“Just as we’re about to go on stage, I look down and see that one of my brand new rubber stockings has a rip in it, all the way from my knee up to my tight… A roadie, seeing my distress, leaps to the rescue and tapes the slash with a long strip of black gaffer tape. Looks quite cool”. This anecdote belongs to Viv Albertine and is included in her memoirs Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys (2014). It helps demonstrate how fragile our relationship with the mentioned garment can be. Tons have been printed in the pages of a book: one of the members of Mary McCarthy’s Group (1963) receives invaluable advice to try to solve her husband’s sexual problems with “black chiffon lingerie, stockings of black silk and cheap perfume ”(spoiler alert: does not work) as if the problem was hers and I bet you won’t disagree if I say that Bridget Jones (1997)’s stockings weren’t only suffered by her. More disheartening was CS Lewis choice of lefting Susan’s question unsolved by assessing she was only interested in “nylons, lipstick, and invitations” in the last installment of Narnia (1965).
Ode to a pair of stockings
Words by Raquel Fernández Sobrín
Not so long ago every year around this time the same question used to pop up in our brains: When exactly is the right moment to wear tights? Is it too soon? Is it too late to walk around in bare legs? I’m not sure if the doubt disappeared as I grew up or if it just turned out irrelevant now that considering how or when to wear something feels so dated -I’m open to hear your theories-, but I do -and I guess you do too- appreciate the freedom of being concerned only about actual problems.
Stockings, the only piece of lingerie traditionally exposed, have the questionable honor of being the most exterior of interior garments. That is probably why they’ve been playing both victim and executioner in women’s lives. They have been understood as social class markers since the price of silk made them inaccessible for the majority of the world’s population (we should stop romanticizing the fact that during the World War II women painted the sewing of pantyhose on the back of their legs as it is not an anecdote about overcoming, but great suffer) until the first decade of 2000, when not wearing them meant you belonged to that elite transported in private cars door to door. Executioner also since 1959, when they were already made in nylon and rayon and mass marketed, used to shape and conceal the legs of women in a single nude tone (the one of white skin). Executioner every time its use has been imposed in the workplace as part of a uniform to extend the same standardized idea of the female body. That dark side has also resulted in its use as a symbol of individuality and protest (especially in art); and it has multiplied its condition as an emotional object. It is not difficult to establish sentimental ties with a garment that spends so much time in contact with the skin after all.
Although in fashion we no longer talk about appropriate things or trends, stockings have long played a non-leading but a secondary and necessary role in collections. In the obvious category are those of Gucci or Chanel covered with logos, another point of access to a brand at a reasonably price (insert the sound of a register here). There are also those of Nensi Dojaka, as simple and complicated as the question of female identity; Supriya Lele‘s veiled looks or those that have brought strength back to Casey Cadwallader’s Mugler. This spirit, none other than that of independence, has been long represented in movies.
Shirley MacLein’s character in Irma la Douce (1963) can be summed up in the green stockings that Orry-Kelly put on her and the role of Chloe played by Meg Tilly in The Big Chill (1983) revealed with her white pair a face not shown in front of her late boyfriend’s friends. It is worth remembering the stylistic achievements of Parker Posey in Party Girl (1995) or the stellar performances of Liza Minnelli in Cabaret (1972) because no one (let me say it again: no one) have worn them on stage like her.
Art is definitely the field in which all the faces of nylon have been exploited the most, from femininity to fetishism, from submission to sexual freedom. Louise Bourgeois had the idea of creating mutant figures that would represent female torsos with them (she also used them to analyze the relationship between genres) and Sarah Lucas continued it with her “Bunny” series. Moldeable and malleable, they became the perfect padding for the chairs of Yayoi Kusama and Marianne Berenhaut used them to give life to her Poupées-Poubelles (1971-1980), a representation of her opinion on the feminist question and her rejection of the Vietnam War. From the same time is the work of Senga Nengundiy, and closer to our days Ni Una Más I (2003) by María Ezcurra.
Now that Casey Cadwallader has made them synonym of pop star again (Hello, Dua Lipa), it is difficult to think about tights and music without turning to the looks of whoever gives voice to the matter. But the effort, as usual, pays back. Ella Fitzgerald sang to the shiny kind, Josephine Baker felt like a million although she couldn’t afford a pair and Debbie Harry found the charm on its holes. I’ll stick with “The Last Time I Say Richard” by Joni Mitchell, because I was also wearing stockings the last time I saw him.
* The playlist about nylons you didn’t know you needed, here.
** This article revolves around the relationship of women with stockings, but it is convenient to take a look at the early years of Ulay’s work in which through them -among other things- he tried to put himself in the place of the other.
*** We can discuss bluestockings other time.