Black opaque tights, the darlings of the Eighties wardrobe, are back in style. Sighs of relief all round, says JAMES SHERWOOD
When fashion gives you permission to go back to black, the feeling of elation is similar to winning the "phone a friend" question on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? So the news that black opaque tights have been striding down the catwalks again will make a lot of women very happy.

Black can't look "wrong", in the same way that egg-yolk yellow or aquamarine can. So when fashion declared, some three years ago, that black opaques were out, women ignored the dictat in droves.

"No question, I can't get enough of black opaques," says Steph Stevens, fashion director of Minx magazine. "I think you'll find women don't take risks with tights in the same way they would with crucial accessories like the knee-high boot or the season's bag. When you've got a really thick black denier, it somehow seems to hold all the flesh in place."

Contrary to popular belief, it is not diamonds that are a girl's best friend. Lovers may come and go. You may have to hock your rocks. But a girl can always rely on a pair of 40-denier black opaque tights. Opaques are corsetry for the legs. They streamline even the chunkiest pins and make them look as endless as Ute Lemper's.

Sadly, fashion magazines tend to ignore hosiery. Even in winter, models are photographed with bare legs. As Alexandra Shulman, editor of British Vogue, said recently, "Almost every fashion shoot one sees dodges the question by sticking with naked skin." Shulman, however, is one who remains unconvinced about the return of black opaques. "This season, the best tights for the really fashion-conscious are brightly coloured," she writes. Bright tights look undeniably fabulous with the trash clash aesthetic this season: flaming orange opaques caught between a zebra-print ponyskin skirt and Gucci ruched velvet boots. But the notion that the future of hosiery is orange probably turns your stomach over. Resist the temptation to be Tangoed.

Remember two seasons ago when patterned tights reared their ugly heads? Style Police is still having flash-backs about that terrible trend. Patterned tights may look pretty in pictures but they don't translate into real life. Style Police saw the nastiest pair of brown crochet-effect tights last week on the prettiest girl. It didn't matter that she had the face of an angel because your eyes wandered to the tights and your mind wandered to the two old dears in Arsenic and Old Lace. Patterned tights are as granny as shopping trolleys and false teeth. If you want to go boho this season, better to plump for dark brown opaques instead.

How to wear it

You all know Style Police wouldn't let you wear an item that breaks the commandments of fashion for autumn/winter '99. So just to prove black opaques work this season, we've taken two directional stories that work equally well with black tights. Look at Dolce & Gabbana's use in its D&G collection. The skirt is a short, flirty punk tartan, the boots are rock chick and those black opaque tights take the worry out of wearing a skirt shorter than a fashion editor's attention span.

Now turn to Sixties Mia Farrow. She beats Ali MacGraw hands down as a muse for this season. Ali was just plain bland. Mia is an ingenue child- woman in touch with that whole college kid vibe that photographer Elaine Constantine has been pushing in her shoots for Vogue Italia. The black opaques with boots and a cute little rain mac make Mia's pins look deliciously fragile: as thin as a sparrow's claw. So black opaques work in between mid-calf boots and midi A-line skirts. They work - nay, they are essential - with the winter mini skirt.

Where to buy it

As Steph Stevens cleverly points out, the colour flash of bright opaques works when you only get a glimpse of tights between boots and skirt. Aristoc has dyed-up the season's colours in a blazing opaque range: hot tomato, olive green, mustard and orange. They are rare as hen's teeth but only pounds 6 a throw so get them while they're hot. As for the trusty black opaques, Aristoc does some very serviceable thick tights for under a fiver. If you don't mind paying double figures, Wolford will give you something altogether more luxurious from around the pounds 20 mark - and these are really built to last.

For those of you concerned about the lack of sex appeal of thick black tights, Aristoc has invented a saucy little number called the "Cabaret". This is actually a pair of tights, but woven to look like a pair of black stockings, complete with garter belt and sheer panels from the thigh upwards. Everyone can come to the Cabaret because Aristoc's opaque fake stockings are only pounds 5. The trompe l'oeil Aristoc black opaque is as big a turn-on for the boys as a smoky voice two octaves below laryngitis. Like sex appeal, a good pair of black opaque tights is beyond fashion.

Address book

Aristoc (tel: 01773 525520).

Wolford (tel: 0171 935 9202).