After doing in-depth research, testing 16 pairs for at least eight hours at a time, and enlisting three unbiased testers to do label-blind testing of the final six top pairs, the much-beloved Wolford Velvet de Luxe 66 are still the top opaque tights on the market. The high price might scare off some budget-minded people, but these are an investment in your fashion future. One pair can last for years—a reliable and significant improvement on most ultra-disposable options on the market. The Wolford Velvet de Luxe 66 tights are thick but not ludicrously so, warm enough for an average chilly day, and attractive under a range of outfits. They have a comfortable but secure waistband, are silky to the touch, and easily best their competitors in terms of quality and longevity.
All the raves are true: Wolford’s Velvet de Luxe 66 tights can’t be beat in terms of fit and feel. Though they’re pricier than most opaque tights on the market, the money you spend is well worth it when you consider how long you’ll be able to enjoy them. The material feels silky and luxurious, with an even opacity and a smooth finish that resists snags and pulls. The Wolfords are worth the extra money over a pair like our runner-up because of their staying power—their high-quality construction means these will be a fixture in your closet for years to come. When it comes to cost-per-wear, these may actually be a better deal than our runner-ups, even considering the initial price difference.
Gap’s Opaque Tights may seem mundane at first glance, but they held their own against much more expensive models and were the standouts in our testing. The waistband is comfortable and snug without digging into the stomach, and it doesn’t roll down (no small feat for most tights). But they’re not as good of a buy as the Wolfords when it comes to durability—one of our testers noticed that they started coming apart at the crotch seams on her first day of wearing, a sentiment that was echoed by many reviewers on the Gap site. Still, if you’re not able to spend money on the Wolfords, this reasonably priced option may become your new hosiery BFFs.
Considering how low their price is, we were pleasantly surprised by how well the Hanes 24/7 Blackout Tights performed. Testers loved the length of the legs and the fact that these didn’t sag during the day, leaving the dreaded Baggy Ankles. The waistband is snug without being constricting and the material isn’t excessively shiny, as some pairs with lots of spandex seem to be. You can enjoy these for several wearings without having to worry about them snagging beyond recognition. If you’re on a tight budget or in a tight situation in and need a pair of tights from a drugstore, stat, these are the ones to grab.
On days when you need a little extra warmth—standing in Times Square for the ball drop or selling jam at a farmer’s market, perhaps—you’d do well to reach for Plush’s Fleece-Lined Tights. They’re too thick for layering, and some reviewers complain of them making your legs look a little girthier than they actually are. But the fact that they’re so soft and cozy makes up for this. Some testers complained that the waistband rode a little low, but if you’re able to find the right size and eliminate any fit issues, you’ll enjoy these in colder climates.
I worked as senior editor of Bust Magazine for three years, running the fashion and style section. During that time, I personally tested dozens of brands of tights, in an effort to find which worked best for me personally and which we could recommend to our readers. I currently work as an editor at O Magazine. On a personal level I’m also a voracious and finicky hosiery buyer—a friend once told me that I “keep the black opaque tights industry in business.”
In order to determine which tights hold up best under pressure, which materials are most important to look for, and how to choose an ideal pair, I interviewed Brittany Pollack, a soloist with the New York City Ballet, and whose work uniform includes tights. For the original 2015 guide, writer Jamie Wiebe spoke with Sasha Wilkins, a former Wall Street Journal style editor and blogger at Liberty London Girl.
Those of us who like to wear dresses—and live in climates that feature sub-60-degree temperatures—will need a pair of tights. They’re also indispensable for anyone performing in a Shakespeare play or dressing as a superhero from time to time. The right pair of tights will be comfortable while keeping your legs reasonably warm and providing a bit of retro style. Since tights are made of flimsier material than, say, denim, they aren’t heirloom items of clothing: They need to be replaced fairly regularly. Even the highest-quality pairs won’t last longer than a few years with frequent wear. If you live in a chilly climate and have never owned tights, they can complement a huge variety of outfits and are worth picking up; if you own some and they’re wearing out, our pick is a solid, long-lasting replacement.
The quality of tights on the market varies greatly—you can buy pairs for a few dollars, or spend up to $80 for an ultra-high-end pair. They offer protection for bare legs in chilly weather, and for those looking for a little extra support, control-top options also provide compression. But a great pair of tights has more than just those two features.
One major factor to consider when analyzing tights is the denier, a unit of measurement in the textile industry that describes the weight/thickness of a fabric. Tights can range as low as 5 denier, and all the way up to 200. Anything 40 and below is classified as sheer, while 50 and above qualifies as opaque. As you might imagine, since higher denier tights are more opaque, they’re not just thicker but more resilient and less prone to tearing.
The most comfortable and least objectionable materials for tights, in our research, were cotton, nylon, and Lycra, also known as spandex.1 Many tights are a combination of the three. Cotton is breathable, washable, and easy to find. But all-cotton tights without any synthetic component, even if they were common in the marketplace (which they’re not) wouldn’t conform to the body and hold their fit properly. That’s where nylon and Lycra come in—their introduction into the world of hosiery in the 1940s caused a fashion revolution and a massive surge in the sales of tights and pantyhose. They make the tights cling to the leg and bounce back when stretched out. Nylon alone can feel scratchy and rough against bare skin, hence the inclusion of other materials.
