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Just Say No to Pantyhose!

By Eve Marx

My animosity towards pantyhose began in eighth grade. While most if not all of my girl friends loved them, and even my mother, sick of girdles and garters, was thrilled to trash her garter belt, I actively disliked, even hated, pantyhose pretty much from the start. In 1969 when Hanes introduced L’eggs as an inexpensive brand of the still-new pantyhose, in modern language, the brand went viral with its product slogan, "Our L'eggs fit your legs.” Women crowded L'eggs boutiques serviced by L'eggs girls, tarted up in charcoal gray “hot pants’ uniforms to show off their L'eggs. Pantyhose was imagined to be daring, modern, and sexy; girdles and garters and stockings, worn by women for generations, got the toss.

And so it was with great satisfaction I recently read a scholarly think/piece in the New York Times Style section a few weeks back about pantyhose's political and social ramifications.  The piece was generated by news that the Mayo Clinic, a bastion of sartorial correctness, where there has never been and never will be such a thing as “Casual Friday" and no one is allowed to wear denim or fleece, recently abolished its hosiery requirement for women. Sing it loud and sing it clear: at the Mayo Clinic, bare legs are okay. The feminist bias for trousers as opposed to skirts notwithstanding, at the Mayo Clink, nylon sheathed limbs previously signaled decorum. The Mayo Clinic’s new decree allows it is purely a matter of personal taste whether a woman bows to old vestiges of the social framework, or elects to put on display her gnarly knees.

Now back to me in 8th grade. I’d been pummeled into pantyhose at that point for about a year. Never much of a dress wearer in any case, pantyhose entered my world the spring of  eighth grade while I was in enrolled in a ballroom dance class all the nice kids had to take. We were taught the Waltz, the Foxtrot, and the Cha-Cha and some social dancing. The big social dance at the time was the Monkey. The Hustle hadn’t yet been introduced. Boys had to wear a white button down shirt and a tie and dress trousers and dress shoes. Girls had to wear a dress and white gloves. The recommended female hosiery was white ankle socks, but the cool girls in the class all wore pantyhose. I was a cool girl.

After dance class was over, I refused to wear pantyhose ever again. I despised their weird sheen and I hated how tight and uncomfortable they were, like squeezing into sausage casing. While friends claimed they were warm, I thought them suffocating. I had friends who loved their pantyhose so much they wore them under tight jeans the way some women today wear long-legged, full lower body Spanx. There was a lot of conversation I recall whether or not you wore your thong (another new item) underneath or on top. When pantyhose with a cotton crotch were introduced, women were quick to embrace them.  

I feel much less stressed these days about pantyhose, knowing they are purely optional. I think having more options, not more rules, is generally less stress-making. Back in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s when my friends and I were all on the fast track, endeavoring to make a name for ourselves in our work, pantyhose played a part. I remember a friend who worked in the superstressed world of global banking telling me rather scathingly it was a good thing I’d chosen publishing because my refusal to wear pantyhose wouldn’t cut it at Goldman Sachs. But even in the offices of a national magazine where I was a junior editor, one of the bosses told me not to come in bare legged to work on a hot day because “We’re not at the beach, you know. This is an office.” You could say I became a freelance writer because there is no dress code. I can choose to work, if I want, in my bathrobe.

I say if you enjoy your pantyhose, by all means go on wearing them. You might feel their intrinsic snugness offers you a sense of security and safety, sort of how Thundershirts work on anxious pets. But if you’re like me and you prefer your legs and bottom and midsection to feel free and liberated, pull open your underwear drawer and throw out those old balled up pantyhose you’ve collected. While you’re at it, nix the Spanx as well. At our age, a little jiggle is the New Normal.

Eve Marx is an author and journalist. Her most recent book is “Beddington Place: Watch Your Back, Cover Your Tracks.” She is also a Reiki master and lives in the Pacific Northwest where no one wears pantyhose or even sees fit to “get dressed.’