The panty hose...the torture device created by a man. Really? Yes, really. Why am I contemplating the essence of panty hose when Iran has now announced they've got another nuclear facility? Because I'm still thinking about my Russia trip and the fact that all of those beautiful women over there had on panty hose.
"The year was 1953 and if you were a woman, a night on the town meant either squeezing into a girdle or slipping on a garter belt. Formal dress dictated that females wear such intimate, and often uncomfortable, articles of clothing. How else could you hold up your nylons? Allen Gant Sr., then running textile company Glen Raven Mills, was inspired by his wife’s lament. “How would it be if we made a pair of panties and fastened the stockings to it?” he asked Ethel. She stitched some crude garments together, tried them on, and handed the products to her husband. “You got to figure out how to do this,” she said. Allen brought his wife’s experiment into the office, and with the help of his colleagues Arthur Rogers, J. O. Austin, and Irvin Combs, developed what they later called “Panti-Legs.” Their product—the world’s first commercial pantyhose—began lining department store shelves in 1959. “It was wonderful,” a 74-year-old Ethel Gant told the Associated Press 30 years later. “Most people my age loved them from the very beginning and couldn’t wait to get a hold of them. I don’t think we’ve ever changed our minds,” she said. Allen Gant Sr. had at least one satisfied customer, but the panty-stocking combo did not grab most women’s attentions at first. Though the convenience of not having to wear a girdle or garter belt was a plus, what helped pantyhose take hold was the rise of the miniskirt in the mid-1960s. For the fashion-conscious woman looking to wear a skirt shorter than stockings are long, pantyhose were the perfect fit. When iconic models such as Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy donned their mini skirts, demand for pantyhose exploded and women flocked to the stores for pairs of their own.
By the 1970s and 1980s, pantyhose were a staple in every teen and woman’s wardrobe. As more women headed into the workplace, sales of pantyhose only grew. In return, hosiery manufacturers continued to market new colors, textures, sizes and technology. “The silkiest ever,” teased one Hanes advertisement. “No one knows I’m wearing support pantyhose,” declared another.
Those glory days came to an end in the 1990s, a shift that Hosiery Association President Sally Kay attributes to a more relaxed work environment. “You saw the fashion pendulum swing more towards the casual,” she says. The industry witnessed a decline in pantyhose sales, and an increase in other products, such as tights and—with the rise of pants in the workplace—trouser socks.
Today, many women no longer feel pressured to don hosiery at all. First Lady Michelle Obama, considered a fashion trendsetter, has placed the garment in the retired pile. “I stopped wearing pantyhose a long time ago because it was painful. Put ‘em on, rip ‘em—it’s inconvenient,” she said on talk show, The View, last year. Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology is also not a fan. “It does not look good for pantyhose,” she says, “The long term trend is for people to dress more and more casually.”
Though numbers are down, with 1.4 billion pairs of pantyhose sold in 2008, it does not appear that pantyhose will go extinct anytime soon. For women in more conservative work environments, pantyhose are still a must. Some others still prefer the more traditional option. “Today’s consumer envisions hosiery as more of an accessory,” Kay explains.
Although Allen Gant Jr. doesn’t distribute pantyhose through Glen Raven Mills, his father’s legacy remains. “I don’t think he had any idea pantyhose would change fashion the way it did,” Gant Jr. says. From the runway, to the office, and now stored away in women’s dresser drawers, the garment has gone through several life cycles. But that’s the order of things in the industry. As designer Coco Chanel once said, “Fashion is made to become unfashionable.”
So, there's your history. I started asking some of my girlfriends if they still wore hose and most said "not in years" unless you're going to a wedding or live in a cold part of the country. Put your one foot in then the other foot, pull them up around your knees, stand up and try not to fall over, don't let your nails rip a hole in one, suck that stomach in for the appropriate muffin top, unless of course you've got on Spanx to the bosom line, pull, tug, wiggle, uh oh, wrong size. The crotch is still at the knees!!!