P antyhose occupy a dicey place in the world of fashion.

The dainty intimates are on the rise thanks to Kate Middleton's penchant for them. Couple that with ultra-fashion-forward stars like Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Jessie J wearing sheer black hosiery, and you have a burgeoning trend.

However, after years of bare-legged freedom (inspired by first lady Michelle Obama and "Sex and the City's" Carrie Bradshaw), it's going to be a challenge for pantyhose manufacturers to get consumers to squeeze back into them. We're not going to go easily.

Many of us don't want to return to the days of trying to match our skin tones with stockings. We don't want to have to worry about snags and runs. It's so much easier just to lotion up your legs and go without.

"I personally really like a bare leg," said Catherine Moellering, executive vice president of New York-based fashion retail consultants Tobe. "A lot of young consumers were brought up either bare-legged or in opaque (tights)." They are experiencing sheer hose as something new, she says.

Hosiery has come a long way since the days when women had to attach stockings with garters. Today's legwear goes from shimmery nudes to so bare that you look as if you're not wearing anything. Also keep an eye out for jewel-toned shades of wine, purple, and cobalt blue.

Thanks to huge advances in graphic design and fashion technology, hose come in new bold finishes -- distressed-legging looks or even three-dimensional objects. I've got my eye on a pair by House of Holland for Pretty Polly that features alphabet-soup-style capital letters scattered all over the legs.


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With all the options available, you're practically guaranteed that every pair of these hose would look phenomenal with a little black dress. (Or an eggplant-colored dress, if you're color-blocking.)

"By and large, people are still feeling skittish about the economy. Hosiery is an easy and economical way to update," Moellering said. "You can put on a pair of new hose with an old dress and get a bang for your buck."

Stockings were a non-negotiable staple in women's wardrobes from the turn of the century well into the late 1990s. A woman wasn't considered dressed without them. Then the corporately chic '80s melted into the casual '90s and women let their hose go at the end of the decade. Even when dresses became all the rage, we preferred pointy heels and bare legs. No muss, no fuss.

But now, as fashion takes a turn toward the flapper looks of the 1920s, we're again interested in thigh-highs. A smoother leg seems more aesthetically pleasing. But what about comfort? What about durability?

Things have improved on that front, says Susan M. Kay, CEO of the Hosiery Association, a trade group based in Charlotte, N.C.

Millennial hosiery features the same kind of wicking technology as endurance wear.

"There are pantyhose that have caffeine in them to make your legs appear more toned, and some with aloe that moisturize," Kay says. "Now that the consumer is more educated, she's demanding both comfort and practicality as well as style."

At $18 to $35, these high-tech tights cost more than drugstore lines, but not as much as Wolford pantyhose, which can run upwards of $50.

The target audience for updated sheer hosiery is young people. Like lipstick and wristwatches, the hosiery industry has found a new audience -- women in their 20s who think of hose as a novelty.

"These sheer pantyhose help women look more grown-up and sophisticated," said Anna Sirotkin, who along with her husband, Viktor, opened Papilio, an Italian legwear and swimwear boutique, in Center City in November.

One recent afternoon, I paid a visit to Posh Boutique, a hosiery and intimate apparel store in Cherry Hill that also opened in November.

Owner Denise Magaziner carries an array of haute legwear from Kate Middleton's favorite line (by Italian legwear designer Philippe Matignon) to the bold House of Holland for Pretty Polly line -- a regular accessory of Page Six stars Rihanna, Marla Fowler, Kimberly Wyatt, and Paris Hilton.

Kim Kardashian sat on a piano in a pair of House of Holland graphic tights on her E! reality show "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" earlier this month.

"These are so hot right now," Magaziner said.

She's seen such an interest in hosiery by 20-year-olds that she began hosting Thigh-High Thursdays, gathering women in her oversized dressing room and showing them how to wear the hose without putting runs in them and how to attach garters.

I think I may need a lesson.