Long before thigh highs and panty hose women wore stockings. Before nylon stockings they wore silk and thick cotton stockings. The cotton stockings were so thick you could darn them when they got a hole. They were so thick that they didn’t run. It is only in recent history, or more accurately the last fifteen or twenty years, that having bare legs, when donning formal or business clothing, was considered acceptable. Maybe I’m old-fashioned but I really think that stockings complete a look. Stockings and heels go together like ham and eggs, or Hall and Oates.
Stockings do a job. They hide nicks from shaving, keep you warmer in winter, even out skin tone, complement your dress or gown, and most important they minimize chubby calf and thigh jiggle. They can be serviceable, sexy, and down right erotic.
The more modern counterparts have their purpose as well. Panty hose smooth out the body line under a form-fitting dress. Thigh highs with lace tops are user-friendly and allow easy access to your panties for all sorts of reasons. The dark stockings invoke visions of Mrs. Robinson in the Graduate. Who can forget Anne Bancroft stretched out on the bed seducing Dustin Hoffman with the help of her black silk stockings?
On 116th Street between third and lex was the “Stocking Store”. You walked up about three steps into a store no wider than eight feet, housing a long counter which divided the establishment seventy/thirty. The seventy percent was allotted to the store owner, his glass counter, and back wall. The back wall held literally hundreds of half-inch boxes each containing three pairs of stockings.
Silk stockings were a closer fit then today. You bought them by the size of the foot in half-inch increments, and the length of one’s legs, short, medium and tall. The more expensive, the more sheer the stocking. Styles went from reinforced toe and heel (most serviceable) to cuban heel (the reinforcement although sheer was a bit darker design that covered the heel and then thinned out to ease up the back of the foot for about three or four inches.) They also offered nude toe and heel to wear with sandals. Seamed stockings (most common), or seamless, which was just coming in style when I was starting to buy stockings, made up all of the stock.
My mother told me that during World War II when the country needed silk for parachutes, it was very difficult for women to buy stockings. If a young lady went out for the evening she might draw a seam up the back of her legs with a dark kohl pencil. Everything was fine unless you smeared it. Shortly after the second world war nylon stockings came into vogue.
When you went into the stocking store to make a purchase you had to make several decisions. Size, gauge and shade. You can imagine all the shades, nude, tan, beige, white, light gray, dark gray, off black, midnight black, red, blue, were among them. Gauge went from opaque to so sheer you could read through them. At one time red shoes and red stockings, or blue on blue was a look and a luxury because they could only be worn with their mates. I’m glad that fashion went the way of the Dodo bird.
Once you made your choices the store owner would open the box to remove one of the stockings. He then gently slid his hand into the hose and spread his fingers so you could determine if the stocking was alluring enough. They were usually about sixty nine cents a pair.
All these leg coverings were held up with garters which were attached to a garter belt or girdle, panty or open bottom. The girdles were always instruments of torture and you rarely bought them in a true stocking store. I haven’t worn a girdle since the appearance of panty hose.
The only other items you could buy in this house of silk and nylon were gloves. Short, lace, white gloves to black opera length, every color and style in between were shown in his glass counter. Some gloves so long that you didn’t take them off all evening but rather unbuttoned them at the wrist, slipped your hand out and tucked the fingers of the glove inside the wrist of the glove. So elegant. The buttons were made of pearls or material covered.
Today the ‘Stocking Store’ and the shopping experience it afforded the women of the time is long gone. We buy panty hose, thigh highs, and yes stockings in a department store ,or lingerie store, or even Rite Aid. But I don’t think it’s quite the same.