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Today, let us turn our attention to women's bare legs. In theory, this is a pleasing direction, one that immediately calls to mind warm summer weather, tans, short skirts and, well, all things unoffice-like.

The good news is that women are living in a time of freedom; freedom from the enforcement of pantyhose in the workplace and the freedom to decide how we choose to cover our legs. There may be some holdouts, but an office that requires its female employees to don nylons is now the exception to the rule.

The bad news is that with this freedom comes responsibility and the reality that just because women can go barelegged to work doesn't mean they always should. This becomes even more important as colder temperatures force the most resilient gams into what can feel like sausage casings.

More to the point, seeing so much skin come mid-November simply looks weird.

Christina McDowell, Holt Renfrew's image consultant and national spokeswoman, says that hosiery is "the bane of [women's]existence as far as work wardrobes are concerned."

She says that in a corporate context, questions related to hosiery are asked more than any other. When it comes to fashion, Ms. McDowell points out that her advice may be totally different.

How late in the season can women go to work sans hose? That's an easy one, she says. "I think people have to use their common sense [and say]'This just doesn't feel right.' If you're putting on coats and gloves and you've got bare legs and a suit, it just doesn't translate well."

Ms. McDowell's primary concern is how much leg is too much.

"If you're using the words professional and polished, you have to think about the balance of exposure, whether it's leg or cleavage."

In other words, wearing a knee-grazing skirt without hosiery is never going to brand you as the office tart.

But what happens when the expert advice takes the position that bare is not best?

Toronto-based image consultant Anne Sowden says that a pro-hose approach is not necessarily backward thinking.

"Men wear socks when they go to the office no matter how hot it is," she says. "What you wear is all about communication and power, and if you go in with bare legs, that power and formality are being taken away from you and people might not take you as seriously."

She takes greater issue with the fact women are likely to ignore some barelegged red flags.

"You've got to be honest about how great your legs are, as in if you've got bruises or veins or you don't shave your legs or you're like me and you've got pale legs," she says, sharing her main reason for wearing pantyhose. "Then there's the practicality of where you work and the expectations at your office."

Ms. Sowden says that the whole point of pantyhose or hosiery (the difference is whether the stockings have a built-in panty) is not to make your legs look worse.

"If you're concerned about your legs being heavier or not as toned as you would like them to be, then pantyhose give you that wonderful illusion of fabulous legs, especially if you go with dark."

Ah yes, Ms. Sowden has arrived at a particularly divisive question: When bare legs are out of the question, is nude better than sheer? And are these a working girl's only options?

Ms. McDowell is a fan of nude. "If you look at powerful and professional women and you see them when they are presenting or giving a speech or they are at a debate, they're not wearing sheer black; they're wearing a nude hose with a corporate suit," she says.

This same thinking applies to fishnets. Black fishnets come with connotations that make them unsuitable for the office. Nude fishnets, on the other hand, are a lot subtler and even provide some welcome texture that comes in handy when trying to mask a bruise or scar (to further confuse things, fishnet knee-highs in black or nude work well under pants when ankles may be visible).

Black "everyday sheers," as they are known in the industry, can still look fresh and modern according to Claudia Croteau, marketing co-ordinator for Hexavogue, which imports hosiery from Italy under the label Voilà. The secret is to look for one that may have a small pattern on it such as pinstripe or argyle.

Newer alternatives, however, include shades of grey or a colour offered by Voilà called "black wine" that is ever so slightly purple (Ms. Sowden recommends "nightshade," which is off-black). Coffee and navy hues also fall into the neutral camp.

When buying hosiery, you will need to know about denier (pronounced den-EE-ay), which refers to the fineness of the fibres. The scale typically runs from 15 (sheer) to 60 (opaque). Ms. Croteau says a 15 or 20 denier is ideal for stilettos or slingbacks.

Speaking of opaque, thick black tights are a favourite in the fashion world and look especially chic with mini-skirts or dresses. But they don't make a good match for traditional suits. "It's not the best look," Ms. McDowell says.

Surprisingly, she advises against loud colours at the office (again, the assumption is a corporate-type environment) while Ms. Sowden takes a more receptive stance.

"You just have to realize that if you are wearing coloured tights to work," she advises, "then people are going to notice your legs. And you've got to be comfortable knowing that's what people are going to look at."

Follow on Twitter: @amyverner

 

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