Dear Mr. Smith: As a young professional concerned with both professionalism and contemporary style, I am constantly befuddled by how I should dress with pantyhose. If I am wearing a grey pencil skirt with brown boots, for example, should I wear "skin colour" panty hose or grey/black ones? What if the boots are black? And if I'm wearing a grey pantsuit with black high heels, what colour should my hose be? Then there is the lingering question of whether it is appropriate and/or stylish to have bare legs (i.e., go hose-less) at the office when wearing a skirt.
I am really not supposed to answer this one as I am not an expert in women's fashion. But this in itself raises an interesting question about the role of guys' opinions. Generally, straight men are incompetent judges of women's attire, as they are not the intended audience for it and are too quickly distracted by questions of sexual attractiveness, which has only a minor role in actual fashion. Men are likely to respond to women's clothes in terms of what they themselves find attractive, which is usually a less sophisticated lens than that of a dedicated and objective fashion expert. I try my best to attain asexual objectivity when judging women's fashion and do follow it with a professional interest, but I am inevitably swayed by my genes. I do frequently get questions on women's clothes, so I assume that some women are at least curious about the unsophisticated and sexually obsessed views of dudes. Take this advice, then, as just that: interesting but fundamentally insignificant to the tastes of other women.
In my opinion, dark or otherwise coloured pantyhose is always, without exception, preferable to skin-toned. "Neutral" pantyhose is out of style and will make you look old. That doesn't mean you have to stick to black and grey: The current trend is toward patterned and textured hose of all styles and colours. Generally, the shinier hosiery is, the more expensive it is and the more your legs will demand attention. I myself have a particular thing for white tights, but this attraction is perhaps bordering on paraphilia. (This is only interesting insofar as it is, I think, quite common among men.)
One old-fashioned rule to remember is that your hose should always be lighter than your shoes: In other words, don't wear black tights and white shoes.
And I'm not really up to speed on conventions in the more conservative offices - each one will vary - but I would think that these days no one would object to bare legs on a summer day, as long as the rest of the outfit is demure. If you are arguing a case in the Supreme Court, you will probably want to be wearing hose. Most large companies will have explicit guidelines about this written down somewhere: If in doubt, have a quiet word with your office manager before you flaunt your skin.
Russell Smith's new novel, Girl Crazy , has just been published.