‘Strumpfhose’ was one of my first German words. Actually, maybe one of my first words at all. I grew up in English speaking Canada, my mother is Australian, and my father is German. We spoke English as a family and everywhere else, but there were a few German words brought into our ‘home language’ by my father. I thought these words were English until I was in school and realized that nobody else used them. Amongst these words were: Heilige Abend, (Christmas Eve) gefüllte Plätzchen, (jam-filled-cookies), and: Strumpfhose (tights). We’ve all got our own family-weirdness.
I hated ‘Strumpfhosen’. They were scratchy, were always somehow too short or falling down, underneath pants they just felt yuck. I had a complete aversion. As I grew older there were certain events or special occasions that you got “dressed up” for. Usually, for a girl or woman, that meant wearing a skirt or dress, which meant wearing tights. I would grudgingly pull out my tights only to find that they had a run, grab another pair, and finally put the tights on which had the least conspicuous run. Later, when I started working, I had to wear tights as part of a uniform, which actually felt like maybe it was a reason to quit. This aversion continued throughout my life, but never really played a role, as I ended up just not wearing legwear of any kind. And then I opened Petit Boudoir.
Tights (and stockings and stay-ups) play a definite role on the stage of the lingerie theatre. Maybe not the star, but they play a strong supporting role. There are bra and panty sets with a matching garter like a cherry on the cake. Plus, there is the joy of the ceremony of consciously and carefully getting dressed from the inside out. Knowing that all of your under-things are just right and you look and feel drop dead gorgeous from the first layer on. Nothing can get closer to you than lingerie, and legwear is thus in that category.
So, getting back to me… (haha) I opened Petit Boudoir, and I discovered quality legwear. My revelation started at the trade fair in Paris. The legwear companies I discovered offered an amazing range of fabrics, colours and styles, and the difference in haptic was incredible. I discovered Fogal of Switzerland, Gerbe, Wolford, Trasparenze to name a few. It was a pair of Fogal tights that turned my lifelong aversion to legwear around by 180°. Putting them on was like (apologies for the cliché, but it’s the truth) getting into a bubble bath. They fit a dream, no more sagging, no more falling down, they were simply wonderful to wear. I could finally understand the sensuality aspect of legwear.
And it wasn’t just me. Not long after I met my (now) husband, he put his hand on my leg (me wearing Fogal stockings) and suddenly stopped what he was saying and just said ‘Oh! Wow!’. It was almost a little (thrillingly) shocking how soft the tights felt. And here is where we get to the subject of stockings and men. From my experience in Petit Boudoir, I find men also tend to have a fairly decided stance on legwear. Some aren’t fussed, never think about it, are not interested. And then there are the men who find women in stockings absolutely to-die-for. I often had male customers come to the boutique especially for legwear for the woman in their life. They knew the brands, they knew exactly what they wanted, which always pleased me immensely, as there is nothing like meeting someone who knows what they (and you) are talking about. A little shared joy on a shared topic. I also had a few male customers who bought legwear for themselves, which is completely understandable. After all, why should this luxury be restricted to women alone? My favourite story was the customer who came into the shop and wanted 30 pairs of various legwear – every kind you can imagine. It turns out he had organized a special romantic city trip the weekend before. Dinner and theatre reservations had been made, everything was set for a dream get-away. While getting dressed to go out, his partner realized that she had a run in her stockings and had no extra pair along. She only had this one outfit for the evening and was forced to wear the ruined stockings. She was so conscious of the run and her ‘ruined’ outfit that it set her mood to pout mode for the entire evening…poor guy. He swore that would never happen again and hence prepared for the next romantic get-away with 30 pairs of legwear, whatever type her heart could desire.
Another favourite legwear anecdote is from a customer (Ms.B) who has a senior position in a large bank. Ms. B has a penchant for all things beautiful, but working in a conservative environment, it is difficult for her to add a personal touch to her business fashion. She is however a very creative woman and always finds a way to add just the right amount of personality to her work wardrobe. She had been trying to make contact with a potential client for some time and was attending a large conference at which this client was also present. During one of the breaks in which everyone was trying to catch the attention of this coveted client, it was him who came over to her, starting the conversation with: “Ms. B, I must compliment you on your lovely choice of legwear, it is so nice to see something a little different in an otherwise so boring sea of grey suits.”
I do not know whether Ms. B acquired the client or not, but at the least, it was a compliment and a way to break the ice. It has something empowering when one can find a way to be authentic and add an element, even to a ‘uniform’ that makes one feel comfortable. This helps us shine as individuals, and that always stands out in a crowd.
Legwear actually even has a bit of a socio-political history. Before the early sixties, fashion-accordance played a huge role in society. Women in particular were expected to conform to the dictates of fashion and any deviations were considered extremely daring. Part of the early fashion dictate was to dress ‘to look proper’ and that included wearing a skirt or dress and the underclothes of the day to cover your legs (usually stockings, garters, a girdle…). The legwear itself changed and developed over time. Tights for example gained great popularity with the arrival of the miniskirt. The models Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton, for example, donned colourful tights with their provocative miniskirts, and suddenly everyone had to have the look. (It had to be tights as the stockings and garter belts of the time would have looked silly peeking out from under a miniskirt) This is somewhere around the start of the turning point which marked women questioning conformity to the fashion dictates, and looking for freedom to dress comfortably and according to personal preference. With the women’s movement in the early seventies came a new way of thinking and what could be called an ‘anti-fashion movement’. Women (and men) started to dress on their own terms, putting their outfits together: Jeans, t-shirts, no bra, sneakers, etc. instead of what had been most ‘proper’ up until then, namely to dress as your mother dressed. “The collective sigh heard ’round the world in the early sixties was millions of women removing these cumbersome under-pinnings for the last time and stepping into a new, sleek freedom,” the Boston Globe reported in 1972. “The Great Underwear Revolution had begun.”
And now? On one hand, it seems to be ‘dress as you please’. Clothing oneself has become a melting pot of personal expression, comfort, fashion, practicality, gender roles/equality, a free-for-all. But then again not. At least not completely. We are still bound by social expectations, conformity, body image, and many other factors. And then we have lingerie. Which is also fashion. And this my dears, is what (amongst many other things) is so lovely about lingerie. In this one area, you can wear exactly what you please. It is for you, and only for you (and whoever is lucky enough to ‘see’ you in a more intimate sense). Legwear is admittedly more visible, but also somehow intimate, at least decidedly feminine. It is an avenue of personal expression that is easy to have a little fun with. A bit like being winked at in passing by a stranger on the street…a little flirt can make your day and somebody else’s!