John Lewis

When I was a kid, my birthday treat was a Chicken Tikka Masala takeaway from Marks and Spencers. I really liked it, and was only allowed the decadence of paying for a ready meal on special occasions. These days, that's quite a boring everyday dinner for me. I still really like it, but its nothing to get excited about, and certainly not a treat.  I have just had a haircut that cost £58. I regard that as quite a reasonable price to pay for a haircut, but if I was to tell my mum that, she would suck her teeth. My life is quite far away from what it was as a kid. 

I think my mum knows that I regularly shop in Waitrose, although we don't talk about it. It's a don't ask, don't tell situation. Today in Waitrose I thought about buying the 'Essential' Chocolate Eclairs. The least essential item anyone has ever come across. In fairness to Waitrose, actually a lot of its standard items are cheap. In fact, when in Morrison's with my mum, I often walk around saying 'that's cheaper in Waitrose. So's that.' while she restrains herself from hitting me. These John Lewis tights, actually bought in Waitrose, are cheap. Not Walthamstow Market cheap, but nowhere near only-buy-on-your-birthday-expensive. 


An alright pair of tights. A little baggy, no way of telling front from back, but fairly comfortable. £8.50 for three pairs is good value. I expect better from John Lewis, but I'm not entirely sure how. 


Here we are then. With the queen of tights. I wasn't expecting to get here so soon. Over the years, as I have sought a good quality pair of tights, I have seen Wolford, gone as far as to pick up a packet, but no further. Never would it occur to me to spend £25 on a pair of tights. But then, getting into the tights, I read a review of Wolford on John Lewis's site. The review said that these tights are expensive but last decades. DECADES. What lasts decades? 

We do have some mugs in the cupboard that are more than a decade old. They are pretty badly chipped and stained, and if I was less of a cheapskate we wouldn't have them. I only recently got rid of a top that I was given when I was seventeen, but anyone who saw me in it lately knows I should have got rid of it earlier. I have a handbag of my gran's which might even be 50 years old, but it has only lasted because it hasn't been used. My actual handbag is showing signs of serious wear after a year. So I am so intrigued by these tights where reviewers say they can last decades. If they can, then the cost benefit analysis is pretty clear. You'd need to spend £250 to have enough tights for the decade. I easily spend more than that in a ten year period. So if they are the perfect pair of tights after all, then no question. 

£25 is the entry price for Wolford tights by the way. They sell tights for £145 (which doesn't stack up on a cost benefit analysis). The tights I go for are the Velvet de Luxe 50. 

Interestingly, unlike most tights, the washing instructions don't specify handwashing. Which then opens up a possible future world for me where I never have to buy tights again, and I can put them in the washing machine without any guilt. 


So very close. There is an obvious huge increase in quality compared to the normal tights. They are just off the scale in terms of quality. This is a highly comfortable pair, you can see why it is called Velvet de Luxe. They also feel very sturdy, there is a part of me that believes that they could last for decades. They have all the other hallmarks of good tights, no ridiculous seam, a label. The problem is fit. Just slightly too short. Like a centimetre or so, and then it would be perfect. They don't roll or travel down, they are just slightly in the wrong place.  




Now that I'm a semi-professional tights blogger, I've been getting recommendations about where to buy my tights from. Topshop's recommendation comes from Caitlin, who works in TV, and is therefore much more fabulous than me. Caitlin's also much taller than me, and thinks that tall women are badly served by the tights market. The Oxford Circus branch of Topshop is a frightening place with its hair bars and cupcake merchants and pocket-monied teenagers trying on outfits in the middle of the store. The high from the sugar in the cupcakes forces people to spend money, making this shop one of the most profitable in the country. 

I would also say its one of the dustiest in the country. The shop could do with a robot hoover (my other obsession) zooming around picking up the dirt. The black tights on display were a bit dusty, putting me off them, so instead I bought an orange pair. I think orange tights are the sort of thing women on television wear. I also pick up a fleecier pair. 


Both pairs are a good fit. Both pairs fail the ability to tell front from back. The fleecier pair get a bit baggy around the ankles throughout the day as they don't have the elastic. The orange pair hold up quite nicely throughout the day, and was pretty comfortable, and didn't roll down at all . They were a very good pair of tights. They were quite expensive at £6 for a pair, but a very good pair of tights. Just showing you should always believe what people on TV tell you. But also people on TV are probably paid more than me. 



