.
So for eight straight days, I wore a different pair of tights, from bargain basement, eight-dollar Hanes from Target to top-of-the-heap Wolfords. Which, if you ask anyone who knows anything about hosiery, this Austrian luxury brand is the crown jewel of tights. Wolford’s “Pure 50” seamless pantyhose has actually won an award for innovation owing to a hand-applied technique that fuses together the middle seam in a way that makes it invisible even under snug outfits, and a nylon-blend stitch retains miraculous elasticity even after many, many washes. A single pair is said to last years. But, a single pair also costs 61 dollars. Still, there’s no way to do a tights survey without trying Wolford, so despite the ludicrous price tag, that’s exactly what I did.
Tights that you should absolutely wear every day and not pay that much for
-Hanes Premium Opaque, Control-Top Tights from Target, two-pack, $16
-Merona Premium Opaque, Control-Top Tights from Target, one pair, $10
I swear on all things holy, of all I tried, the opaque control top, nylon/spandex blend tights form Hanes and Merona had the most-pleasant, mid-range thickness (60 denier), control tops (which I like—so I know my tights will not fall down), and–at least pre-wash–fantastic elasticity and softness. They performed no worse, and most times better, than nearly all others. Save money and get a completely satisfactory, daily tights experience.
Tights that will toast your legs like little heaters/act like leggings
-UNIQLO HEATTECH Tights, $12.90
-American Apparel Super Opaque (no semi-opaque option available in-store) Pantyhose, $25
Unless it is the dead of winter, stay away from the UNIQLO’s famous HEATTECH technology (And, buy them a size bigger than you think! These run small. There is truly nothing worse in a pair of tights than a sagging crotch region, which can truly detract for the overall quality of your day). Similarly, unless you run cold and it is January, stay away from the 100 denier super-opaque tights from American Apparel (there were no semi-opaque options in-store in Williamsburg). While these tights are a nylon/spandex blend, they feel more like a cotton blend. Re. cotton blends: don’t buy them. They, too, are warm, but they behave more like leggings than tights. And, everyone, leggings are for lazy high school students and little girls. Finally, the Super Opaques from American Apparel do not have a control top, which is an especially disappointing finish for an already disappointing tight. Save your money.
Tights that feel more like silk than nylon, not necessarily in a good way
-Calvin Klein Microfiber Tights from Macy’s, two-pack, $24
I got these tights from Calvin Klein out of historical allegiance to a brand that, for me, will always be Kate Moss and the scent Obsession—which is to say, that which made Calvin Klein fucking awesome in the 90s. These mostly nylon blend tights (95% with only 5 percent spandex, as compared to every other pair I tried that were made of 80-something percent nylon) feel slicker than you’d like—something that should go on my niece’s American Girl Dolls, not me, and definitely not on Kate Moss. The denier is weighty (though not included in packaging information, I’m going to guess it’s around 80). Too silky, too thick, just kinda wrong.
These tights were the worst, though are pervasive at mid-level department stores
-HUE Opaque Tights with control top from Macy’s, two-pack, $24
Two things about these opaque tights ubiquitous in places like Macy’s and Nordstrom: they have no sewn foot seam so, in my tights-wearing life, they are the ones that have formed the greatest number of toe-holes. To me, after crotch sag, toe-hole is the absolute lowest condition a tight can sink to. Any tight that threatens to expose your ugly winter toe in public after you’ve removed your shoes is no tight I want anything to do with. And then, though called opaque, they are 40 denier, i.e. not thick enough for winter. Anything below 50 denier–a nice medium opacity–made me feel like I might break my tights if I so much as placed my hand on them incorrectly. Hanes and Merona are cheaper than Hue, do everything these are supposed to, only better, and for less money.
-b.ella Luxury Tights “Trent” style from Red Pearl On Bedford Avenue, $14
Less silky, otherwise same as above—only, somehow, they feel even flimsier, despite the identical 40 denier.
Tights whose quality really is unparalleled, and whose price, though ludicrous, is worth it
-Wolford Pure 50 Seamless Pantyhose, $61
There is simply no getting around it. Even my visit to the Wolford store in SoHo (there are no Wolford boutique’s in Brooklyn!) felt luxurious. An entire room enthusiastically dedicated to high-quality hosiery. Erica, who helped me, wore a pair of Pure 50s (50 denier) before, during [Ed. note: !!!], and after giving birth a year ago and stood there in front of me, wearing the very same pair. Just as elastic as ever, she said, due to the secret composition of the stitch itself, after all those washes. And, unless you take a knife to your Wolfords, they’re not gonna snag. She took her long nail and ran it vigorously against the fabric to demonstrate its indestructibility. The Pure 50s are also pantyhose—did you know that pantyhose are defined by their between-the-leg gusset, or, panty-like lining? Hence, the “panty” in the hose? I did not. On the topic of the gusset, which supposedly gives you the option to not wear underwear, I’m pretty neutral, but: why not? Every single pair of Wolfords goes through 18 separate inspections before it hits the market. A little obsessive, maybe, but it seems to yield good results. Even the writing pad on which I signed my receipt was made by Wolford and my pen strokes had never felt smoother.
After my trip to Wolford, I walked up Washington Avenue, back in Brooklyn, to meet a friend for a drink wearing my Pure 50s. I disclosed to him the discreet power in which my legs were wrapped. I felt confident crossing my legs in every which way, sitting at the bar. As I moved to cross my leg once more, trying yet another position, the tight caught a grain of wood on the bar’s underside. I gasped. The incident had left something akin to a black dot, not a snag–but there it was.
In this world, nothing is indestructible, least of all tights, but giving your legs the license not only to look and feel like dynamite but also virtually indestructible is monetarily and emotionally worth the 61 dollars you’ll spend on Wolfords. For most days, though, save your money: Stick with Hanes.