Stockings can cost anywhere from a few dollars at the supermarket to an arm and a leg at a department store. But our test of 10 well-known brands, ranging in price from $3.99 to $29.95, found you don’t need to shell out top dollar for a decent pair.

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Best and worst pairs

We subjected pairs of 70 denier opaque tights, from $3.99 Pams stockings to $29.95 Elle Macpherson tights, to bursting and laddering tests.

The $10 Razzamatazz brand stockings were a stand-out performer across both our stress tests, closely followed by Ambra stockings ($19.99). Both products earned very good ratings, but Razzamatazz edged ahead as they withstood more pressure in our burst test.

Kiwi-made Columbine tights also performed well, earning an excellent score in our ladder test.

At the other end of the scale, Stepout ($16.99 from Farmers) was the poorest overall performer. It earned the worst ratings when we averaged results across both tests, bursting and laddering a lot sooner than most of the competition.

The cheapest tights, Pams ($3.99 a pair), also performed poorly in our ladder test. The fabric was very quick to ladder, even with minimal stretching. Pams says its tights offer excellent value for money and consumers can replace them as required at an affordable price. But for $6 extra, we think Razzamatazz offers better bang for your buck.

Kayser stockings were the other poor performer when it came to laddering. But the brand seems to have prioritised strength over ladder resistance – its fabric was the toughest in the burst test.

The top price we paid for Elle Macpherson tights didn’t equal top performance. The brand took joint third place, ranking very good in the burst test and good for ladder resistance.

Product Product[sort;hidden;desc] Price Country of manufacture Overall rank Overall rank[sort;hidden;asc] Burst test Ladder test
Razzamatazz women's comfort opaque black tights Razzamatazz $10.00 China 1 1 Very good Very good
Ambra All Nighters opaque black tights Ambra $19.99 China 2 2 Very good Very good
Columbine soft touch opaque black tights Columbine $18.99 New Zealand 3A 3 Good Excellent
Elle Macpherson Body opaque black tights Elle Macpherson Body</td> $29.95 China 3A 3 Very good Good
Lyric opaque black tights Lyric $13.99 China 5 5 Very good OK
Kayser opaque black tights Kayser $15.99 China 6 6 Excellent Poor
Voodoo Lavish opaque black tights Voodoo $21.99 China 7 7 OK Very good
Bonds opaque black tights Bonds $12.99 China 8 8 Good OK
Pams Fuller Figure opaque black tights Pams $3.99 China 9 9 Good Very poor
Stepout slimming support opaque black tights Stepout $16.99 China 10 10 OK Poor

GUIDE PRICE is the online price in May 2017. OVERALL RANK is based on performance in the burst test and ladder test (equally weighted) and the tights’ consistency of performance. AThese products tied. BURST TEST rating uses the pressure applied at bursting, assessed against the industry standard for socks and accessories. LADDER TEST rating based on the weight applied when laddering occurred and the number of ladderless samples.

What makes tough tights?

Stockings are classified by denier: 10 to 20 denier tights are sheer, while 70 denier pairs are opaque and 100 denier stockings will be uniformly matte. Denier refers to how much yarn is used in the stockings. The general rule is the higher the denier, the more durable the stocking.

However, as our tests showed, there’s more to the toughness of your tights than this. New Zealand Wool Testing Authority (NZWTA) textiles technical adviser Lorraine Greer says the mix of nylon to elastane determines a fabric’s give. Usually, the higher the elastane content the more stretch your tights will have.

While this information may help consumers choose one pair over another, we found only 3 brands listed elastane content on their packaging. Elle Macpherson stockings are 10% elastane, Kayser’s 6% and Pam’s 5%.

Even with a lower elastane content, Kayser outperformed the Elle Macpherson brand in the burst test (though not the ladder test).

Ms Greer says how yarns in stockings are knitted also influences strength. Knitting enthusiasts will know how the pattern of the stitches and the tension put on the yarn when the stitch is made can result in a tighter or looser fabric, she says.

Stitch patterns can affect the stockings’ ability to resist laddering when snagged, and give the fabric a smoother feel. Unfortunately, unless you have a magnifying glass handy, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to tell different knit patterns apart when you’re in a shop.

How fibres are produced before they are knitted together also affects how a pair of stockings feels. Like hair, fibres can be crimped – and a fibre with less crimp feels smoother, Ms Greer says.

The production process can also affect the fibre’s strength and elasticity.

Ms Greer says fit – buying the appropriate size for your height – is really important as well. Too big and you’ll get that saggy look. Too small and your tights won’t just be uncomfortable but the extra stretching means they’re unlikely to last as long.

About our test

Our tests were carried out by the New Zealand Wool Testing Authority (NZWTA). Samples were taken from four pairs of each of the 10 brands we tested to find the point at which they burst and their resistance to laddering.

The burst test is a standard industry assessment, where a stocking sample is attached to a diaphragm that steadily inflates until the fabric bursts. This is repeated 10 times and the results averaged.

The higher the result in the burst test, the better the stockings withstand pressure. This indicates how well they’ll hold up when, for example, a pair is put on or when the wearer is walking or climbing stairs.

NZWTA developed the test method for our laddering trial. Stockings were cut and stretched to twice their size and a metal punch created a 2mm hole in each. Increasing weights then stretched the sample. The length of any ladders was recorded across eight separate samples. The more weight the stockings withstood, the better the fabric stands up to laddering.

Most brands performed reasonably well in the burst test, achieving better results than in the laddering trial. The exception was Voodoo, which stood up against ladders well but was the quickest to succumb to the pressure in the burst assessment.

How to get the most from your tights

  • Stockings can be machine-washed, but they last longer if washed in a lingerie bag. This protects them from being stretched or wrapping around other items.

  • Fasten the hooks of other clothing items, such as bras, before putting tights into the washing machine – a hook can rip through a lingerie bag.

  • In the case of a ladder, a stroke of clear or similarly coloured nail polish temporarily stops it from getting longer. The polish works like a glue, attaching the fibres together. Any glue would have a similar effect.

Testing video

Watch this footage from the lab to see the difference between the best and worst performers in each test.

By Olivia Wannan
Investigative Writer