Now that it's gone live, I've had a few comments about my blog. Mainly that comment is 'Don't you have enough to do.' Obviously, yes - NCIS doesn't watch itself - but nothing as important as sharing my quest for a perfect pair of tights. Men don't seem to understand the quest. 'This is not what I thought you were going to write about.' They seem to think that I should be blogging about 'more important things' like housing policy or pensions. Some people think the quest is impossible: like period pains and childbirth, ill-fitting tights are just something we women are punished with. I don't believe that. People thought that there was no way to tell longitude, or that anaesthesia couldn't be used in childbirth. A fair amount of medical research money is currently going into trying to cure period pain. And I will find some tights that fit. Probably I will win some major prize for my efforts. 

I'm also getting more suggestions for places to try for tights. Nobody suggested Tezenis, the italian underwear store. I bought these on a whim while walking past the Oxford Circus store. Turns out they are owned by the same people who own Calzedonia, who are currently languishing at the bottom of the league. 


One of my colleagues asks me at lunchtime what tights I'm wearing and how they are doing. She gives my muffin top a quick feel, and shrinks at the result. 'No. That's exactly what you don't want, they are too tight at exactly the wrong point.' Her swift diagnosis is true. 

They also fall down on the criteria of being able to tell front from back, as they have no way to mark them. But at £6 for 2, they do better on cost, and are fine in terms of comfort. So Tezenis joins Calzedonia at the bottom of the league. 


My favourite bit of feedback on the blog: 'This is a concept with real legs.' 


In a former life, I used to know a lot about stock control in fashion. Stock control is how fashion retailers make money. Its all about not having lots of stock left over that you have to discount; discounting destroys profits margins and it destroys your brand. So this means that you have to make hard choices about your manufacturing base. You can make your clothes in cheaper manufacturing countries that are further away, and therefore take longer to get here. If you do this, you are not going to be able to get the latest designs to the shops a few weeks after Fashion Week. Or you can make your clothes in more expensive closer countries, meaning that they are more on trend. This also means that you don't have to order all your clothes at once; if they don't take too long to get into the shops you can see how well they doing, and then order more of them if they are popular. This is the route of Zara which changed fashion retailing when it came to the UK. Very tight stock control means it doesn't have to discount too much, so can actually sell things fairly cheaply without destroying its profit margins. So if you see something you like in Zara or H&M, you should buy it quickly. It might not be there in a fortnight. 

Uniqlo manufactures in China, which means that it's cheap, and the stock doesn't vary too much from year to year. They add a fashionable cut or line, but on the whole they deal with the basics. This means that they are not taking huge risks with making something far out there, which doesn't actually sell. A good place for tights you might think. Retailers who are making the same product year in and year out should have it sorted. 


My previous purchases at Uniqlo have been their thermal tops, which have been cheap and warm. I was confused by the fact that my tights are neither. These are £4.50 for one pair. I don't know what justifies that. According to the pack they are 92% polyamide and 80 Denier but they don't feel like it - as I say not quite warm enough. In terms of comfort and fit, they are alright. Nothing to mark them up or down on. They don't have a label or anything to mark which was is front or back, so do fall down on that. Overall,  nothing to differentiate them from Debenhams or M&S apart from the fact they are more expensive.   


For most of my childhood my Dad owned shares in Debenhams, and therefore encouraged us to shop there whenever we could. He made a lot of money out of his Debenhams shares, although possibly much of that was a transfer of wealth from my pocket money to his savings. I therefore have this intense nostalgic feeling towards Debenhams, a constant desire for it to do well.

When I go to the tights section, I realise that I'm not in Debenhams target market for tights. Apparently its target market is a large woman wearing navy tights, as that's all they seem to sell. I don't know anyone who wears navy tights who isn't in school. Maybe Debenhams' current shareholders are also forcing their daughters to spend all their pocket money there on tights. If that's its main strategy, it might explain why the share price has not performed well. It took me a long time to find a small, black pair of tights. That also might explain the poor share price performance. 

I've gone for the Soft and Smooth 3D tights (as opposed to tights that are in two dimensions?). Not out of choice, but because they were the only small, black pair I could find. They have a comfort waist band. 


At 2 for £7, they are a mid-range cost pair. They do what they say on the tin, they are very soft and smooth, and the waist band is very comfortable. They have a nice silky feel to them and fit very well. They could do with slightly more elastic though. I'm going to mark them down though for being so hard to find among the navy tights. It gave me flashbacks. 


In November, my colleagues and I went on a trip to Slough Sewage Works. This was highly educational, for example there's a massive shed where they basically spray the sewage with Febreze to stop the nearby dual carriageway smelling too much. There is also a mesmerising bubbling mass of sewage, that is so dense its impossible to swim in, and would kill you instantly if you fell in. For some reason, the walkway over this isn't a solid steel structure, but one of those holey, grate type metal walkways. Also flushable wet wipes should be banned. They block the sewers. Why can companies advertise them as being flushable when Thames Water says they aren't? 

