I started my new job this week and one thing I couldn’t let go of was the weirdly urgent need to find maternity pantyhose.
This was weird on the grounds that I scarcely ever wear pantyhose. I hate the control top; in fact, ten years ago I took all of my tights and cut them off at the thigh, using a garter belt to hold them up instead (a much more comfortable option if I recall). Since then, I only wore tights when I was feeling extra fashion-y in the winter (i.e. I wanted to wear a dress and it was cold out. Keep in mind most of this context relates to tights – not pantyhose.
Like many millenials, pantyhose was an uncomfortable and maddeningly easy-to-destroy garment required for special occasions. My mom went out and bought me real silk stockings to commemorate my prom (they were amazing – ripped them though…) I never wore pantyhose in high school or college. I am trying to think of an exception here … and I can’t. I didn’t even think to wear hose to my wedding, which is the most formal event I have ever participated in.
So why this need all of a sudden to wear pantyhose? I have had new jobs before – they didn’t incite this panic in me. I’ve worn pencil skirts to interviews with no hose and no remorse. What is happening to me?
Delightfully I have a book on the history of underwear in Minnesota which has been readily waiting for me to address just such a question for my project.
Silk stockings, much used by the upper echelons of society (think Marie Antoinette and that French king with the voluptuous calves), were not common undergarments for most people. In America in the 19th century, socks were typically wool or cotton – silk was reserved for the Very Fancy. When industrialization and imperialism made silk from East Asia more readily available, the market opened up, but it wasn’t until after the turn of the century that silk stockings became indispensable.
As you can see, my great-grandma Loney – as well as the majority of American women in the 1920’s – were opting for shorter skirts. And you had to have something covering you, didn’t you? Silk stockings were more available than ever and women were flocking to buy them.
In 1939, the invention of nylon made stockings more durable and less apt to run. Even in this day and age, silk stockings are expensive enough to drive you out of your mind when you accidentally put a run in them because of a hangnail putting them on for the Very First Time. Trust me, I know from experience.
By 1959, the pantyhose had been invented. It’s panties! It’s hose! It’s going to work with a mini-skirt! Cue about 3 decades of religious pantyhose use.
In the Mood for Munsingwear, by Susan Marks, notes that the Minnesota-based company was one of the first to establish a design department post WWI, for the purpose of keeping up with the latest trends. They sold underwear of all kinds, from long underwear to slips and bloomers to camisoles, nightwear, dressing gowns, bandeaus, bras, and girdles. Not to mention, silk stockings and nylon hose.
As for the Munsingwear book, I shall just say that I highly recommend it. It’s entertaining, well-researched, and there’s nothing better than supporting serious historical scholarship on underwear. With that said, I have to simply say that just as fashion trends repeat themselves over and over in cycles, so do undergarments.
Take a look at Spanx. Made from a pair of cut-off pantyhose (which were in turn originally preferred as an alternative to girdles), Spanx has become a household name. I’m sure most women I know have a pair in their drawer somewhere, from some special occasion. Well, rewind to the 1930’s and Munsingwear was developing the Foundette, a foundation garment combining a bra and girdle that looks strikingly similar to Spanx. The Foundette was made with Lastex, an elasticized yarn that could be incorporated into rayon, silk, nylon, or cotton. The idea was to get the support of a boned girdle or corset without the discomfort of boning (or the added heat of layers of sturdy fabric).
Which of these garments is the subject of this review?
“Without any preliminary fitting the garment is most comfortable. I like its lightweight, attractive material, and the fine support which it gives. As a matter of actual fact it has taken an inch off my waistline.”
To Hose or Not to Hose – That is the Question
Of course, I found maternity pantyhose. Of course, I bought the cheapest kind. Does it look like I’m wearing pantyhose? Yes. Yes it does, because my complexion is so pale as to appear slightly transparent. I can’t imagine they make a pantyhose light enough for my legs, unless they are made from a neon light.
Here are the things I ended up learning about wearing pantyhose, especially as I compared the experience to today when I decided not to wear pantyhose for the precise purpose of figuring out what the point of it all is.
- Maternity pantyhose, unlike regular pantyhose, provides me with much-needed belly support without the slicing of my midsection. My biggest beef with pantyhose prior to my pregnancy was that it was too tight around my belly and uncomfortably digging into my gut when sitting.
- When you buy cheap new shoes, pantyhose provides a barrier between your poor toes and the faux-leather plastic lining of those Target flats you ordered sight unseen. This may be the best and most important reason to wear pantyhose.
- Pantyhose prevents chafing. No more peeling your thighs off a vinyl-upholstered booth in your favorite restaurant on a hot day.
- Pantyhose, regardless of maternity or not maternity hose, still slides down and causes that uncomfortable feeling like you have webbing between your legs.
- The pantyhose I bought seems very impervious to runs. (Of course, now that I said that I will immediately put a run in them.) I’ve yanked on those things pretty hard to prevent #4 and they have held up. Guess there are times when you get way more than what you paid for.
- Pantyhose, and knee-high stockings for that matter (which I also bought for the purposes of #2), provide support for swelling in the calves, common to third-trimester mommas who get recurring Charlie-horses in the night.
- Pantyhose are suprisingly warm. In this strange time of Minnesota weather, that has been both a blessing and a curse, depending on the day.
Having been such a critic of pantyhose in the past, I’m still feeling rather confused with myself for wanting to wear them, just like that weird pregnancy craving that I can’t say no to. Since I am a critic myself, I feel a little self-conscious about wearing them so frequently to my new job. Do people think I’m overly formal or outdated for wearing pantyhose? Can they tell/do they care?
But maybe, just in case, I should get a sheer pair. (How much do you want to bet those sheer hose get a run in them just by looking at them sideways?)
- Marks, Susan. In the Mood for Munsingwear. Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2011. 72-81.