As a person of venerable age, I have lived through the evolution of countless objects and materials, from dip pens to word processors, rotary phones to mobiles, and paper, leather, and celluloid to plastic everything. And I have endured in my very flesh the transformation of female undergarments from girdles to garter belts, pantyhose, and no hose.
I wrote here about my traumatic introduction to girdles at age twelve. Then in college I discovered, among other things, the garter belt, a contraption nowadays confined to erotic uses and drag queen shows. The garter belt, in case you hail from a PG planet, fastens around the waist, and from it hang four elastic bands, each with a garter at the end, to which one attaches the stocking tops.
Garter belts had the advantage of being less hot and constricting than girdles. But as the stockings pulled down on the garters, this caused the belt to exert pressure on the small of the back, which used to give me a peculiar, persistent ache that I later realized was similar to, albeit less severe than, labor pains.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the arrival of the miniskirt in the mid 60s prompted the invention of the pantyhose. Like girdles, pantyhose could be constricting unless you pulled them on perfectly straight from toe to waist, and they were certainly miserable in hot weather. Also, if you got a snag in one of the legs, you had to throw out the whole thing, which seemed wasteful. A fellow graduate student (and nobody was better at economy than graduate students) used to cut off the snagged leg, save the rest, and when another leg on another pair went bad, cut it off and combine the remaining unsnagged pieces. This meant two layers of sweaty spandex around the hips and belly, but it was economical. I preferred to reuse my torn pantyhose as ties for staking tomato plants or, knotted tightly, as tug-of-war toys for my puppies.
Pantyhose and their little sisters, the knee-high stockings worn under “dress pants,” held sway through most of my professional life. My preferred brand of pantyhose, because you could get it in any drugstore or supermarket, came inside a plastic egg, its name, L’eggs, a bizarre pun with bilingual pretensions. Then sometime in the early 21st century both pantyhose and knee-highs suddenly became vieux jeu, and women showed up bare-legged at work and weddings.
Now, it seems, pantyhose are back—not, however, as something to be worn under a dress or a skirt, but as something to be worn instead of pants. Who would leave the house in this state of undress, you ask? According to The New York Times, not just models on the runway, but celebrities and influencers everywhere. And, pretty soon, you and I: “…given that extreme runway fashion has a way of trickling down and becoming digestible for everyday, and given the talent Miuccia Prada has for making today what everyone wears tomorrow, odds are that the no-pants-but-pantyhose look may lead, ultimately, to a pantyhose renaissance.”
Now for the obvious question. What am I doing, as the world goes to hell in a handbasket, reading about pantyhose in the NYT? Reader, these days a mere scan of the headlines is all it takes to plunge me to the depths of d. So in my search for temporary relief, and it is temporary, I delve into articles about pantyhose, about whether it’s o.k. to drink coffee on an empty stomach, and about how Joan Baez sleeps in a tree and feels more creative at 82 than she has in years.
Today I found consolation in the story of Fiona, “Britain’s Loneliest Sheep,” who not only survived but grew fat on grass while stuck for two years at the bottom of a Scottish cliff. She has now been rescued and is doing fine. And so am I, thinking of her, at least for a little while.