On the way back, we stop off at Slough's massive Tesco to get some snacks for the journey back. I take the opportunity to buy some tights, as I live in the only area of the country that doesn't have a massive Tesco. My mum is a big fan of Florence and Fred and has a lot of nice clothes from them. At these prices, it is easy to see why.


At £4 for 3 tights, these are almost as cheap as Walthamstow market. They are very soft tights, and the waistband isn't too tight. But they are too big. I can almost cover my boobs with them. Over the course of the day, that scuttles down to be bagginess around the knees and ankles. It feels like there isn't enough elastic in them. 

Marks and Spencer

I speak to a lot of journalists in my day job, and I count a lot as friends. My all time favourite encounter with a journalist was a Guardian journalist who stopped me to ask me about my knicker buying habits. This led to the only time my name in print has been followed by my age. It made me feel all tabloid. 

I buy my underwear in Marks and Spencer. I find it reliable, uncomplicated and the shops are everywhere. I used to buy all my tights at Marks and Spencer too, so in a way they are responsible for The Tight Quest. However, I still hold hopes for Marks and Spencer. They sell a lot of different types of tights, so maybe there are some tights there that suit me. These are the BodySensor Tights - they keep you warm when it's cold, and cool when it's warm.


Cost-wise, these do well at £8 for 3. They are a good fit, stay up nicely without the waistband rolling, and have a good gusset. They also have a little label so I can tell which way the front is. Overall the sort of good quality tight that reminds me why M&S has been my favourite underwear store for so long. But still with the possibility that there might be a better tight somewhere. 

Walthamstow Market

A couple of weeks before her annual review was due, my colleague Rosie brought a bag full of tights to our line management meeting. She had gone to Walthamstow Market and bought me eight pairs of tights to try. It's unclear whether Rosie thinks I'm a more colourful dresser than I am, or if she is giving me a hint, but none of these tights fit the Black criteria. Some of them (perhaps intentionally) match my company's branding, some of them are a black and green pattern that matches nothing. One of them is a 'brown glass like' pair that could well have been on the stall when I last went to Walthamstow Market aged 10. As there are seven working days before Christmas when she gives me the tights, I accept the challenge and wear a pair each day (but not the brown glass pair - I'm never wearing those). 

This means planning my work outfits a lot more than I usually do. I recently found out that most of my colleagues plan what they wear to work before they go to bed, but I normally just wear whatever comes to mind. The colours of the tights also present a challenge to my highly patterned dresses. I have nothing that goes with the black and green, or the psychedelic red, or the neon yellow - so have to match them with black. The purple pairs go very well with my normal outfits and end up fitting in nicely to my work wardrobe becoming an almost staple. There are some brighter pinks and oranges that I could almost get away with on a normal day, but haven't yet tried to. 


These are the cheapest tights tried so far at £8 for 8 with the offer from the market stall to bring them back 'if your boss doesn't like them'. That's good value and good customer service. On comfort and elasticity they perform very well. They fit well, and there is no waist band rolling down, which is good as I don't need any more attention being drawn to myself. They are unfortunately slightly baggy around the ankles. Normally I don't mark my tights for their second or third fitting, because I'm not the kind of person who separately washes each pair of tights. Once it's in the wash basket, it could be any pair of tights. But neon yellow tights are easily spotted and therefore I know that they get more baggy after being washed. 

PS. Rosie passed her review with flying colours. And particular praise for her upward management skills. 


My colleague Cecilie is Danish, and therefore better looking, more feminist, and a fan of more socialist policies than I am. I also believe that all Scandis only like high-quality products. When my Swedish friend comes over to London he makes me go to a shelf shop in Marylebone where the shelves cost a minumum of £2,000. £2,000 to put some books on. According to him no serious Swedish person would go to Ikea. 

When Cecilie found out about The Tight Quest she told me that she had the answer. She bought all of her tights from Calzedonia. Cecilie likes to wear a colourful opaque tight - often it's a burnt umber shade. Calzedonia is mainly known for advertising its tights at Oxford Circus with women hugging their breasts, so that a trip up the escalator resembles being trapped in a men's magazine from the 80s. I would have thought that Cecilie would have objected to a shop that advertised like that, but I can forgive her if she has abandoned all her principles for the perfect tights. 


I thought these would score pretty highly. At £6 a pair they are at the top of the range, and they came highly, highly recommended by a Scandinavian. However, a huge disappointment. They are strangely difficult to put on. Partly because they have structured feet. The waist band is also scratchy and the waistband rolls down. 

In her defence, Cecilie (who is taller than me, but not a lot taller) says that she normally buys the large size. But I'm 5ft 2 and not horrifically obese, so I'm not buying a large size. 

The search continues.