Much Ado About Hosiery

A Letter to Smithsonian Magazine

After reading Sloane Crosley's op-ed, "Why Nylons' Run is Over," in the May issue of Smithsonian Magazine, I found myself in complete disagreement. From my perspective, hosiery - nylons, stockings, thigh highs, pantyhose and tights - are a weekly part of my wardrobe and routine.

The article inspired me to explore the polarization toward hosiery and speak from my alternate world view: nylons and hosiery are still very much a part of the identity of the modern woman, and likewise, some men.

I believe it is safe to say we can all acknowledge the freedom that nylons bestowed to the 20th century woman. With the advent and popularity of nylons at that time, women could embrace an aspect of their bodies that was previously shunned in public. It opened up new directions for women's fashion, created a booming retail industry specifically geared toward women, and the positive sociological ramifications, specifically a freedom to bare legs, cannot be underscored enough.

Where some may see nylons and hosiery as an oppressive vestige of the past along with an increased popularity of bare legs and less rigid dress codes, I see hosiery as a ritual with lasting importance, embracing elements of femininity, sexuality and choice. 

I could probably dig up enough statistics, perspectives and anecdotes to counter Ms. Crosley's claims of the dying popularity of hosiery. In fact, I did uncover a few (thank you Duchess of Cambridge!). See the footnotes below if incredibly interested. However, for me, the importance that hosiery represents is an intangible connection to my femininity - it's intimate, erotic, empowering and distinctive. The tradition of wearing hosiery dates back to my Sunday School days, where hose was proper and necessary. As my body grew up and my tastes evolved, pantyhose became an indistinguishable part of my sense of style and sense of womanly self. I explored wearing bright colors, textures and patterns. I discovered thigh highs and stockings as an alternative to all-over hose. These discoveries and explorations about hosiery unlocked a freedom for me to communicate my sexuality, my sensuality, my body image and my individuality.

Ms. Crosley's claims that hosiery disguises the body, concealing our legs in a diversionary and shameful way. I disagree. My experience with hosiery focuses on the way it makes me feel, embracing the positive aspects of my body. Wearing hosiery - or pantyhose - elevates my sense of self. I feel a boost. I feel ready. I feel dressed up. This awareness of my legs hugged in silky, textural hosiery, is a statement of my femininity. I feel empowered, ready to take on the world. I don’t want to hide, but rather, I want to be seen and heard. If an accessory such as hosiery can help connect me to a commanding body image, I want to continue to celebrate these aspects that define me as a woman.

Additionally, there is an element of sexuality about hosiery that can not be overlooked. The garter and stockings have become an indulgence, a luxury - accessories which, by their nature, create an air of eroticism, vintage style and charm. Perhaps this may feel like misogynist socialization, the woman reduced to a sexualized object when displaying her legs clothed in thigh highs or stockings. However, I would consider this an opportunity to take back something used as suppression and control. Don’t burn the bra, make it you own and wear it for you. For me, thigh highs have become part of an expression of style, but I put them on with the knowledge of what they represent. They feel sensual against my skin, they feel present whether hidden or seen, they power the command of my sexuality and I own it.

Not only are Sloane Crosley’s assertions wrong, I think her opinions make assumptions that, ultimately, set women back. She, and Smithsonian Magazine, made a misstep on publishing this article without due diligence. With a rise in vintage styles and fashion upcycling, the popularity of boudoir photography, the trend of underwear as outerwear, I think there are numerous examples of a renewed interest in this former wardrobe must-have. Hosiery is an accessory that has become embedded into our culture and society, much like wearing a bra or underwear. It represents a personal style, a freedom of choice and the ability to embrace something truly feminine in ourselves. I, for one, want to elevate those incidentals that enable me to celebrate my womanhood.

A few perspectives on hosiery trends: