How Hosiery in Literature Stirred Classic Controversy
Hosiery has long been a secret weapon of femininity, allure and fashion. It’s nearly impossible to pick up a trendy magazine and not see a glossy editorial featuring a model wearing nylons, thigh highs or patterned tights. Catwalks, The Victoria Secret Fashion Show, and amateur runways achieve peak aesthetic vision with lace, sheer, backseam and opaque hosiery accents to command the attention of the audience without distracting from the garments. Stockings are sexy and a visual cue of ultra-feminine appeal. But, has that always been the nomenclature of hosiery? Let’s look back at a few examples in literature that prove hosiery has always been a provocative staple of American culture. Some of our most-loved authors couldn’t resist writing about pantyhose and some even managed to stir memorable literary controversy.
F. SCOTT FITZGERALD - The Great Gatsby (1925)
The elaborate parties featured in The Great Gatsby are lavish affairs with fashionable people, superb entertainment, and beguiling glamour. Stockings were a staple of 1920’s fashion since bare legs weren’t quite accepted yet. Our ideals of Gatsby-themed parties and the roaring 20’s conjure images of flappers and fishnets, however only stage performers actually wore fishnet stockings, despite Hollywood’s skewed depictions of the time. The true legwear fashion of the 20’s were solid black, white, skin- toned, pastel, embellished or patterned hosiery.
JAMES JOYCE - Ulysses (1922)
James Joyce wrote about Gertie McDowell leaning back while watching fireworks and exposing her hosiery to Leopold Bloom in Ulysses. A small magazine, The Little Review, was publishing segments of the work in 1920, but after the Nausicaa episode, they were forced to stop, convicted of publishing obscene material, and fined $100. The editors Margaret Caroline Anderson and Jane Heap were brought to trial under the Comstock Act of 1873 which made it illegal to circulate obscene material in the U.S. mail. Heap argued:
Mr. Joyce was not teaching early Egyptian perversions nor inventing new ones. Girls lean back everywhere, showing lace and silk stockings; wear low-cut sleeveless blouses, breathless bathing suits; men think thoughts and have emotions about these things everywhere--seldom as delicately and imaginatively as Mr. Bloom--and no one is corrupted.
HENRY MILLER - Tropic of Cancer (1934)
This novel, also considered obscene, was another crusading text in free speech and literature that dared be deemed too sexual, and included detailed imagery of a woman's stockings.
She didn't wait for you to come to her — she went out and grabbed you. I remember so well the holes in her stockings, and the torn ragged shoes; I remember too how she stood at the bar and with blind, courageous defiance threw a strong drink down her stomach and marched out again. A hustler!
C.S. LEWIS - The Last Battle (1956)
When Susan discovers sexuality, stockings and femininity in the last of the Narnia books, Lewis decides that Susan has simply moved on from Narnia, much to the criticism of many modern feminists.
Oh Susan! She's interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations.
VLADIMIR NABOKOV - Lolita (1955)
One of the most famous and controversial novels of the 20th century, Lolita, has influenced its own subculture fashion look that almost always includes long socks, ruffle socks, knee socks and connotes a childlike or cutesy look.
She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.
Almost a century has passed since the mere mention of stockings can land you in a courtroom, but the captivating nature of hosiery remains just as desirable. Bare legs are culturally acceptable, yet the hosiery industry continues to grow and evolve—now evoking the personal style of the wearer—whether that means elegant, playful, gorgeous, edgy, on-trend or curiously individualized.
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