Christmas Stockings

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My fascination with nylons began one chilly December day as I Christmas shopped with my mother. I was about 5 years old and bundled to within an inch of my life in a heavy green wool coat and snow pants (a little girl garment now lost to history). My always-chic mother wore the era’s de riguer downtown shopping ensemble: a winter-weight dress, nylons, sensible pumps, her fur-collared coat, bespangled velvet crescent hat and slim woolen gloves.

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I looked down at her thinly covered legs and said, “Mommy, aren’t your legs cold?” She smiled down at me in her mom-ish way and said “Oh, no, honey, not at all. I’ve got nylons on.”

nylons kayser windowEver the curious child (some things don’t change), I yearned to discover how these virtually invisible garments kept Mommy’s legs so warm.

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Now, I’m not saying my mom was stretching the truth, but I’ll let you in on something: nylons are NOT cozy. But they do have magic powers we’ll be examining today.

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Stocking up

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While I don’t have million dollar legs like Betty Grable or ones that go for miles like Cyd Charisse,

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…(ok, technically, my legs ARE ridiculously long, but I can’t make them do the stuff she managed), I do adore wearing stockings.

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Stockings, mind you, as in nylons or hosiery, not pantyhose, the bane of every woman’s existence.

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Historically, stockings in their purest form represented a rite of passage for women in a gentler, earlier time.

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When the time was right, a girl shed her ankle-socks, bobby-sox or Bonnie Doone knee-highs, shaved her legs, and slipped into a new dimension of womanhood via the silken wonder of nylons.

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Little girls dreamed of the day they’d be presented with a pair of nylons, like Mommy’s.

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I’ll bet I’m not the only Boomer female who remembers the first time they wore real stockings! It was, no kidding, a thrill.

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By the time I was in sixth grade, only a few of the more sophisticated girls wore nylons for dressy occasions, like dances, traveling, downtown shopping or church.

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These mysterious, very grown-up accessories were attempted only by those girls who were certain that they would NOT be hanging upside down from tree limbs or mixing it up on the playground in a rip-snorting game of dodge ball. Smart girls.

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My nylon-clad peers advanced to a higher plane, leaving we mere “tomboys” behind.

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As early adapters, the class stocking girls maintained the home field advantage even when they switched out their nylons for the funky, wildly textured hosiery so popular in the late 60’s.

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Decades before this exciting explosion of color and texture, women coveted and cherished nylons that were as delicately spun as possible.

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The sheerness of the nylon (measured in the mysterious, all-but-forgotten word “denier”) indicated fineness, quality, and excellence.

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Color commentary

Shade variations were another secret of the harem girls had to learn before they could successfully navigate the bewitching world of nylons.

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For the fashionable woman, every outfit required a correspondingly hued stocking.

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As early as the 1930’s, advertisements instructed women to ensure their stocking shade harmonized with milady’s ensembles. Fawn, coffee, tan, bisque, nude, beige, rosy-beige, suntan—hue names like these were as mysterious and evocative to pre-teens as the bygone Crayola colors raw sienna and burnt umber as to us.

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Little girls wondered which stockings they would wear when they were finally *allowed* to don their first gossamer pair. Yes, I said allowed.

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Wise mothers regulated their daughter’s emergence into adult society, and one of the indicators (along with up-dos and lipstick) was wearing nylons.

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And Mother often went along when a young lady purchased her first pairs to ensure the size and shade most appropriate for her daughter! (That’s not to say many little girls didn’t sneak a pair of Mommy’s just to see what it felt like.)

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Myth and magic

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Since virtually every woman alive wore actual stockings, nylons were the perfect holiday gift.

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Savvy manufacturers made the packaging irresistible. The slim, flat box was typically adorned with a very artistic, evocative image.

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Hanes was the champion here—gifted artists (one in particular, a genius illustrator pen-named Bobri) created surreal dreamscapes and evoked romance that helped set their product apart from the herd.

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Other brands were built on guy-eye appeal…

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and practical considerations, like sturdiness…

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…entirely missing the opportunity to tap into a deeper yearning in the female heart.

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Sophisticated women and suburbanites loved Hanes’ advertising designs that evoked the gaiety of the circus or theatre…

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…the romance of medieval times…

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nylons hanes nudes…the drama of mythology. Hanes knew their audience and catered to it brilliantly.

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An artistic aside…
In the 50’s, Cannon Textiles hired some advertising team who tried to capitalize on the established trend of artistic renderings for nylon marketing out there. Theirs was a slightly different tack–their ads highlighted the day’s top illustrators/commercial artists and the artist himself (it was always a he) was featured in the ad! Not so sure who the audience was for those….But they do give us a nice insight into the male fascination with nylons. After all, pin-up girls typically didn’t wear pantyhose.

nylons cannon 2nylons cannon 3nylons cannon 4nylons cannon 5nylons cannon artnylons cannonGams with glamour

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Clued-in manufactures like Hanes understood nylons were symbols of femininity and, as such, merited a stylized, whimsical, romantic approach.

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They recognized nylons did more than protect a woman’s legs. Sheer stockings signaled that the wearer took her role as a woman seriously.

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There was something iconic about stockings–and for my money, still is.

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Stockings for Christmas

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Madison Avenue idea folks came up with some darling designs and clever packaging for the annual ritual of giving nylons for Christmas.

