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Fashion Friday: Brightly Colored and Patterned Tights

I used to love brightly colored and patterned tights. I had a drawer full of them: pink and purple and bright blue, with planets and stars or blue skies and clouds or psychedelic op-art patterns. Putting them on made me feel happy and exuberant and full of life. I especially loved them because I was fat, and I was self-conscious about a lot of my body… but I was totally happy with my legs, and loved showing them off and calling attention to them.

Then as I got older, brightly colored and patterned tights started feeling not quite right. In the metaphorical language of fashion and style, brightly colored and patterned tights are very much a youthful statement: they read either as “nine year old girl” or as “quirky, free-spirited young woman.” When I started getting older and started wanting my style to be less kooky and wild, and more elegant and put-together, they didn’t really fit in. It’s one thing to wear hot pink tights, or psychedelic op-art tights, or tights with blue skies and clouds on them, when I was twenty-five. Once I got into my forties, it started seeming… I don’t know. Like I was trying too hard. Like I wasn’t accepting and loving my age, and was trying to look younger than I was.

But this made me sad. I loved brightly colored and patterned tights. They’re playful and cheerful and idiosyncratic — qualities I enjoy, and want to express in my style. Plus they were one of my signatures, a big part of my fashion identity. I was sad to let them go.

And I recently had an epiphany about how to make them work with my current wardrobe and style.

That epiphany: Knee-length skirts and knee-high boots.

If I wear brightly colored or patterned tights with a fairly short skirt and with regular shoes or ankle boots, the tights take up a lot of visual real estate. They become the entire focus of the outfit. “Wow, those are some interesting tights you’ve got there!” But if I wear them with a skirt that comes to just above the knee, and with boots that come to just below the knee… all of a sudden, the tights aren’t the main story. They add just a little splash, a few inches of color and/or pattern, to an otherwise elegant and put-together outfit.

And sometimes, that little splash of color or pattern is just what I need. I have about eighty jillion pairs of black boots that come to my knee or just below the knee (I wear knee-high boots a lot). I have about eighty jillion black or gray skirts that come to just above the knee. It’s a good look for me. But it can be a bit of a boring look. Especially if I’ve already run through all my colorful and/or patterned tops, and they’re all in the wash. If I wear a black or gray skirt and a black or gray top and black boots — and I have a wild splash of blue and purple and green psychedelia just at the knee — it bridges that gap between “kooky free spirit” and “elegantly put-together,” in a way that makes me very happy, and that feels very much like me.

So I want to hear, especially from the other middle-aged folks out there: What are your thoughts on brightly colored and/or patterned tights? And are there other youthful items in your wardrobe that you’ve found creative ways to reclaim, in a way that works with your age?

Comments

  1. Dana says

    I have recently discovered novelty socks. Knee socks, short socks, different patterns/with animals/with zombies… I just love ‘em. I tend to wear them under boots so a lot of times they don’t even show… but I know they’re there and they make me happy. I think your solution to your brightly colored tights conundrum is a fantastic one! I may have to branch out to tights and try it!

  2. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    When I was young I wore drab ties. Nothing sporty, nothing dashing, nothing daring, just stripes and solids. I wanted to look respectable and dignified. Now that I’m past my first youth* and am an established authority figure, I’m wearing ties with bright colors, flamboyant designs, ostentatious patterns, even gaudy and resplendent ties.**

    So I do understand your passion for brightly colored and patterned tights.

    *I’ll be 64 in three weeks.

    **I’m a senior executive in a largish company. Wearing ties is de rigueur.

  3. ContainsCaffeine says

    I’ve been having the same dilemma about work clothes. I want to look more professional and put together than my style has been in the past, but without being boring and stuffy. I have a couple of mens-style blazers, and my new favorite trick is to add a colorful crazy pocket square. So, I can put on a conservative blazer, pants, and solid color top…then add the pocket square (usually just a fabric remnant from my craft stash or other re-purposed item) for something unique and fun!

  4. Besomyka says

    I’m so with you on this, Greta! I’ve been doing something similar with colorful socks. Usually, skirts and boots keep them covered up, but every once in a while there’s a curious splash of color. I’ve never really looked into tights – mine are all pretty bland and owned more for warmpth when I don’t want to wear pants all the time, but now I think I should!

    I’ve also toned down my geekishness, more or less, but moving away from big bold colored shirts, and into subtle jewelry. From a distance it doesn’t read as all that much, but when you’re closer you’ll see that it’s a literal miniature book, a little framed cell from a web comic, or something.

