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On the Fashion 101 level, the difference between thigh highs and tights is a no-brainer: thigh highs resemble uber-long socks that come up above your knees; tights, like pantyhose, go all the way. If you're training to be a savvy fashionista, however, you need to get the nuances of wearing these two leggy styles down better than that. Understanding the differences between how and when thigh highs and tights should and should not be worn will save you from hosiery faux pas.
How to Wear Them
The biggest difference between the style rules that govern the world of tights versus the world of thigh highs is this: when wearing thigh highs, always wear a skirt, dress or shorts with a hemline far enough north to allow the tops of the thigh highs to show. While you can wear tights well with any length of skirt or dress, the whole point of thigh highs is to make an edgy, eye-catching fashion statement. There's a fine line between looking trendy or trashy in thigh highs, though. Stay on the trendy side of that divide by choosing skirts or dresses that are more billowy than skin tight, tailored shorts and tops that don't have low, sexy necklines.
Where to Wear Them
No matter how nice your thigh highs look, they aren't work-appropriate, period. You should also never try to wear them to a formal shindig like a wedding, anniversary or ceremony. Keep your thigh highs reserved exclusively for casual wear or for parties. When it comes to tights, you can dress them up or dress them down as the fancy takes you. The only restriction here is that you should keep patterned tights -- argyle, plaid, lace, polka-dots -- out of the office unless your workplace is exceptionally laid back.
What to Wear Them With
Thigh highs are attention-magnets. It'll be overkill to wear them with clothes that have busy patterns or striking colors since everything you're wearing will compete for attention. Keep the rest of your outfit minimalist unless your goal is to look like you're on Vaudeville. The more striking your thigh highs look, the more low-key the rest of the outfit should be. And never, ever wear thigh highs with stilettos or boots with a thin, high heel. That combo is probably not the type of look you're going for. Tights are more versatile. A neutral-colored solid pair can tone down a wild outfit, while tights in an eye-popping brilliant shade or an elaborate pattern can fancy up a plain little black dress. You can also wear tights with all types of shoes, from flats to knee-high, heeled boots without looking like a streetwalker. Just remember that the more elaborate your tights are, the simpler your outfit should be.
Why to Wear Them
Thigh highs are made of thicker material than your average pair of tights, so they provide more warmth for your legs and feet without being so prone to snags and runs. If you're a gal who isn't keen on wearing the fancier shoes that tights require, thigh highs can add a feminine zing to your normal casual wardrobe, even when you're only wearing denim shorts and sneakers. Thigh highs also have it all over even the most elaborate tights when it comes to making heads turn your way. Step into a nightclub with nothing more than a short, dark skirt, a simple blouse, some sparkly jewelry and those thigh highs and you won't have to worry if anyone noticed you -- they did.