While wool tights are popular for those looking for some extra protection against the cold, many people find wool itchy or irritating. And tights composed entirely of synthetic materials have less breathability, making them more likely to cause health problems for women. Bamboo is frequently touted as a miracle eco-friendly fabric, but many fabrics labeled as bamboo are in fact standard rayon (purified cellulose from wood fiber), and therefore aren’t any more “natural” than cotton. Plus, bamboo fabric goes through intensive chemical processing before it’s brought to market, so those who are concerned with their eco footprint may find it less appealing. As such, we did not prioritize bamboo tights when doing our research.
Cheap tights, while appealing at first within the fluorescent glow of a drugstore aisle, are usually a false economy. Their fabric gets runs more quickly, usually because they have a lower amount of spandex, so they’re less stretchy and durable.
When it comes to fit, tights tend to be most comfortable when they have a wide waistband that has plenty of give. Some of the tights we tested had incredibly constricting waistbands that are probably best for those with a very low body-fat percentage. For those of us without perfectly flat, stony midsections, waistbands that grip but don’t constrict are extremely important.
Since leg lengths vary significantly from person to person, the best tights will also be offered in both “regular” and “tall lengths.” Otherwise, taller tights-wearers will find their pairs coming up short, literally. And sizing in general is something we considered seriously—as in the original review, we dismissed any tights that came in only two sizes, as that didn’t seem sufficient to cover the wide range of bodies out there.
Note: While there are countless style and color options, we’ll be assuming that the term “tights” refers to black, semi-opaque leg coverings in this guide.
We theorized that the New York City Ballet would take the issue of tights very seriously, so we spoke with Brittany Pollack, a soloist dancer in the company. “The company has spent a lot of time trying to figure out what are the best tights to wear on stage,” Pollock said. “All the dancers are really picky when it comes to tights.” She thought that the most important factor is comfort, “and what makes them comfortable for me is that they’re very stretchy. Sometimes you’ll have a pair that you’re stretching out in your hands, and you’ll notice they don’t have a lot of give.” After analyzing her favorite tights, she noticed that the primary material in most of them was nylon.
In our original review, we researched more than 100 pairs of tights and settled on testing 16 pairs hands-on. After speaking with experts, reading new editorial sources, combing through forums and comment sections for leads, and spending hours on Amazon, we narrowed the field down to 20 contenders for this update. The original winners were the Wolford Velvet de Luxe 66, Plush Women’s Full-Foot Fleece-Lined Tights, Wolford Merino Tights, We Love Colors Microfiber Tights, and the H&M 100 Denier Control-Top Tights.
For this update, we evaluated 10 new pairs of tights, and then I narrowed that list down to six favorites for testing.
The six tights finalists were then tested by four women: a 5-foot-4 size 6/8, a 5-foot-4 size 14, a 5-foot-2 size 2/4, and a 5-foot-10” size 4. In an effort to not have the other testers be biased by any preconceived hosiery notions, the tights provided had the tags removed and were marked with only a letter code.
When trying the tights, our testers used the following criteria:
A respectable pair of tights should hold up to a reasonable amount of wear and tear, and shouldn’t pill or lose elasticity after being washed. The best pair of tights should offer sizes that cater to the actual size of American women, and not just a small percentage of them. And $20 or so is a reasonable amount to spend on a pair of tights that’ll last beyond several wearings, considering the cost-per-wear factor. Spending more than that may be excessive for some people, especially considering tights fabric’s propensity for catching on things, causing fibers to pull or the fabric to run and become stressed in high-friction areas. Any pair of tights is liable to snag on rough surfaces, but higher-quality tights will return to their original shape more readily and not have their threads be pulled out of shape permanently.
It’s been said countless times by countless different reviewers, but Wolford Velvet de Luxe 66 really are the Cadillac of tights. They feel smooth and luxurious, are comfortable enough for everyday wear, and the color looks even on the leg.
One tester called the waistband “basically a dream,” explaining: “It didn’t dig in, bunch up, or—the worst horror of tights ever—roll down even once all day. I’m in serious love with the waistband and the feel of the fabric.” Another tester called them “silky” and dressier-feeling than the other pairs. A third tester said they fit her best of any of the pairs she tried, calling them “tight, but still really comfortable.”
Wolford’s tights certainly cost more than a plastic-egg pair of stockings you’d find in Duane Reade (and more, even, than a coat you might buy from H&M), but the value is evident in the product. One tester’s pair did get a small snag on the inside of the knee on the first wearing, but she reported that the tights did not run as a result (a pretty impressive feat). The other three testers—including myself—didn’t have any issues with snagging or running.
Gap’s Opaque Tights were a hit with our testers. One raved, “I don’t think I’d change a single thing about these tights, which is something I’ve never uttered in all my tights-wearing years. If I had to pick one pair to wear for the rest of my life I’d pick these.” Another called them her favorite, saying, “The fit was great and the waistband didn’t interfere with the clothing over it at all. It was easy to forget I was wearing them, which is ideal.” A third found them “almost too comfortable,” saying that she “preferred more of a control top,” but that didn’t seem like enough of an issue to discount them.
