Warming up to tights

These two-tone blue tights are part of the HUE by Trina Turk collection. They are available at www.hue.com and are $20.

CHARLOTTE -- Susu Bear has seen it with her own eyes.

The founder of scoopcharlotte.com, a site that tracks what's new, what's on sale and what's happening on the Queen City's style scene, says as she's been out and about, she's seen evidence of one of the season's strongest trends.

The other day there was a woman with black hose paired with taupe patent-leather platform shoes. And she spied another blogger's posting of herself, rocking bright yellow tights with brown cowboy boots.

"I am definitely seeing it, mostly on people who work in the stores," Bear says, adding that the weather has still been pretty warm. "Not a lot of patterns, but the dark tights."

It's been building for a few seasons. Since the mid-'90s, women boldly braved the cold with bare legs, free from those saggy, easy-to-run pantyhose and inspired, some say, by the "Sex and the City" ladies.

But last season, major designers began moving back to covered legs. And at the fashion shows for this fall and winter, there were lots of brightly hued or intricately textured tights, boots paired with floppy socks, tailored skirts worn with opaque tights, even lingerie looks with old-fashioned but sexy nylon stockings, says Edward Miccinati, co-owner of New York-based StockinGirl, an online boutique. One of his current best-sellers is the Swiss dot pantyhose, popular several years ago. Thus the new style mantra: The covered leg is fresh.

The revived look is good news to some folks.

"I'm personally thrilled with the end of the bare leg," says Bear. "For the last few years, I saw mostly legs in the dead of winter. People were in heavy winter coats and bare legs; people even had them with knee boots. The bare leg is hard when your legs aren't tan. Maybe if you're young it's OK, or your legs are in great shape. But if you're older or have varicose veins ..."

The runway may have spearheaded the legwear revival, and the economy could be helping to empower it.

"If you're not able to really update your fall wardrobe, using legwear is a good way to do it," says Miccinati. "The price of entry is not as expensive as other accessories." Wear the same little black dress, but add a $15 pair of lace hose, he says. Or shake up your workaday black suit with some burgundy hose.

On the same economical note, tights give you the opportunity, in our warmer climes, to take lighter-weight clothes through cooler weather, extending their life.

And they add some pizazz.

Bear says the fresh look includes treating leggings like tights, perhaps a metallic silky taupe pair or an inky leather pair and putting them under suits or with a shift and a cardigan. Another trend is to not go for the traditional long line by using the same color hosiery and shoe; instead, wear black hose with a taupe, gray or colored shoe for an exciting contrast.

Ahead of the curve is Liz Bradford, a scientific illustrator who has 25 pairs of tights. The Raleigh woman's passion for them started when she was at N.C. State University. A participant in the Art to Wear fashion show, she'd put her models in tights to add bold accents and make short skirts "more appropriate." And then she found herself falling for them. A friend who was moving to California gave her 10 pairs.

Now she has fishnets, lace, polka dots and a pair of faux leather leggings so sleek they work like tights. She owns some neon tights, too; her bright yellow pair earned a "Good Day, sunshine" greeting from a passer-by.

"It's another accessory, like necklaces and scarves," she says. "I like to wear them with shorts and skirts when it's cooler. I like black tights with my summery shorts."

And no, you aren't too old for tights. You just have to make the first step, says Miccinati. You don't have to go with the pricey lines, he says.