Get your knees up

Popsocks are useful but unflattering garments.

There comes a time, every autumn, when a woman faces a dilemma. She finds herself wearing trousers, with shoes not boots, and she needs an item of hose to cover up that tiny bit of leg that might become exposed. She can't wear tights - overkill, and anyway the static makes trousers cling to tights. She can't wear stockings, unless she's two dates into a relationship, or very stupid (remind me to tell you about the time I wore stockings beneath trousers when I went to the family planning clinic to see a doctor who turned out to be the country and western singer Hank Wangford). So she's left with an item that strikes fear into both women and men: the popsock, or, as it's now euphemistically called, the knee-high.

Popsocks, for that is what I shall call them, are undoubtedly useful. Neither tights nor stockings, they are socks that look like they could be either, until you get far enough up the leg to find that identifying thick band below the knee. Popsocks don't make anyone feel good. The only ones that are acceptable are fishnet ones, because the fishnet is fun and is silly enough to distract, momentarily, from the ability the popsock has to render its wearer immediately, and completely, unattractive. Decent fishnet knee-highs cost about £7 a pair - think of spending no less. Falke makes good ones.

But really, what women need is socks - good, knee-high socks that are soft, comfortable and thin enough to look stylish when they peek from yonder trouser leg, but thick enough to be cosy and warm. And they are really hard to find. Part of the reason they are so elusive is that, once you've found them (and you need to wear them a good few times to realise how good they are), you no longer remember where they came from.

I've trialled many socks in my fashion life. I have two particularly good ones at the moment: a fine-rib, black, knee-high sock, made from some sort of wool-type fibre; and a very fine, cotton, ankle-length sock that's perfect in boots. I would love to tell you where they're from, as they represent years of research. I'd love to restock them. But where are they from? Who remembers? Why can't the manufacturers label them so you can buy them again? What a needless loss of revenue.

The same is true of nearly all tights. You find the perfect pair and then forget, however much you thought you would remember where they were from. Wolford, which makes the best tights anyway, learned this lesson some years ago and began putting its brand name - and the style of the tights - on the label. Some other brands do, too, Marks & Spencer being one. But otherwise, unless you are the organised type of person who records her hosiery purchases (in which case, I'm sure that Smythson has a special little book it can sell you), you discover that you've got the perfect bit of hosiery and at the same time realise you have absolutely no idea where it came from.

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article first appeared in the 29 October 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Pakistan