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Alongside fabric content, one of the things you will pretty much always see listed in a hosiery product description is a ‘denier’ number. But what does it actually mean, and what do the different hosiery deniers look like?
What is denier?
Denier in and of itself is not actually a measure of how sheer/opaque the hosiery is. It indicates how much the yarn it’s knitted from weighs. The name comes from a medieval French coin called a denier, which weighed the same as a 9,000m strand of silk, hence a single silk strand = 1 denier. The coin also weighed roughly the same as a modern gram, which is what we now use to work out denier instead. So, if 9,000m of a yarn weighs 10 grams, then any tights or stockings knitted from it will be 10 denier.
Since denier refers to the weight of the yarn, and that yarn could be packed tightly together or knitted with a more open weave, two stockings with the same denier won’t necessarily look identical. One might be more or less sheer than the other. An extreme example of this would be fishnet – even if made from 200 denier yarn, it’s still going to show a ton of skin!
There’s also the fact that hosiery deniers are almost always rounded to the nearest 5 or 10. You won’t come across ‘37 denier’ tights, for example. The exception is the ultra-low deniers, where even just a few denier more or fewer can make a difference, and you do therefore get products listed as 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 denier.
However, most modern hosiery is knitted so that you won’t see the individual threads without close inspection. So in practice, denier is a good indicator of what opacity to expect. Heavier fibers and yarns are usually thicker, and hence will create a more opaque product. In fact, we’ve come to associate denier with opacity so much so that you’ll often see tights and stockings described as “20 denier appearance” (for example). That just means that while the actual denier is something different, the look of the product is the same you’d usually get from 20 denier hosiery.
Hosiery denier – a visual guide
So what do all of those deniers typically look like? Below are 12 examples of plain black hosiery at different deniers.
The hosiery: Pierre Balmain stockings (vintage)*
The appearance: Anything below 10 denier will be ultra sheer. If these stockings were in a nude shade similar to my own skin tone, you’d barely see that they were there.
The hosiery: Charnos Elegance tights*
The appearance: 10 denier is the upper limit of ‘ultra sheer’ hosiery. However, you can see that those 5 extra denier make a marked difference, at least when we’re talking about a colour that contrasts against your skin tone.
The hosiery: Elle Panache tights*
The appearance: To me, these look almost identical to the tights above. But as I have mentioned, it’s possible for two garments with the same denier to look slightly different, so another 15 denier style may appear a little darker.
The hosiery: Mayfair Sofia stockings
The appearance: 20 is a very popular hosiery denier, striking an ideal balance between sheerness and durability. Although noticeably darker than the lower deniers, it’s still fairly translucent. But importantly, it’s less likely to snag if you so much as breathe on it. I have plenty of 20 denier stockings that have lasted me three or four winters.
The hosiery: Charnos Satin 30 tights*
The appearance: At 30 denier, hosiery is classed as ‘semi sheer’ or ‘semi opaque’ (the terms are interchangeable). These tights would disguise a bruise or shaving rash, but definitely not a leg tattoo.
The hosiery: Elle 40 Denier tights*
The appearance: Still within the ‘semi opaque’ category, these tights are still a touch too see-through to offer truly solid coverage.
The hosiery: Charnos Satin 50 tights*
The appearance: At 50 denier, we’ve arrived at the category of opaque legwear. My legs look more or less totally black in these tights, and yet as you will see as you scroll down, it’s possible to go darker!
The hosiery: Charnos Matt 60 tights*
The appearance: Similarly opaque to the 50 denier tights above. These are the two deniers, 50 and 60, that I’d recommend if you want a pure black (or other solid colour) appearance in spring or autumn, when higher deniers might cause you to overheat.
The hosiery: Girardi Marquise tights
The appearance: These tights remain totally opaque even where they’re stretched over a bent knee.
The hosiery: Falke Warm Deluxe tights*
The appearance: 100% solid, opaque coverage! They’re also fabulously warm.
The hosiery: Charnos Matt 100 tights*
The appearance: Also a ‘true opaque’, 100 is an ideal denier choice for cosy legs in winter.
The hosiery: Elle Bamboo tights*
The appearance: As explained at the beginning of this article, I included this pair of tights to illustrate that the knit type also matters when it comes to an opaque vs. transluent finish. Although I would argue that these tights look blacker than the lower-denier pair above, at the same time, more skin is showing through due to the slightly open weave. They are still extremely warm though.
Hosiery denier comparison chart
Here are all of those hosiery denier pictures again, side by side for easier comparison:
Two more notes on denier
Higher denier = higher durability – at the lower end of the denier scale, an extra 5 or 10 denier can make a huge difference in how durable the hosiery is. If you’re buying a pair of tights or stockings that are going to see frequent wear, I wouldn’t personally recommend going below 20 denier. You might have noticed the lines on the inner thigh of the 10 denier tights above. Those are pulls in the fabric just from putting them on!
Microfiber definition – a synthetic hosiery material that’s growing in popularity, microfiber is not a single fiber type but rather a group of them which could be made from polyester, nylon, or something else. To be classed as microfiber, each individual filament must be less than 1 denier, i.e. finer that silk. These fibers are then spun together to form a thicker yarn, but because each filament is so tiny, microfiber hosiery is ultra soft.
Feel free to ask any questions about hosiery denier that I haven’t answered in the comments below. Or just tell me which denier is your favourite to wear!