  5. ismenia says

    I’m in my twenties, never had much interest in colourful tights until my Dad’s fiancee bought me some purple and pink striped tights for Christmas. They actually look great and match a purple skirt and dark pink/purple jumper which I don’t normally wear together but which look good with the tights. Knee high brown boots go well although I think it’s a shame to cover the tights too much.

    My step-mother to be tells me that she loves colourful tights. She’s probably in her fifties. I don’t think they look inappropriate on her.

  6. horsehairbraider says

    I’ve always worn wildly colored shirts with plunging necklines. They used to look good on me, but these days… I think they make me look desperate. So I layer – one mildly colored shirt with a more modest neckline, then my wild plunging neckline shirt on top. It looks OK, I think!

    Also, hair. A lot of people cut their long hair when they get older. I decided to let mine grow back out again, with one condition, that I kept it trimmed neatly. I think when you have long hair, and it’s all straggly at the bottom, it looks like you are trying to hold on to your lost youth or something, terrified to trim your hair for fear it won’t grow back. Like a female version of the comb-over, maybe. If it’s neatly trimmed it looks much better I think, not quite as desperate. And hey, it’s down to my waist now! :)

  7. luminique says

    I am, to put it mildly, fashion challenged. My difficulties only seem to increase with age, as now I have to consider that in my calculations of appropriateness. Wild socks, even if they are barely seen, are one small area where I feel comfortable expressingm myself. Rock on with your bad self, it’s pretty inspiring.

  8. geocatherder says

    I too am fashion-challenged; being quite fat has a lot to do with it, though I’m working on that, with some success. But all my life I’ve worked in professional situations where casual clothes were appropriate, and so my wardrobe is almost exclusively made up of neutral-color slacks/jeans and fairly bright, mostly solid-color tops. I do have a few pairs of brightly colored socks, and it makes me happy to occasionally wear a pair of socks that coordinates with my shirt rather than blending in with my pants.

  9. Nora says

    For those of us who just can’t find boots to fit over our fat or muscular calves, or who don’t feel comfortable in shorter skirts: ankle boots, with a solid color sock over brightly patterned tights or knee-highs, with a longer skirt or even ankle skimming pants. Or black tights with bright ankle socks folded over the top of the boots, with whatever length skirt. I really like that flash of bright color or interesting pattern, but I’m never going to find knee high boots that fit.

  10. scramble says

    I go for brightly coloured tights, but restrict myself to doing so only when pairing them with a dress or skirt/knicker/top combo in similar colours. You get the fun of brightness with the elegance of monochromacy. Yes, I did just make that word up.

    I’m only 32, but am already experiencing the desire to look a little more mature, elegant and put-together. Maybe I’ll hit menopause early, too! :)

    And, @ContainsCaffeine: I LOVE the pocket square idea. Brilliant.

  11. Sandy Azancot says

    Having been a full-time tattoo artist for 25 years, my legs are completely sleeved with extremely colorful tattoos. No need for tights! However, being well-plante in middle age (I’ll be 50 this year) I do not wear short ANYTHING, ever. That said, I do wear capris a lot, and people usually do a double take when they realize my legs AREN’T brightly colored tights!

  12. Claire says

    A good shoe repair person can make a pair of boots fit calves of any size, and it doesn’t cost all that much.

  13. Utakata says

    I prefer striped socks and tights. I say this because I was accused inpart of being “DREADFULLY sycophantic” in another post towards you. So I am posting this, to state that I actually disagree with you over this: Stripes are definitely FTW. Also anything that is pink.

  14. left0ver1under says

    That title is misleading. I thought this was about running tights for working out.

    When it comes to clothes and age, the best thing for justifying a “young” wardrobe is keeping fit. Being more svelte and fitter than people half your age silences most negative comments.

  15. piero says

    As a man, I fortunately don’t have such problems. I can wear the same suit from 25 to the grave (well, not exactly the same suit, but you know what I mean).

  16. says

    As I have gotten older, I feel less constrained in what I wear. I figure if it is fun and makes someone smile, then why not wear it? Who care how old the wearer is? I am 62, and love leggings and tights — leopard skin, flowers, stripes, fishnet — and usually I will wear them with mid-calf boots and a short skirt. I do take a lot of time to make sure the entire outfit has some cohesion, but I don’t mind showing leg, even at my age. I have nice legs, and enjoy showing them off. But if you feel comfortable with showing less leg “color,” then go with it. It is hard to imagine without a picture, however. I tend to think a little more leg color showing might be nice, with your skirt a few inches above the knee.

