One day, not so long ago, I typed the word pantyhose into Google search, and pages of emotional comments erupted onto my screen. I was astonished to discover a simple item like pantyhose could be so controversial. At first, I read descriptive words like ugly, pasty looking, and torturously uncomfortable, but, further down the page, I found words like flattering, firming, therapeutic, and camouflaging. There were two diametrically opposed schools of thought about this garment.
I am, unashamedly, pro-hosiery. I love the ease of crossing my legs when they are covered in fine nylon, blended with spandex. One leg glides more easily over the other. Hosiery makes it possible to further extend the crossed leg, tucking the toe of one shoe behind the heel of the other. This leg-stacking manoeuvre elongates the visual, dramatically.
The imperfections and irregularities on my legs, earned from a well-lived life, can be blended away or evened-out by wearing good hosiery, just like foundation improves the appearance of your complexion. Pantyhose will provide a smoother silhouette beneath a clingy dress. However, the most important reason for wearing pantyhose is to improve circulation. Yes, they are good for your health. I never travel without donning at least a medium support hosiery, to help keep my blood circulating during extensive periods of inactivity.
As some of you know, my very discerning legs are soon to belong to a pensioner. Back in the 1950s, my little girl legs knew the difference between the weekday brown stockings, and the Sunday white stockings. The white ones looked sweet but were tight and felt scratchy. I preferred day-old stockings of either colour. I remember hiding them away from the laundry basket, so I could wear them one more time. Clean or worn, these stockings were held up by clasps on the ends of suspenders, which dangled from garter belts. Although somewhat adjustable in length, these suspenders left a stretch of exposed thigh, which had to be covered by long-legged underwear, referred to as bloomers. When the temperatures were below freezing, these bloomers were welcomed. However, even as a preschooler, I knew this wasn’t an attractive fashion. I looked forward to adulthood.
I remember watching my mother put on her stockings, whenever she was going out. Her stockings were labelled Rose Beige, and they came wrapped in tissue and folded in a flat box. On the lid of the box was a silhouette of a pair of lovely legs. We referred to these treasures as nylons, like DuPont hoped we would. They didn’t trademark the word nylons because they hoped it would become a synonym for stockings. By the way, nylons were made available to the public in 1940, and DuPont sold 64,000,000 pairs in that first year. Their advertising purported nylon to be “as strong as steel, and as fine as a spider’s web.” I wasn’t allowed to touch my mother’s nylons, but I admired them.
My mother would be wearing her bra, slip, garter belt, and panties, before she took the treasured box from the drawer. She sat on the bench that matched her vanity and put white gloves on her small hands. She carefully gathered one stocking to the ankle, making it the size of an ankle sock. She pointed her toes into the nylon, and began to release the stocking as she moved her gloved hands up her leg. Once in place, she ran both hands up her leg, one more time, bringing any loose stocking with her, and then attached the clasp on each suspender to the heavier thigh-band of her nylon. Once both legs were stocking clad, she checked her rear view in the mirror to be sure the seams were straight. There were little black seams down the back of the legs. The heel was reinforced with a pretty pattern, saving the stockings from wear and tear, while flattering the back of the ankle. Women who snagged or tore their nylons, before payday, simply drew seams on their bare legs using eyeliner. I imagine they had help doing this. Have you ever tried to draw a straight line up the back of your leg?
Women have always worn body-shaping undergarments. However, with the design of the panty girdle and the accompanying marketing, women in the fifties, sixties, and into the seventies were persuaded that to jiggle when you walked was embarrassing. There were panty girdles for every occasion, including athletics. It became fashionable for young women to force their firm, delightful bodies into tubes made of latex, rayon, and rubber, often reinforced with power net or boning and always embellished with suspenders.
My first long-legged panty girdle had suspenders attached up inside the legs. We rolled the panty girdle legs up a few inches to find the suspender clip and attached our nylons. This left no chance for a glimpse of flesh. We were encased completely, like sausages, and it wasn’t sexy. I longed for my brown stockings and bloomers. Panty girdles were hard to pull on and off, were uncomfortable, expensive, and discoloured over time. Perhaps the only beneficial use for these garments was as a means of birth control or appetite suppression. Sadly, many of us suffered vascular issues, later on, because of the constriction of circulation by these garments. Of course, the miniskirt was responsible for the revolution against the panty girdle, but I will save that for another blog.
Had it not been for the girdle, I might not have such a vivid memory of my first pair of pantyhose. Pantyhose came into being in 1959, but it was 1967 when I first encountered them. I was attending summer school at the University of Saskatchewan, and I had a small budget for personal items. I noticed a spinner rack of pantyhose displayed in a little all-purpose shop near my campus residence. The pink packaging drew me closer, and the Golden Glen company logo had a yellow brick road appeal. I imagined, apprehensively, that getting into a pair of pantyhose might feel like struggling into a girdle with the nylons already clasped in place. The package promised me an all-in-one, no seams, comfortable result. I bought them.
The next morning, I left the girdle in the dorm dresser drawer beside the nylons, put on my white gloves, and gathered up one leg of my new pantyhose. The first leg glided, easily, all the way up to my groin.
Now, I gathered the second stocking, but, once gathered, it was at my crotch, fully attached to the panty part of the garment. I would have to get my foot to my crotch to be able to place my pointed toe into the second leg. After losing my balance a number of times, I developed my half-mast style of getting into pantyhose.
The first stocking was lowered to the knee, and the second was brought up to the other knee. This wasn’t as simple as pulling on a pair of trousers, but it was easier than fighting with a girdle. I used two hands to guide the hosiery up my left leg a few inches, then gave my attention to the right leg, then back to the left leg and so on, until I had inched my pantyhose into place.
