Why Pantyhose Became A Fashion Relic

When it comes to fashion, history has a way of repeating itself. From the maximalist '50s to the artsy-psychedelic '70s to the minimalist '90s, the iconic looks of the past decades never stop working their way back into vogue on and off the runway every season. There are exceptions, though. Pantyhose — a "de rigueur" undergarment for ladies from the '60s until the late '90s — is poised to become a fashion relic.

Back in the day when it was inappropriate for women to put their bare legs on full display, it was a norm for women to wear this sheer, tight-fitting legwear called pantyhose with knee-length dresses and skirts. Not only does a pair of pantyhose give your outfit a polished, dressed-up touch, but they also help your legs look flawless and toned — especially on days when you're too lazy to shave.

However, fashion changes with the times, especially in the wake of a major shifting landscape of gender. Nowadays, people who wear traditionally female attire see fashion as a way to highlight their singularity and encourage gender fluidity. And nothing says reforms like choosing comfort over tradition. Anyone who has worn pantyhose knows how frustratingly long it takes to put them on and how one slight scratch on your legs can give them runs and tears. For those who think there's still a place for pantyhose in the ever-changing fashion world, we hear you. Still, we think pantyhose has fallen out of favor with the fashion gods for eternity.

The history of pantyhose

Allen E. Gant — a designer then running the textile company Glen Raven Mills — is credited with the invention of pantyhose in 1959. Per Smithsonian Magazine, the initiative struck him while Gant Sr. and his pregnant wife were riding a night train to North Carolina from New York City in 1953 when his wife Ethel told him that this would be her last trip with him until the birth of their child as it was getting increasingly uncomfortable for her to squeeze into her old-fashioned panty girdles and suspenders.

Since necessity is the mother of inventions, that situation motivated Gant to help his wife look public-appropriate without forgoing comfort. Gant asked her to attach a pair of stockings to her panties as a simple prototype. Then, with the help of his colleagues at the mill, Gant turned the crude garment into what later became known as pantyhose. The world's first pantyhose hit the shelves in 1959 and became a womenswear staple by the mid-'60s.

Pantyhose — which extend from waist to toe — are the more evolved version of stockings — which rise to mid-thigh and are traditionally held in place with suspender belts. Most pantyhose are made of nylon and spandex, providing the legs sufficient stretch and remaining form-fitting while hiding physical blemishes and panty lines. They also fit all types of footwear. Soon, women started wearing pantyhose as a functional piece under their skirts, dresses, and shorts when in public.

Why pantyhose fell out of favor

With the world increasingly leaning toward a more natural look in the past two decades, many women have ditched hot and stuffy pantyhose for bare legs in warmer months. Most modern women just no longer feel the need to cheat with sheer nylons to feel confident anymore. That said, fashion rules and protocols vary according to settings. For royal ladies like Kate Middleton and Zara Tindall, wearing hosiery in public is a norm. Royals are expected to look fashionable and sensible at the same time, and hosiery is often considered a more refined option compared to nude legs. 

Besides, many people are not seeing themselves putting pantyhose back on anytime soon because they are especially inconvenient. These one-piece hosieries might be more convenient than the 1930s' metal boned corsets or 1940s' restrictive panty girdles, but they are no match for nude legs, comfort-wise. Most pantyhose are made of nylon, which clings to your legs and makes them feel constricted. Not to mention, this stuffy material is super slippery and easy to get ripped. Pantyhose have a tendency to make your heels slip out of the back of your pumps and throw you off balance. If wearing pantyhose the right way takes some getting used to, walking in heels and wearing them requires practice. Beg to differ? You might as well start a TikTok trend challenging people to put on pantyhose standing up and see how many can get in on the act.

How to style pantyhose

While an increasing number of societies are becoming more receptive to bare legs, it's wise to stick to pantyhose in certain situations. For instance, if you're dressing for an interview — especially if that's a company with a conservative work culture like Japan — you should err on the side of caution and wear pantyhose underneath your skirt. Your pantyhose can be in any shade of nude but should be pattern-free to avoid conveying unprofessionalism. It's always better to be slightly overdressed on a formal occasion than to be underdressed. To lightly flatten your stomach, opt for control-top pantyhose. Not only can they give your legs an airbrushed, slick appearance, but they can also slightly contour your waist and hips so you'll look fitter in the areas that are out of shape.

When it comes to choosing between opaque and sheer pantyhose, keep in mind that both types offer decent coverage for your legs and give your outfit an overall dressed-up look. However, a pair of opaque pantyhose will help you effectively hide pronounced blemishes or varicosities. Meanwhile, sheer panties can only help you cover mild imperfections on your legs but are suitable for both work and play outfits. Due to their sleek designs, pumps, boots, and flats are the most suitable pieces of footwear to pair with pantyhose. For a laid-back and chic look, loafers or sneakers are also a great idea. 

How to embrace naked legs with confidence

Pantyhose might not be the biggest fashion pet peeve in the grand scheme of things, but they can really cramp a busy person's style. If you want to heave-ho your hose, there are other ways to bring sexy legs that don't involve sheer covering. For instance, a self-tanner or any type of liquid body makeup can help you achieve effortlessly immaculate legs glistening with a healthy sun-kissed glow in a spritz. Tanning lotions and leg makeup products are available in varied shades and are effective in masking minor imperfections. If you want to make your legs look slimmer, apply some highlighter down the center of your legs and use a brush or your fingers to blend out the product. 

In the early 20th century, razor blade makers started selling the idea that hairless legs and armpits are an indicator of femininity and hygiene with the aim of selling more razors to women. If you really buy that idea, consider going for laser hair removal, which is a more lasting solution than shaving or waxing. Laser hair removal also allows for thinner hair regrowth and prevents unsightly marks of cuts and burns on your skin. Exfoliating your legs once per week and lathering them with body lotion once a day after shower is also a great way to keep them hydrated and smooth. Most importantly, always cover your legs with sunscreen before walking out the door to keep them UV-protected and truly healthy.