  17. carolw says

    I’ve never been a tights person, maybe because it rarely gets cold enough here for them. I did get a pair of leggings recently, and I like them a lot. They’re very versatile.
    As I’ve gotten older (in my 40’s) I’ve reluctantly given up my semi-Goth look. I realized that “skulls” is not the answer to every fashion question. I’ve started wearing more scarves, and generally accessorizing more. I can still pull off jeans and a t-shirt and Chucks, though.
    I have the thick calf problem with tall boots too, so I wear short ankle boots or cowboy boots.

  18. amavra says

    I love colorful tights and leggings and they are pretty popular here in Korea so there are a lot to shop for. What I also like here is that I can find interesting pattern tights and leggings that aren’t too brightly colored. Grey tone or brown tone patterns can make a look more “grow up” I think. One nice pair of leggings I have has a pattern that looks like cave paintings – mostly browns but with purple and red as well. I also have a pair of stockings that are black/grey colorblock. My sister in law used to always wear thigh high novelty socks (or even just solid black socks) but no longer can at her job. She can’t wear leggings either so I sent her a few awesome pairs of stockings.

    Course I am in my 20s, but most women I know here are stuck on wearing only “mommy” clothes so it seems extreme to me :).

  19. Azkyroth says

    Of course, one has to be careful wearing undergarments with planets on them, lest a sudden gust of wind expose Uranus. :P

    *hides*

  20. Maria says

    @ #21 I probably shouldn’t have laughed as much as I did about that :-D

    In my younger years I was one of those brooding types who mostly wore black, black, black and black… with a splash of black sometimes, just to cheer things up :-) So, I don’t think I have ever worn a pair of colorful tights in my life.

  21. mkb says

    If they make you happy, wear them. Your happiness will be contagious and good for the world.

    I wear a backpack instead of carrying a purse so that I have two hands free if I need to hold on to something for balance. I have the wildest, brightest colored, patterned backpack anyone has ever seen and it makes people smile all of the time. I get lots of compliments on it. And it makes me happy.

  22. Allie says

    As I’ve gotten older, I’m more able to wear statement jewelry that looked too old or gaudy when I was in my 20s. Also, scarves (but I suspect this might just be a Washington thing, as pretty much everyone wears them here…)

  23. mnb0 says

    I don’t like tights and leggings. I prefer legs to be uncovered. But that’s easy for me to write as I live in a tropical country.

  24. says

    I was just going to drop by to mention my jealousy of people who can wear tall boots – my calves have never cooperated, but more so now that I’m 30lbs heavier…and then I saw Nurse Ingrid’s reply @12 and I want to thank her! I don’t even bother trying tall boots on any more it’s just so discouraging, so these are great leads.

  25. Frogmistress says

    First of all, I have to thank you for the fashion posts. As I’m feeling more and more middle-aged, I’m realizing that most of my punkier clothes just do not work for me anymore. Reading your adventure of redefining your look has helped me find mine.

    My splash of color has always been and will continue to be in my hair. For now, I sport some dark red stripes. The colors have gotten more muted as time goes on. But I can’t seem to give them up.

    Perhaps I’ll stop completely when I find grey hairs. I doubt it, though.

  26. says

    I refuse to let societal dictates cripple my fashion style. Warning women away from brighter colors as they get old is another way of trying to disappear them.

    Granted, I say this as someone who mostly wears black and grey because I’m lazy and it makes getting dressed way easier in the morning. But I am a fan of ludicrously bright tights under black fishnets or lace patterned tights.

  27. lucifermourning says

    my high school English teacher used to wear patterned tights. She was certainly in her 50s at least. And she was fabulous. I decided when I was 15 that I wanted to be that cool when I was her age.

  28. Aquaria says

    Bah! You’re never too old for color. I’d look old if I wore “sedate” colors.

    I wear purple, vivid reds, royal blue, bright turquoise, emerald green, hot pink–and I’m 50. They make me smile, and a smile is your best fashion statement! Look at the ladies on advanced style wearing bright red, and other vivid colors, even punk styles, and how stylish and fabulous they look.

    If you love the tights, wear them! If you’re tired of them–and who could blame you if you are, then don’t. You don’t have to stop having fun with your clothes just because you’re getting older. That’s crazy!

  29. Aquaria says

    As I’ve gotten older, I’m more able to wear statement jewelry that looked too old or gaudy when I was in my 20s. Also, scarves (but I suspect this might just be a Washington thing, as pretty much everyone wears them here…)

    I’ve always worn scarves, and hats, too. I look great in them, so I’ve always had some to wear. When I get tired of them, I give them away, and get new ones. They’re a fast way to brighten your wardrobe and give it a whole new look for cheap. Well, as long as you’re not buying Hermes scarves it’s cheap.

  30. Brock says

    Bright tights don’t really say ‘young’ to me. In my dialect of the language of fashion, they scream ‘Thespian’.

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