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silva and cemin tights
Silva + Cemin

An ode to black tights

Forget this warped newfound social etiquette, the humble wardrobe staple is really steeped in feminist politics

Last night, the internet was up in arms about a piece in the Guardian that detailed the social politics of black tights, where its author insisted that there is a complex hierarchy at play in wearing the humble garment. Namely, when you choose to put them on “is [a] million-dollar question because it is not just about what you wear. It is about class, and money, and age. It is about how you order the priorities of how you look and what you get done. It is about your postcode and your mindset, your taxi bill and your holiday schedule.”

If you aren’t familiar with the tenets of tights-wearing, let me make it simple: if you’re rich, you can afford taxis to avoid the cold, holidays to get a tan, and leisure time to primp and prime yourself. If you’re normal, you cover up your sins with 60 deniers – something shameful and best avoided as long as possible, as if you’re revealing your embarrassingly low class status. The women you should aspire to be like parade around in bare-legs all year (something that certainly doesn’t speak to any sexist double standards).

In principle, the author is right – it is about priorities, but for most women, I have a feeling it’s about how much they prioritise something she skims over: the Sisyphean task of hair removal. For many, the approach of autumn is a joy accompanied by a ceremonial putting down of razors, of dropping the summer-time pretence that we are smooth, hairless creatures rather than mammals and seeking comfort beneath layers.

Time to be real: I am not the kind of girl that hit 14 and developed a bit of peachy fuzz on her shins. I’m a winning combination of dark-haired and deathly pale. On the plus side, I have great eyebrows. On the other, on my first day of primary school I remember my mother telling me that if people picked on me because of my hairy arms, I could tell them it meant I was strong. Kind of cute, kind of sad.

“The personal is political – as a garment, tights are inextricably intertwined with our self-confidence, they are a comfort blanket against an unfair world that doesn’t see our natural bodies as beautiful”

For me, winter was a torturous series of months of being forced to play netball outside, “forgetting” the skirt sadistic P.E. teachers made girls wear week on week so I could get away with putting on my tracksuit bottoms. The trousers we had to wear at school were boxy and hideous, so black tights were my saviour, a buffer against the self-consciousness of being in a body that didn’t look how glossy billboards told me it should. Getting handed-down a pair of my mum’s trustworthy Wolford’s, so thick they had a seam in, is actually a weirdly defining teenage memory. 

To me, and to many other women, tights do have a political subtext, because the personal is political – as a garment, they are inextricably intertwined with our self-confidence, they are (ridiculous as it may sound) a comfort blanket against an unfair world that doesn’t see our natural bodies as beautiful. There are other issues at play too – like like how ‘nude’ shades are often only for white women, leaving WOC hugely under-represented in the hosiery game. Also – they are really warm!

So, when is it socially acceptable to wear black tights? I’m more concerned with when it’s going to be socially acceptable to let women’s bodies just be – but until then, you can wear black tights whenever the mood takes you. One final pro-tip: it turns out that you don’t actually need silky-smooth, hair-free legs to wear fishnets. Ladies, you’re welcome.