The reason these didn’t beat out the Wolfords? Quality. One tester noticed that a hole had formed in the crotch of the Gap pair by the end of a day of wear. That was also a common complaint on the Gap site, where multiple reviewers noted that the seams around the crotch split after one or two wearings. There seems to be a construction issue with these, though for fit and feel, they were ranked as highly as the Wolfords.
The Hanes 24/7 Blackout Tights felt sturdy and smooth—these were the inexpensive tights I kept coming back to after the official testing was done. They were very sturdily constructed, and while the waistband felt slightly constricting at first, it got more comfortable as the day progressed. They resisted holes and snags, and the material looks evenly opaque.
These were a hit with the other testers as well: One tester called the fabric “strong, but stretchy enough to be really comfortable.” She enjoyed the level of opacity and the lack of sheen. As a bonus, she noticed that they lasted for a full day of wear without snagging, ripping, or pilling (often a problem with inexpensive tights). Another tester said these were one of her favorite pairs in terms of the waistband’s feel, saying “It was snug without pinching but also didn’t feel too bulky or heavy duty.”
One tester noted that the waistband was lower than most tights she wears—they hit just below her belly button. That meant they didn’t have a tremendous amount of compression in the midsection. But she and another tester noticed that these didn’t snag or rip all day. Again, no small feat for a cheap drugstore tight.
Plush’s Full-Foot Fleece-Lined Tights were so soft and so cushy that they were like having your legs hugged by a teddy bear. I wore them on a chilly day that I spent mostly outside, and they kept me significantly warmer than regular tights. The primary caveat would be that these are thick—almost a cross between a legging and a tight (and in a vain note, I thought they made my legs look heavier than they are). One tester found them a little too thick for her taste, which may be an issue when layering them under dresses.
Two testers had fit problems, which could just be an issue with sizing. But both noted that these are low-rise, without much control-top support. Some online commenters report that they pill after several washings, but that could depend on how they’re cared for and worn, so I didn’t think that was enough reason to discount them.
The Commando Ultimate Opaque Matte Tights are my favorite all-around long-lasting tights, with a thin and soft high-rise waistband. Our testers agreed that the waistband was extremely comfortable at first, but one found that it rolled down and wouldn’t stay put. For her, this flaw was a dealbreaker. These are still a great pick for those who don’t want much control-top effect, and like a little more give around their midsection.
Target Merona Women’s 50 Denier Opaque Tights looked uneven on the legs, and not quite as inexpensive as the Hanes, and less widely available. Otherwise, these are very solid lower-end tights.
We Love Colors Solid Color Tights come in an eye-popping 51 colors. The waistband wasn’t quite as comfortable as either our winner or runner-up, and they also don’t feel as soft or sturdy (unsurprising, given that they’re made of 100 percent nylon). You may want to size up if you’re debating between two sizes—our plus tester struggled with the fit of the size L, saying, “The thighs were like sausage casings, and the waistband was a torture device from the Crusades.” The brand’s plus-size options go all the way up to EE (which they estimate should fit those up to 6 feet tall and 375 pounds).
Wolford’s Merino Wool Tights are obviously well-made and even have a shaped foot. The wool is just a tiny bit itchy, but I was mostly bothered by the uneven, almost splotchy appearance they had. This is a common issue with wool tights, though.
Calvin Klein Hosiery: Opaque Essentials Infinite Tights are 100 denier. These are definitely opaque, but the waistband wasn’t as comfortable as some of the others, and I found that they snagged very early on.
The waistband on the No nonsense Control Top Tights aggressively squeezed my midsection and did not let up after a full day of testing. These feel impressively sturdy, but they did get a small scuff around the ankle, whereas other tights resisted scuffing better.
Felicity’s 60 Denier Light Control Top Black Opaque Tights have 4.8 stars out of 5 on Amazon and a nice waistband, but they slipped down constantly. As I walked between errands during testing, I had to stop to pull them up countless times.
I was shocked at how bad the Old Navy Women’s Tights smelled. They gave off a strong synthetic, chemical odor that lasted through a few wearings. I wouldn’t buy these, if only for that reason. Otherwise, they were fairly sturdy and otherwise unexceptional.
Capezio’s Ultra-Soft Transition Tights have a small hole at the ball of the foot allowing dancers to tape up their toes or put on toe pads or toe spacers while working en pointe. I had these only for a minute before the thin, stiff waistband threatened to crush my stomach and other vital organs. (I yelled, “Oh, no!” the first time I put them on.) For ballerinas only.
Ideally, you’d baby your tights, washing them in gentle detergent by hand and hanging them to dry in the warm Tuscan sun. But most women I spoke with anecdotally informed me that they put their tights through the washer and dryer, including Pollack. (“I just make sure that I separate the the pink ones from the black,” she noted. “But I put mine in the dryer, and most dancers do, too.”)
(Photos by Michael Hession.)
Originally published: January 29, 2016
Let's just order a pizza.