Tights are a type of fabric leg covering, usually extending from the waist to
feet, and fitting as tightly as possible to the body (from which the name
Wearing of tights has a long history going back several centuries, when they
were worn by men. Today, they are worn primarily by women and girls, as well as
infants and toddlers of both sexes. In recent years, they have been sometimes
offered as men's fashion. Athletic tights are already considered unisex.
In American English, the difference between pantyhose and tights in women's
fashion is determined in the weight of the yarn used and the thickness to which
the garment is knitted. Generally, anything up to 40 denier is known as
pantyhose and anything over can be classified as tights. In the United Kingdom
the word "tights" is always used.
There are many sub-classifications of women's tights/pantyhose that describe the
precise construction (eg. control top, seamless, support). Although most tights
are mainly nylon or cotton, lycra is normally included in modern blends to
In women's fashion, unfooted tights are usually called leggings. Athletic tights
are often unfooted, although they may have a "stirrup" that goes under the foot
to hold the cuff down near the ankle.
A man's Renaissance-era costume with tights
Originally derived from the hose worn by European men several centuries ago,
tights were made as close fitting as possible for practical reasons when riding
horseback. For men of nobility the material would be made of silk or fine wool
rather than the coarser fabrics used by the lower classes. At the time of King
Henry VIII of England, such was the male fashion for displaying a well turned
leg that even the king padded the calf area under his hose.
Examples of current use
Tights are common in the world of theater, especially in Renaissance-era
costumes, and dance.
The term "tights" has been used to try to ridicule certain traditional British
uniform. Most famously the Serjeant-at-Arms at the Palace of Westminster, after
a protester got past the security, were described in the media as "middle aged
men in tights".
For horseback riding, tights refers to light jodhpurs (riding pants that extend
to the ankle) that are worn in summer or as an undergarment in winter. These
pants, or 'riding tights', are cheaper to buy than jodhpurs or breeches (riding
pants that extend to mid thigh intended for use with tall riding boots). In warm
climates they can be worn all year round.
Tights can also describe the leg coverings worn in cycling and other athletics,
especially by runners and wrestlers. These tights are usually a thicker
spandex-blend, and are usually footless.
Athletic tights received some publicity during the 2005-2006 basketball season,
when players started wearing the ankle-length tights under their uniform shorts.
A prominent NBA player, Kobe Bryant, was one of the first to wear tights, and
the style was subsequently adopted by several other NBA players, as well as some
college and high school players. The style sparked controversy, leading to
proposals to prohibit wearing tights with basketball uniforms.
Health and beauty use
Because the fabric used in tights is made of interwoven fabric such as nylon of
cotton there are gaps in the fabric where modern manufacturers have been able to
place other items which benefit the skin. They can use microencapsulation
techniques to place substances such as moistorisers and other skin creams in the
tights. These creams are said to act against the skin to create a health and/or
beauty benefit for the wearer. Some manufacturers have even put caffeine in
tights which they claim can reduce cellulite for the wearer.
Sales of tights
Sales of tights exploded in the early 20th Century and were only halted during
the Second World War as nylon became an increasingly scarce commodity. In fact,
women were known to dye their legs with tea to give the same effect as tights
and even used eye brow pencils to draw a line up the back of the leg to give the
effect of a seam.
They recovered after the war and went from strength to strength during the 20th
Century as women considered it only right and proper to cover their legs.
However towards the end of the 20th Century sales of tights started to fall by
as much as 10% a year. This was mainly due to the increased prominence of
trousers in fashion. Workplace dress codes were also a significant cause with
the increase in casual wear, "dress down" days and the rise and rise of the
trouser "power suit". The UK was particularly hard hit with sales decreasing
from £400m in 2000 to below £300m in 2004.
Since 2005 sales in tights and other hosiery has recovered. This is mainly due
to the increase in skirts and dresses in fashion. Also a lot young women are
using brightly coloured and patterned tights to make a fashion statement. On top
of this, the rise of internet retail has helped the industry. The internet
should continue to play a significant part in future sales growth as tights do
not need to be tried on in the shops and can be delivered to consumers easily