Stockings, Leggings, and Pantyhose: What to Wear and When

Updated November 15, 2020

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Woman wearing polka dot socks with sandals

A cold front may be on its way in, but now’s not the time to let uninvited weather thwart your style. You’ve noticed the surge of ’90s-inspired minis and slips, ’00s-inspired denim skirts and the oversized tee dress. That’s the no-pants party in full swing, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down, even when things turn chilly. Stand up to dropping temps with the pieces that have kept women warm throughout history.

Yep, we’re talking pantyhose plus its modern offspring — namely, socks, stockings, tights and leggings. Read on for our hosiery style tips that’ll keep your wardrobe fresh, warm and girly all winter long.

Hosiery Style Tips to Warm and Wow

How to wear pantyhose with a dress

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge Arrive at The Imperial War Museum in Southwark on April 26, 2012

Classic sheer, nude pantyhose are worn with dresses to keep from baring legs, and all their imperfections, in formal and professional environments. They’re not exactly a style statement, but more of a practicality. In truth, pantyhose were very uncool for a time until Kate, Duchess of Cambridge famously brought them back into the spotlight.

Your foray into pantyhose will go off without a hitch if you remember two things. One, avoid pairing them with open-toe shoes. The seam at the toe just doesn’t look great when it’s exposed to the world.

Secondly, choose a color that looks natural on you. That is, don’t rely on pantyhose to give you a tan. Natural and pale is always better than unnatural and tan.

How to wear pantyhose with pants

Wait, what? Women wear pantyhose with pants? Yes, some do and it’s for warmth purposes only. Pantyhose are thinner than tights and generally won’t impact the fit of your pants like tights might.

This strategy works best when you are wearing boots, so as not to show the world you’re wearing that extra layer.

Where to buy pantyhose

L’eggs Women’s Silken Mist Control Top Pantyhose (2), $8.49, Target

Wait for the next Macy’s sale to roll around to buy your pantyhose if you can. The higher-end brands tend to be more comfortable and durable. You can also buy them at Kohl’s, Target or Amazon. If you’re in a bind, Walgreen’s also sells lower-end pantyhose.

For more pantyhose style advice, see Should Women Wear Pantyhose?

How to wear fashion socks

In climates like California, you can get away with minimal additions. Slipping a simple sock into the equation can help battle a brisk morning that turns into a nice afternoon.

Rocking novelty socks with a bootie, sandal or heel is what’s trending, and warmer states are perfect for taking advantage of this quick fix. Just pick your poison — sweet or sporty? You can also get some fab custom socks that no one else will have, which is always awesome!

How to wear stockings

Woman wearing knee high socks with sweater dress
Photo source:

I consider a stocking anything that nears the knee or higher. So this would be where your boot socks, knee highs and thick highs come into play. Boots that hit at or past the knee have always looked killer with skirts. And whether you’re going pencil or mini, you can keep cozy with a thick-knit sock paired underneath.

You can leave the high boots at home in favor of a penny loafer or brogue. A cable-knit, over-the-knee sock mimics a boot and looks fabulous with a short hemline. This pairing is ideal when the weather is not terribly cold, as you’ll have some exposed parts.

How to wear tights

Tights are the cold-weather staple. Every fashionista has a sheer or opaque pair in their drawer, but the options extend far beyond basic black. Yes, the classics look super chic covering up any sliver of skin between your hem and shoes — under dresses, skirts and pants.

But don’t undersell those tights. They can also be used as a pop of color or focal point of an outfit. And velvet, metallic lame, ribbing, Swiss dots and fish nets give your standard cool-weather textiles a punch in texture. For more tights tips, see Where to Find Plus-Size Tights.

How to wear leggings

Leopard Leggings

The big debate about leggings is whether you can wear them as pants — or if they’re permanently relegated to layering duties only. Here’s the not-so-definitive answer. You can wear leggings as pants in four scenarios:

  • Your going to work out. Go get ’em girl!
  • Your top covers your tush.
  • The leggings fit more like pants in that they’re not painted-on tight.
  • You don’t care what people think because you’re always awesome anyway.

Leggings are the right choice during a Polar vortex or similarly miserable cold-weather patterns. Just like tights, leggings can be a focal point or a role-player. Try pairing your bold, patterned leggings with layers in different shades of the same color. Or layer neutrals on top. Have fun with it!

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