The Ninotchka Hat Blog


On the care and feeding of vintage stockings
July 30, 2010, 6:39 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Before bare legs, before pantyhose, there was the humble stocking, universally worn by women from the Middle Ages until about 1965. They could be anything from the heaviest wool to the sheerest nylon, but all women wore them. In these barelegged times, the idea that stockings could be as necessary as bras and panties are today, would strike many women as odd, but in times past women would sell their souls for a pair of nylon or silk stockings. During World War II when nylon and silk for coopted for military uses and ordinary women were reduced to rayon and (gasp!) cotton stockings, real stockings a valuable commodity on the black market. Never mind that they provided no warmth and acquired runs easily, real stockings were worth twice their weight in gold.

Most women’s legs, when you take a good look at them, aren’t particularly attractive. They’re covered with bruises, scars, varicose veins, razor stubble, and the odd little hair. Stockings preserved the essential shape of the legs while eliminating the more unsightly aspects and giving the legs a little bit of a sheen. Before the 1950s stockings were typically “fully-fashioned” meaning that they had a little seam running down the back of the legs. Alluring — yes, but notoriously difficult to keep straight

Vintage Fully-fashioned stockings ad

 These would gradually give way to the seamless type by the 1950s when a circular weaving technique was developed to create them.One thing that a lot of people don’t realize about vintage stockings is that they have very little stretch to them. Therefore they had to come in specific sizes that were determined by foot size and leg length.

 One surprising and pleasant thing about vintage stockings is that they tend to be somewhat more durable than modern ones. I went out for a ten mile walk in a pair of 1950s stockings and I didn’t even put a hole through the toe, which I always do with modern pantyhose. The downside is that the vintage stockings can sag, leaving some unbecoming ripples in otherwise attractive legs.

One final note on garter belts and girdles. Rubber, as a general rule doesn’t age well. This extends to vintage foundation garments. I’ve fiddled with vintage garter hooks at vintage stores only to have them practically dissolve into powder in my hands. As with functional footwear, modern is usually better when it comes to vintage foundation garments. That being said, a few weeks ago, I walked into a La Senza Express and picked an adorable little garter belt for only $8. It has proved to be remarkably sturdy. Many lingerie shops will sell garter belts but many are for fetish wear of some kind and shouldn’t be used as an everday garment. If you’re a vintage enthusiast or even if you regularly don panyhose, you should probably check out some vintage stockings!

1950s girdle with garters