Exposing their thighs to the test were women of all sizes, from under 5ft tall to over 6ft. Shorter testers were Hester Lacey, mother and daughter Margaret and Victoria Yiasoumi, Kerry Gaskin and Sue Lestrange. Mid-heighters were Bec Waterman, Lucille Gallagher, Lucy Williams, Lola Birnie and Dawn Eagle. Alice Elliott, Susannah Conway, Laura Fitzpatrick, Christina Madden and myself supplied the longest legs.
We looked for flattering, comfortable and attractive hold-ups, which stayed up without causing unsightly bulges - the anticipated "garter effect". Sizing (according to guidelines on the packets) and quality of material were also considered.
***PRETTY POLLY NYLONS LACE TOP HOLD-UPS
"Pleased all round," said Sue Lestrange. "Pretty and practical," agreed Margaret Yiasoumi. Available in two sizes, for those who found the fit good (the majority of testers) wearing these proved a pleasant experience. The wide, lacy band didn't bite and the fabric had a good amount of stretch. "Extremely comfortable, even while cycling," said Dawn Eagle, while Lucy Williams gave them the ultimate hold-up accolade by forgetting she was wearing them. Overall, Pretty Polly gained a favourable response as mid-range hold-ups with staying power - they do the job well, but aren't too much of an investment.
*BOOTS SOFT AND SHEER 10 DENIER HOLD-UPS
"Ouch," said Laura Fitzpatrick, vocalising the general belief that Boots' bands were the tightest, with most testers reporting discomfort. Unsurprisingly, they didn't fall down. "No signs of descent," said Christina Madden, while I wondered if I would be able to get them off. Wild sizing appeared to be rife in the two available fittings; while some taller testers reported their pairs rested at the tops of their thighs, others found they barely came over their knees. Their lack of sheen led Kerry Gaskin to conclude: "They're not ideal for a slinky night out, but would probably be okay for work." Susannah Conway agreed: "functional, do the job, nothing special". Other testers were less pragmatic. "They look cheap and aren't comfortable," said Laura Fitzpatrick.
****WOLFORD SATIN OPAQUES
Opinion on performance was unanimously positive when it came to the Wolfords. "Even when I ran to the bank they didn't wrinkle down," said Lola Birnie. And this security did not come at the price of comfort, with all testers reporting gentle hugging, rather than blood-stopping constriction. A luxurious feel enchanted the panel, all of whom praised these thicker (40 denier) hold-ups for being silky-soft. "These feel expensive, as luxury items should do," mused Laura Fitzpatrick. Sizing was agreed to be generous and, in the final round-up, the panel were divided only over personal preferences for simple or lacy bands. Victoria Yiasoumi and Lola Birnie were disappointed by the lack of frills and relegated them to day wear, while Susannah Conway and Lucille Gallagher thought the simplicity a plus: "Chic. For those who don't want to look as if they've tried too hard," was their joint view.
***MARKS & SPENCER PEARL STAY-UPS
"Snug and so comfortable I didn't even feel that I had them on," said Victoria Yiasoumi of these user-friendly hold-ups. Soft, generous amounts of material and a slight "pearly" sheen were approved of, and testers had high hopes for the staying power of a wide lace band with two rubber grips. Most testers found the fit good and little wrinkling. However, Lucy Williams found the top bulky and unflattering, while Laura Fitzpatrick thought they looked like "ugly lace curtains". Victoria Yiasoumi didn't agree, saying "they're affordable, luxurious and glamorous." General consensus: good all rounder for the price.
**SAINSBURY'S SILHOUETTE HOLD-UPS
Despite the unappealing packaging these 10 denier hold-ups proved popular. Easy to pull on, the right tightness and attractive. Vehement anti-one- size tester Alice Elliott was amazed by the fit. "There's no need to overstretch them," she said. Staying power was less impressive. "A good start, but they wrinkled after a few hours," said Sue Lestrange. "A second grip band would help you feel secure," agreed Alice Elliott. The super-sheer fabric was glossy and smooth. "Elegant, suitable for a special occasion" said Lola Birnie. The only major problem was the fabric, which Lola Birnie found scratchy and Lucille Gallagher said chafed. "They're better than they look," said Christina Madden, who recommended Sainsbury's redesign the box.
*****LEVANTE ROMANTIC 15 DENIER HOLD-UPS
These tussled with Wolfords for most luxurious hold-ups in the test, prompting eulogies from most of the testers. An extra-wide band of attractive lace ensured that circulation loss was minimal. Two semi-sticky rubber strips held them in place effectively, although Laura Fitzpatrick and I both suffered slight wrinkling. "The band stayed put, but there was strange bagginess around the ankle after a while," said Laura. It was agreed that this was a small price to pay for the luxuriant feel of these hold-ups, described as "silky-smooth," by Lucille Gallagher. Negative points centred mainly on the "terrifying woman on the packet", whom Hester Lacey said "makes you feel like a barrel before you've got them out of the wrapping." Still, all agreed that Levante and Wolford are a cut above the other hold-ups in the test, with Levante sneaking into the lead on account of price and looks that appealed across the panel.
SAFEWAY NYLON LACE TOP HOLD-UPS
"One-size? Yeah right, like we're all the same size!" exclaimed 6ft 1in Alice Elliott, with all testers finding the fit hit and miss, making these hold-ups an emergency choice only. Complaints came thick and strong. The 10 denier material was criticised for roughness and lack of stretch. The band came under fire for being tight. Kerry Gaskin blamed the "vicious dents" in her thighs on the band being far too narrow. "Hitch them up, hitch them down - there's no comfortable position," said Hester Lacey, who felt that the decoration was more an attempt to hide the killer elastic than a pretence at seductive elegance. Even the moulded foot could not sway opinion. Only Lola Birnie and Sue Lestrange approved of them as throwaway party stockings. "A budget buy that looks precisely that," said Hester, while Lucille Gallagher summed them up as "mediocre in every way".
Wolford, 0171 935 9202; Boots, 0845 070 8090; PP, 01623 552 500; M&S, 0171 935 4422; Levante, 01277 232 301; Safeway, 01622 712 987; Sainsbury's, 0800 636 262.