First things first, and it is important that we get this out of the way: Black tights can be effing glamorous. I, like any other woman who has lived through enough New York City winters to have developed a uniform for boreal battle, have a drawer full of black opaque hosiery, and I live for that drawer. I long for that drawer. I dream about that drawer. Some of my favorite purchases live inside that drawer — my 80-denier matte opaques from Wolford, so dense and buttery to the touch that just pulling them on feels sensual, like I’m getting away with something. These are the kind of tights you save up for: I remember being a 22-year-old editorial assistant during one of my first New York winters, shivering past the Wolford outpost in Soho with chattery kneecaps in thin-spun H&M nylons and gazing inside the shop windows like The Little Match Girl. Those fancy tights became my figgy pudding, my warm hearth, my leather reading chair and the hunting dog curled up beside it; the good life I could someday achieve if I really strived for it. Now, I have this drawer filled with them — well, three pairs; I do live on a writer’s salary, after all — and this stash makes me feel sophisticated, slinky, and smart, not to mention prepared for whatever ice storm this city decides to throw my way. Come at me, snow! These tights are faultless. I cherish them. Putting them on is a ritual that I enjoy so much that I do it year-round: the stepping in with a dainty foot, the shimmying and stretching of thick, velvety fabric, the sucking in of breath as the waistband snaps into place and suddenly the hips are fully swaddled, hugged by spandex, legs magically converted into sleek accessories that go with anything.
Black tights are miracles — luxurious yet accessible miracles! This is my going philosophy, and I know many women who share it, which is why I was so stunned to see this clickbait-y article in The Guardian shaming the wearers of black opaques. (Okay, stunned isn’t the right word; I don’t think anything on the web can surprise me ever again.) I am the queen of overthinking fashion, and if you don’t believe me, read the 1,000+ words I spilled on black turtlenecks last month. But even with my healthy appetite for going deep on a particular garment, I found fashion editor Jess Cartner-Morley’s argument against black tights to be somewhat exhausting. Because she does something that I think fashion writers, at least those who truly love clothes and not just the industry surrounding them, should never do: She argues that a specific item of clothing should be associated with shame. Cartner-Morley writes that black tights are a telling metaphor, one that “reveals a lot about your status, age, class, and self-image.” She argues that because you don't often see black tights in fashion editorials, they don’t signify high fashion. She says that true fashion die-hards don’t wear them, choosing instead to freeze in February while waiting for their Ubers to arrive. She says that putting on a pair of black tights is a form of giving up, a small death. She actually writes that she “dies a little” every time she puts on hers. She writes that black tights separate the models from the mortals, the rich from the poor, the young (and bare-legged, and carefree, and glowing?) from the old (and varicose-veined, and withered, and hideous?). She calls them a “matter of cold, hard cash.” Those who have cash, she says, go bare. Those who don’t wear Spanx with the rest of the plebes. She also says that wearing tights during any month without an “R” in it is a breach of fashion protocol. Let’s pick apart this pile of nonsense, shall we?
Cartner-Morley seems to have fallen prey to an antiquated version of looking at style. It’s a view that comes from looking at glossy magazines and finding them prescriptive instead of suggestive, aspirational instead of inspirational. Many models in editorials do wear tights — I used to fact-check fashion credits for shoots and have put in many calls to hosiery designers to prove it. But it’s not models mid-pose in glossy magazines that most women look to when they are actually getting dressed in the morning. Those are like the self-help quotes in curly font you scroll past on your Instagram feed; good for casual inspo, bad for taking too literally. Instead, if women look to icons at all as they dress in the morning, they think of celebrities (a category that can include off-duty models) walking around and living their lives. And guess what: Celebrities love tights. Taylor Swift wears black tights year-round. Emma Roberts has been living in hers with jean cutoffs. Zooey Deschanel might have had hers surgically attached to her body. Helen Mirren, easily the classiest lady in the world, arrives at almost every red carpet in a pair (just try to tell me Dame Helen looks like a pauper in her hosiery). It goes back farther than that: There is Marilyn browsing bookshelves in her black hose; Princess Diana touring Australia in her famous sheer black stockings with bows at the ankles; the actress Julie Newmar, who patented her own brand of nylons called Nudemars, to which she added a special butt-seam in order to “make your derriere look like an apple instead of a ham sandwich.” And then, it goes back and back: classic pinups from the 1940s, women in Annette Kellerman’s “bathing tights” wading into the ocean in the 1920s, burlesque dancers, Ziegfeld girls... They all loved, and lived in, tights.
Tights became a feminist issue in the 1960s, when more and more women ditched their constricting panty hose and went bare at work (or, gasp, wore trousers) — but they never stopped being useful. Black tights serve a real purpose in a woman’s wardrobe: They keep the gams toasty, sure, but they also make it possible for a woman without pristine, cellulite-free legs to wear an entire wardrobe of clothes she may never otherwise attempt. Short-shorts, rompers, micro-minis, men’s oxford shirts as dresses, sheer slips made of whispers of transparent tulle — all these become possible with a good pair of tights. Tights are the ideal base layer for clothing play: You can put anything on top of them. They make you feel like you are at a holiday cookie-decorating party where you are always the cookie. Because here’s the truth: Tights open up a world of fashion options. And that’s what glamour is. It’s expansive. It’s experimental. It’s staying fluid and open. When you say that women who go bare-legged are “pulling rank,” by showing off a perfect tan, wax job, and complexion, according to The Guardian, then you are also saying that fashion is about physique rather than taste; that it is about the body that the clothes go on versus the heart that puts an outfit together. You are implying that those who like to peacock with tights on are somehow doing fashion wrong, that the bold risks a woman takes when her legs are covered are somehow always going to feel like a consolation prize for not having better, younger, more model-esque stems. I can understand how living in that world would make you die a little when you put on your tights. But in my world, suited up in my Wolfords and strolling down Fifth Avenue, I never feel more alive.