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When a wife or sweetheart saw that unmistakable, slender package under the tree, she knew someone admired her legs and appreciated her femininity.

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When a teen or a young lady saw that box, she knew she’d arrived!

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Maybe a gal was even lucky enough to get this DARLING little stocking-filled ornament. (Brilliant Hanes, once again!)

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Hosed by the 21st century

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Reduced to be cheap come-ons by the likes of the once-classy Victoria’s Secret, stockings are rarely a daily accessory as they once were.

nylons color gals(Boy, I wish I had a time machine and could snag a few of these stockings. No pun intended…)

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nylons adThigh-high stockings have been relegated to the boudoir or the clinch date.

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Nowadays–if they attempt them–women struggle to don real stockings, baffled by the bewildering accoutrement of seduction. And there’s rarely someone on hand to help them figure it out. Well, sister, you’ve come to the right blog.

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I’m here to tell you, aside from their undeniable glamour, stockings offer today’s women surprising comfort and a secret to smile about.

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I can almost hear your derisive laughter, dear readers, but I’m serious! When I was doing costume design for period pieces set in the 20th century, I routinely introduced the actresses to the joys of wearing modern nylons. More than one adopted the practice when the show was over!

nylons hanes 3The trick is finding a comfy garter belt (good luck). Most of them are itchy, lacy, ridiculous contraptions meant to baffle and titillate menfolk.

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A soft, stretchy, comfy version allows your nether regions unparalleled comfort and is endorsed by all kinds of medicos as a wonderful way to keep you healthier than pantyhose. (Victoria’s Secret had a stretchy, hook-free, pull-on number about 20 years ago–if you can find it on Ebay, it’s worth its weight in gold!)

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Beyond the breeze benefit

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Let’s think about the average life of a pair of pantyhose. (Side note: After YEARS of neglect, women wearing hosiery is in resurgence, thanks to Princess Kate Middleton and Donna Karan’s recent sexy ad campaigns.)

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Typically, you get one wearing out of a pair of pantyhose. ONE wearing. Then, it’s time to toss your sadly vandalized pantyhose that are flecked with snags and distorted with runs. That’s an expensive hobby!

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Ladies, set your sights higher!

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Okay, granted, with any form of stocking, you’ve got a 50/50 chance of them surviving the day intact. But, with stockings, if one leg suffers a mishap, voila, you can just get a matching leg from your stash. You do have a stash, don’t you?

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Want to give it a try?

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Once you’ve found a comfy garter belt, you’ll need hosiery that fits.

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Go to stockingirl.com or hunt up National Hosiery. Ignore the images of orthopedic and compression stockings and go right for the wonderful soft, stretchy, real stockings. They’re remarkable inexpensive, wear like iron, and are nicely sheer. (And yes, they have a great range of sizes.)

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If you want to indulge in the fun of colored stockings (and this is something I am mad for)…

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..visit stockinggirl.com and check out her thigh-high stockings (held up with or without garter belts)–she’s got a lot of pretty colored and textured options. Fair warning…do NOT visit her site at work. Unless you’d like a visit from HR.

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Winter-weight, warm opaque stockings can bring a sense of fun and dash to any skirt or dress you own.

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How to put them on—or things your mother should have taught you but you never asked

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Putting on your first pair of REAL stockings connects you to WWII gals who shrieked with glee when their returning GI gifted them with real silk stockings from Gay Paree…(Yes, that’s a nylon AUCTION to raise funds for the war effort!)

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And, in fact, to women through the ages who have cherished these air-spun dream-weavers.

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Hosiery how-tos

Every quality pair of stockings came with instructions for the rookie— essentially it’s a matter of gathering up the stocking…

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…and smoothing it up in stages over your clean, pedicured feet…

nylons sophia…then onto your moisturized legs.

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Hoisting said leg into the air in a perfect ballet pose isn’t technically necessary to the procedure, but if you’ve got ‘em, smoke ‘em.

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With real stockings, if you have a toe and heel guard, you’ll want to pay attention to where that’s going.

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Many modern stockings are sandalfoot and have no nice double-woven toe cap (which is marvelous for checking runs at the source, your sharp toenails). Vintage stockings had toes, soles, and heels designed to outfox runs.

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Attaching the stocking’s welt (the sturdier woven band at the top that usually features the manufacturer’s name and/or icon) to the garter fastener takes some practice…

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…but once you get the knack of it, you can do it in a pitch-dark bedroom. Not that I’ve ever had that experience. Strictly theoretically speaking, of course.

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The trick is to place enough of the welt behind the nub to make sure it won’t slip free when you’re, say, sprinting for a bus.

BLACK SILK STOCKINGSThat whisper of silk

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The true magic is knowing that you’re wearing stockings. Real stockings. Like a movie star.

nylons mm 2After your first few self-conscious days, you’ll discover that the freedom of movement combined with the fun of feeling like a pinup is a wildly empowering combination.

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Still not sure? Ask the man in your life if he likes them. I bet I know the answer.

nylons xmas giftAnd if you’re very, very good, you might just find a beautifully packaged, lovingly kept vintage pair beneath your tree or in your OTHER stocking this Christmas.

nylons van r xmasMerry Christmas, darlings!

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