It was with a heavy heart that I finally put my tights back on this week. I’d hung on as long as I possibly could – longer than I ever thought I’d manage. What had started off as a fun game of chicken (could I stay barelegged for all of summer? All of September? SURELY not October?) turned into downright stubbornness about the whole thing. I’ve had my legs out, bold as brass and faintly lilac, until three days ago, when I found myself spooning my laptop for warmth and realised I had to succumb.
It wasn’t always this way. For years, tights were the love of my life. Back when mini dresses were my daily staple, I thought I was committed to my indestructible 120 deniers for life. I wanted tights so opaque it looked as though somebody had redacted my legs for legal reasons. I remained wedded to them on all but the most sweltering of days, generally taking them off for about three hours in mid-August just to make sure I didn’t get rickets.
But tights are as susceptible to the changing winds of fashion as everything else. Over time, things shifted – skirts got longer, the 90s revival happened, Instagram filled up with nostalgic photos of a post-divorce Princess Diana and sheer tights started to look right again. I moved back down the scale through 80 and 60 to 40, then settled on 30 denier with the occasional 20 or 15 for fun. And when you’re walking round with nary a whisper of nylon between your legs and the world, it can only mean one thing: ladders.
A man I didn’t know once jogged half the length of Tottenham Court Road to tell me I had a ladder in my tights and I think he genuinely expected to be thanked
You see, we think we’re the ones in charge of the tights – after all, we buy them and put them on – but, really, it is the tights who are in charge of us. Every minute we lose to picking through the writhing mass of knotted black nylon in our top drawers is a win for the tights and a defeat for womankind. Every time we snag a rough nail, every time we put on a duff pair and spend the day having to stop every three minutes to tug things back into place behind a convenient bus shelter. Those low moments, deep into winter, where your legs have got so dry and and your laundry habits so lax that you pull your tights up and a cloud of dust billows off them. Every time, the tights are testing us.
But the ladders are the worst of all. It doesn’t help that society hasn’t evolved to stop judging us for them. Unless you’re deliberately cultivating a punk aesthetic, we’re still supposed to feel embarrassed by a ladder. A man I didn’t know once jogged half the length of Tottenham Court Road to tell me I had a ladder in my tights and I think he genuinely expected to be thanked.
So, on to the reason we’re gathered here today: can anything free us from the tyranny of our opaque overlords?
You probably know the classic trick – clear nail polish, daubed on to the top and bottom of the ladder to bind the fibres and stop the rip expanding. Some guides recommend removing the tights first before you do the daubing, but let’s not be silly. If you’re going to be arsed to do that, you may as well find a shop and buy new ones.
You might not know that hairspray can work just as well and has the added bonus of surviving the wash if they’re a particularly beloved pair (clear polish tends to go white and flaky). Some people claim you can go one further by lightly spraying your tights all over with hairspray before wearing. Others swear by washing them before you wear them. The bores will remind you about laundry bags (personally I prefer the Caitlin Moran method), and rolling them slowly up your leg instead of tugging them on with one hand while you eat a slice of toast with the other.
Then there’s the tip I desperately want to believe. The one that says the way to truly prevent ladders is to soak each new pair in cold water, put them in a plastic bag and freeze them overnight before wearing. The theory goes that being frozen somehow “strengthens the fibres”, making them tougher and more resistant to rips.
If it sounds like dubious logic, then that’s because it is – Good Housekeeping even asked a scientist to debunk the theory – but plenty of people still swear that stashing their tights next to the potato waffles buys them weeks’ more wearing time. And, three wears in, I have to say my thawed-out 30 deniers haven’t failed me yet. Whether this is pure luck or not remains to be seen but, for now at least, it’s nice to have something to believe in.