As I walked across the campus, in my tent dress, I thought everyone could tell I had left my girdle in the dorm, even though my dress didn’t touch my body anywhere but at the shoulders. By the end of a day of sitting, running across campus, and eating lunch on the lawn, I was hooked. After a few days, a snag led to a run, and even adding a drop of clear nail polish to each snag couldn’t prevent their eventual demise. I gave up a couple of lunches to buy another pair, and my love affair with pantyhose began.
The author in1968.
Last year, when we flew to Europe, I wore hosiery and boots on the plane. I arrived with slim ankles and no leg cramps. Our stewardesses looked glamorous in their flesh toned hosiery, and they told me they wear them on all overseas flights. I coveted their hosiery. I began to hatch a plan to shop for hosiery anytime, anywhere.
I discovered wonderful pantyhose in stores in Europe. I have also discovered the Internet for shopping and gathering ideas. We have to do the research, if we want to enjoy pantyhose. Even if you tend to be anti-pantyhose, I encourage you to learn more about what is available. Otherwise, when it is minus forty, you will have no choice but to wear pants.
Tips About Pantyhose:
1. Learn about denier. Denier is a unit of weight by which the fineness of silk, rayon, or nylon yarn is measured. Wearing a 40-denier stocking is like wearing a good foundation on your face. Bluish veins and sunspots are blended away. Opaque hosiery, like the tights you wear in the winter, would be at least 70-denier. The amount of spandex in the fibre content will contribute to how snug your hosiery will feel. The ones I choose can vary from 15 to 25% spandex. In most pantyhose, the panty has more spandex content than the leg.
2. Look for pantyhose with a built in bikini or tanga, instead of a fully reinforced panty. This design looks less industrial, and you don’t get a bump where the panty pressure changes to the leg pressure. Sometimes you can find pantyhose with an invisible panty. I am constantly searching for this style of hose.
3. Whether you wear panties under your pantyhose, or not, is a matter of preference. I usually do, because I have been known to remove hose that have developed unsightly runs or have become uncomfortable. By the way, if I am attending a special function, I carry extra hosiery in my evening bag.
4. If you wear pantyhose that haven’t an actual heel built in, sew a tiny knot of coloured thread at the center back of the waistband, before you wash them. That way, on your second wearing, the little wear marks from your heel won’t be on the top of your foot. Keep slightly snagged hosiery in a separate bag for wearing with your boots.
5. I give you permission to wear pantyhose with your open-toed shoes, but make sure you choose a nude or natural colour, and make sure they are not reinforced at the toe. This is just my opinion of course. All fashion ideas are just someone’s opinion. My mother’s generation wore ankle socks with pumps. I have recently seen this in the magazines, again, but I won’t be embracing the idea. This winter, in magazines, they showed black tights with open-toed gold shoes. That look wouldn’t work for me either. My view is that you wear whatever fits your style, makes you happy, and feels comfortable.
6. One mature fashion blogger, who creates YouTube videos on many fashion issues, recommends Donna Karan’s invisible pantyhose to wear with open-toed shoes. They are called Signature Satin with built in tanga and are 85% nylon and 15% spandex. They are only 15-denier, but she insists they enhance the leg by toning, and blending colour irregularities. Always open to a new concept, I have decided to try these, when I find them. It occurred to me that tinted moisturizer is translucent but still evens the skin tone of my face. Maybe my devotion to 40-denier semi-opaque hosiery will be challenged. Perhaps 15-denier pantyhose actually could work for me, for an evening out. The blogger’s name is Scarlett De Bease, and she is one of many fashion savvy people on the Internet.
7. The saddest thing about pantyhose is that just when you fall in love with a brand, they are discontinued. Never mind. Just investigate the hosiery department wherever you go. I have purchased good pantyhose in Austria, the Netherlands, and small town Saskatchewan. Read the labels carefully. Try them, and, if you love them, take a photo of the package with your phone, so you can find them again.
8. While writing this blog, the most amazing thing happened. I wanted to tell you that Secret is a wonderful company but sometimes they confuse their customers. For example, Secret Active has recently become Secret Sheer Energy. The Secret Collection, medium support hose, looks and feels similar to Secret Active, but the range is only available in certain drug stores. And so on and so on, but then something changed.
A couple of days before my blog deadline, I walked through the hosiery department at Sears, and, in the last aisle, I noticed Secret Revive, medium support leg, 40-denier, with…are you ready for this…INVISIBLE CONTROL PANTY! Oh yes, and they were on sale. The more you bought, the more you saved. They will have to restock this week. I smiled all the way to my car.
9. There are new lines emerging every day. It is good to keep up with trends. Try something by Pretty Polly, sometimes referred to as PP nylons. Their Naturals line promises to create a flawless finish, which they say is actually better than bare. Interesting! They also offer pantyhose with old-fashioned seams running up the back of the legs. Choose these if your outfit has a vintage look. You can find Pretty Polly at Shoppers Drug Mart.
If you are still with me, then I thank you, and I look forward to hearing your hosiery stories. Until then, I’d like to propose a toast to DuPont. We walk on nylon carpets, wear nylon blend fabrics, and use household items made from nylon. We also have to thank the DuPont team for creating the beloved spandex fibre, back in 1959. You may recognize their trade name, Lycra. Today, I am happy to wear an invisible panty in my nylon, spandex Secret pantyhose. I wonder what the future will provide for my comfort and camouflage.
circa 1975: Nylon pantyhose with no spandex did sag at the ankles.
FYI: The 1975 Eaton's catalogue featured one page of pantyhose and 10 pages of girdles.
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