The history of pantyhose that redefined fashion

Written by Linda Chan, CNN San Francisco, California

A fashion show in New York City in the early aughts is believed to have sent then 14-year-old Anna Wintour running out of the show and into the arms of her six-months-pregnant assistant, Cristina Marchetti.

The two women found shelter from the sweat of the other models in a dark corner of the merch hall, where Wintour wore a stocking on her head, and Marchetti, a set of pantyhose under her low-slung denim shorts, covering her bare legs.

That was 1995. Today Wintour is editor in chief of the glossy magazine US Vogue, and the pair are still making pantyhose stylish.

Pantyhose have been a fixture of fashion for almost 200 years, dating back to when, in 1870, an English miller and businessman named Joseph Boot invented the fabric to protect his trousers from their hems tearing.

Despite these early uses, pantyhose have been shut out of the mainstream until recently. They were previously a thing of the past for men and women, just like ’50s singer Alan Lomax, photographed in undies after starving himself for days, according to The Kit

Now, however, thanks to the rise of athleisure, fashion designers are returning to the pantyhose. At the 2018 New York Fashion Week, designer Agnes Martin used pantyhose to fashion her wardrobe. Her designers injected it with bedazzled bows and sparkles, which she then turned into dresses. Even a 14-year-old boy did something different with them, turning them into full-length shorts on a recent fashion show.

They look good in flats too

While the two women may appear to have spent hours agonizing over their looks, it seems their pantyhose decisions were made in a much more casual way — contrary to decades of mainstream Western society’s imagery of women in pants, pantyhose have been made comfortable for women who are not wearing pants. (Thankfully, they also look great on guys too.)

“Throughout history, pantyhose have been worn as a solution for someone who was no longer comfortable or possibly even flattered to wear pants,” said co-author Lauren Valentine, a fashion photographer and hair and makeup artist. “In other words, you could make a pantyhose look sophisticated by wearing it with an outfit that suits you better. And, you could wear it solo in comfortable flats, making it a solution for either side of the contrast coin.”

From the waist down, the Pantyhose Liberation Movement had its roots in the 1970s, with the likes of Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington and others, wearing the fabric in open-toed or stiletto heels. Although these clothing choices were unconventional for most, the move was celebrated as a sign of women finally feeling comfortable enough to dress for themselves, rather than male fashion editors or bigger self-professed style icons.

Men — interestingly enough — were never quite as sure about the right way to wear pantyhose, and the fad stalled quickly after they caught wind.

“Although a pantyhose look is not as universally known as a shoe or handbag, pantyhose is an intrinsic part of a woman’s wardrobe. They make work clothes look better, make feminine clothing more stylish and shape and define a woman’s silhouette,” said Vincent Nomodoro, co-owner of Los Angeles nail bar Unicorn Hair and creator of the color called Hearts Beneath Earth (THB), which features black pantyhose.

“The endless use of pantyhose in Hollywood, including lots of ‘Mad Men’ when things could always look better, fed the fashion-consuming public’s belief that they could wear pantyhose in any form, and that beauty does not require pants,” said James Winter, senior editor of Dazed Digital.

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