Like it or not, Pippa and Kate Middleton are the defining style icons of 2011. The covetable nature of their assortment of dresses and separates from Reiss and Whistles and Zara is cannot be denied, and the shininess of their hair is also very admirable. But for all of the celebration of these two women and their clothes, there has been an astonishing silence about one crucial aspect of their wardrobes: their penchant for wearing nude tights both at work and at play.
Kate wore them with her LK Bennett wedges the day after the wedding; she wore them last weekend, on her outing to Royal Ascot. Last week, Pippa was snapped sporting them on holiday in Paris under a pair of shorts, and earlier this week, at a party with a beach theme. In fact, few photos of the Middleton sisters taken over the years exist where their legs are not reflecting camera flashes as only limbs swathed in a layer of very thin light beige-coloured nylon can: in cabs, on shopping trips, at post-break-up roller discos . It's time to for us to ask the question that fashion editors seem to be scrupulously avoiding, for fear of acknowledging that the royal hotnesses might ever do wrong. Can one really be a style icon while wearing nude tights?
I, too, once regarded the nude tight as the height of sophistication. It was in the early 90s, when my mother sometimes allowed me to wear a pair on very special occasions, like school orchestra concerts. It felt like a very grown-up look, at least until the inevitable ladders started clambering up my ankle. As I became an actual grown-up, however, I began to question the legitimacy of the most redundant form of hosiery. Women who work in certain environments, such as corporate law firms and banks, and professional ice dancing troupes, often are still compelled to adhere to dress codes that require them to suffer the indignity of flesh-coloured legwear. But a quick survey of the legs of the women on my commute into Central London on a sunny June morning reveals that for the most part, we have wholeheartedly rejected the fashion for appearing to have bare legs, in favour of actually having bare legs. Women have earned the right to enjoy the feeling of a summer breeze against an exposed ankle, and we're indulging in it.
Nude tights are the sartorial equivalent of wrapping a perfectly good apple in cling film to impart it with an extra level of fanciness. At best, this offending hosiery gives legs decidedly unnatural Barbie-like sheen. At worst, it makes legs look as if they've been pre-emptively embalmed. Read the packaging, and you'll learn that the high-quality nude tight is designed to give the illusion that you are wearing no hosiery at all. But if that's the case, then it begs the question of why you are wearing hosiery at all.
If nude tights are hose for hot days, then they are uncomfortable: the last thing you need when it's sultry is something clinging to your calf like a second skin. If the argument in favour of the nude tight is that it provides warmth, then I can only wonder why the non-figure skating nude tight wearer wouldn't opt for an actually warm (and more elegant) opaque - or hey, go wild, a pair of trousers! - when it's too chilly to get her pins out. Even if they do impart a slight barrier against the cold, nude tights on a day when it's not warm enough for bare legs make the wearer look as if she must be freezing. An outfit that makes passers-by want to envelope you in one of those foil blankets they give long-distance runners is never stylish.
It's true, of course, that Kate Middleton's new grandmother-in-law is partial herself to wearing flesh-coloured tights. But she's from a generation when a glimpse of stocking was still looked on as something shocking. In the decades ahead, it's likely that both Middleton sisters will continue to be regarded as ambassadors of British style. It's a great responsibility. It's one that should not be carried out in nude tights.