The Rules for Wearing Colored or Patterned Tights

Question: “Can I wear colored or patterned tights to work, or am I too old for them?”

Answer: YES and NO!

How to wear colored or patterned tights at work


I am convinced that ANYONE, regardless of age or size, can pull this off, even at work, by following a few simple rules.

The rules for successfully pulling off patterned or brightly-colored tights are:

1.) Unless you are very young AND have impossibly long, skinny legs, DO NOT EVER WEAR MULTICOLORED TIGHTS. By this I mean tights with more than one color in them, like leopard or galaxy-print. Unless it’s for some fantastical costume (a friend recently pulled off purple-and-white-striped tights under her wedding dress, to fit the Alice in Wonderland theme. Fantastic). Otherwise, no. Never.

2.) Let the tights be the star.  If you want to wear awesome bright or patterned tights, let them be the feature. Keep your clothing simple. DO NOT wear any other prints or patterns with patterned tights. Avoid too many textures, like shiny leather, fuzzy sweaters, sparkle, etc.

3.) Keep colored tights opaque. Sheer tights in colors can be too sexy for work, but also tend to make you look like you have a disease. Unless that’s the look you’re going for… I don’t know you that well.

4.) Avoid flesh-colors in patterns. I once had a gorgeous and expensive pair of camel-colored tights knitted into an elaborate honeycomb pattern.  I wore them with matching heels and a wool skirt, and I thought they looked really rich and elegant. Then I saw them in a photo and realized they made me look like I had leprosy. AVOID.

5.) Avoid shiny textures. These just look weird. A little sparkle or lurex is ok for formal occasions, especially on the holidays, but shiny colored tights just look wrong, like you’re a gymnast or superhero who didn’t have time to get changed properly.

6.) Matching your tights to your hem and shoes is the best way to lengthen the appearance of your legs (as discussed yesterday).

7.) HOWEVER, as you can see above, a little contrast can look cool, too.  Try to highlight the best part of your legs (the green tights above highlight the ankles, the red tights above show off the calves). Pick up the color elsewhere in your outfit (as with the red tights/scarf with the striped dress), or wear tights in a harmonious hue (as with the berry shades worn with the patterned dress on the right, where the darker tights will have a slimming effect on the calves).

8.) My rule for patterned tights at work is to only show 1-2″ at the knee. Patterned tights are SO innately sexy that you must work hard to contain their power. The rest of your outfit must be very demure. Wear a knee-length dress or skirt, and knee-high boots. The tights MUST be in the same color as the boots and skirt. They may be barely visible when you’re standing, but believe me, when you sit or move, people will notice them.

Example: my husband likes to tell people that the day he first took notice of me, I was wearing fishnet tights.  The truth is that on that day, all of my opaque ones were dirty and the fishnets were all I had.  I didn’t worry about that because I was wearing flat over-the-knee boots and an ANKLE-LENGTH skirt, with a turtleneck sweater.  I did not realize that when I walked, the high split at the back of the skirt allowed a 1-inch flash of fishnet to be seen at the back of my knee by anyone walking behind me. But that 1-inch flash as I walked in front of him is what he remembers almost 20 years later.

Now, if you’re paying attention, you’ll have noticed that I broke rule 8 in the picture above (grey dress on the far left).  I think this works as an exception for a few reasons: a) the outfit is one color head-to-toe, b) that color is NOT black (black lace = sex), c) the lacy pattern is subtle, and finally d) the outfit otherwise is very conservative.

I decided this area of patterned tights deserved another illustration, as it’s a fine line between looking awesome and looking like an extra from Pretty Woman, so I challenged myself to style some of the more outrageous tights I could find.  (I even challenged myself to make a pair of multicolored tights look cool. Epic failure. I refer you to rule number 1.)

Here are my examples of more extreme tights, and how to wear them to look sexy without looking trashy (although these are definitely not work-appropriate looks for most people):

patterned tights don't have to be trashy


The key to these outfits are rules number 2: LET THE TIGHTS BE THE STAR and number 8: KEEP THE OUTFIT DEMURE. These outfits are incredibly sexy, without being in any way revealing. The body is covered. Nothing is too tight or too short. The accessories are minimal and classy. There are no contrasting colors, no stilettos or platform heels, no strappy sandals.

I’m very pleased with the way the grey ombré tights (2nd from right) turned out. I’ve admired these dyed tights for a while, but I was unsure of how they could be worn. The conclusion I’ve come to is that the key is color-matching shoes and dress to the colors of the tights. I like the effect, and I think it looks better with flats than it would with heels.

I think the second outfit on the left deserves special notice. It’s a bit Wednesday Addams, a bit Madonna in her Dita/Erotica phase. Normally I’d say that these boots are too S&M to wear with patterned tights, but I’ve balanced the boots/tights combination by going EXTRA demure with the outfit: high neckline, prim collar, long sleeves, nothing too fitted.  It’s a bit schoolmarm meets dominatrix.  Personally, I think the contrast and tension created by this combination gives it extra power, and I know at least one man who’d be begging to be kept late after school… if you know what I mean.


I decided to do a little graph illustrating the relative trashiness of feminine legwear (in my opinion) and the inverse relationship of tights to outfit. Basically, to avoid looking like you belong on a street-corner, the sexier the outfit, the more demure the tights should be. The sexier the tights, the more restrained your clothing should be. Hope this helps!

The Rule for Tights


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on “The Rules for Wearing Colored or Patterned Tights
6 Comments on “The Rules for Wearing Colored or Patterned Tights
  1. Pingback: How to Mix Patterns Like a True Fashionista | genuine style

    • The general rule is to match your tights to the hem of the dress and/or the colour of your shoes. If you want to look longer, go with black tights and shoes. If you are blessed with pins for days, you could go with royal blue tights. With a two-tone dress, I’d recommend plain tights rather than patterned. It’s hard to say without seeing the dress itself.

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