Pantyhose: Lingerie’s Party Crasher or Missing Link?

20 Jan

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By Adam Welsch
Naomi & Nicole®

Since their invention in 1959 and subsequent widespread dissemination during the 1960s, pantyhose have taken a central role in the wardrobes of many women.  Replacing the previous need for wearing stockings with garter belts or garter-equipped girdles, pantyhose changed the hosiery landscape forever and gave women new-found comfort and fashion flexibility.  But since their creation, their makers have tried to position pantyhose as products that do more than simply smooth legs.  They’ve been sold as panty substitutes, VPL erasers, light control shapewear, rump raisers, and functional (if not shaping) leg wear.  Given that, are pantyhose merely hosiery, as most retailers and consumers view them,  with lofty but unjustifiable aspirations to sit aside conventional panties and shapewear, or are they a unique class of intimate apparel – a hybrid of hosiery, panties, and shapewear – that complete the “under-things” spectrum from socks to bodybriefers?

Traditional pantyhose are pretty straightforward.  Their fabrics are usually made mostly of nylon, though they may have other fibers, like silk, incorporated into them.  They generally feature strong elastic placed at the waistline, thicker fabric used at the tummy, hip, and tush region (the panty), a piece of cotton placed at the crotch as a gusset, and thinner fabric used at the legs and feet (the hose).  They may also have thicker material at the toes and heels for added durability.  Of course, the primary purpose of a pair of pantyhose is to make the wearer’s legs look smooth and sexy.

But over the years, the pantyhose family has developed many branches that contain a variety of styles purporting to solve a wide variety of problems.  Perhaps the best known variation is the control top type.  These styles are made with fabrics that incorporate spandex fibers in the panty region.  Control top pantyhose are supposed to provide light control for the tummy, hips, and tush, eliminating the need for shapewear (which the creation of pantyhose had already reduced through marginalization of the garter).  Some specialized control tops are designed to provide a little lift to the tush.  Support pantyhose use spandex-infused fabric to deliver gentle compression to the legs. Though not normally promoted as garments that will slim the thighs, they often promise to “energize” tired legs, reduce the discomfort associated with varicose veins, and improve blood circulation.  All pantyhose styles made with cotton gussets can be worn as panty substitutes.  Not only do they eliminate the need for an extra layer of undergarments, they prevent the creation of visible panty lines with seamless, circular-knit transitions between the panty and hose regions.  And, of course, all types of pantyhose provide their wearers with an extra layer of warmth during colder months.

So, should pantyhose be considered hosiery and placed with socks in your favorite stores’ apparel departments (as most stores do), should they be thought of as panties and positioned next to brands promising an end to wedgies and VPLs, or should they be moved alongside foundation garments (bras and shapewear), owing to their functional abilities?  Most women who buy pantyhose do so primarily to improve the appearance of their legs.  A smooth, sexy look is sought to accompany a favorite skirt or short dress.  Though the other benefits described above are usually part of the package, products made primarily to control the tummy, lift the tush, eliminate VPLs, and ease leg discomfort do also exist.  But to where else but pantyhose do most women turn to obtain sheer, silky, and, sometimes, tinted or patterned legs?  It’s the primacy of the stocking characteristics of pantyhose that makes their continued classification as hosiery most appropriate.

Of course, the abilities to substitute for panties, eliminate VPLs, provide gentle compression to the legs, lightly control the lower torso, and even provide a little lift to the tush are real.  These are, generally, legitimately proffered claims made by manufacturers.  It’s for this reason that, although they should still be categorized as hosiery, modern pantyhose should also be thought of as the missing link on the “under-things” spectrum, connecting socks and stockings to panties and shapewear.  Their attributes do indeed warrant an invitation to the “party” of what is conventionally thought of as lingerie or underwear.

Next time you go shopping for pantyhose, stop for a moment and see how far they’re physically located from the store’s selections of socks, panties, and shapewear.  It’ll give you an idea of what the retailer sees as their primary purpose.  And finally, here’s a little piece of obligatory hosiery advice.  If you ever decide to put on your finest, little black dress and try to crash an A-list cocktail party, make sure to first check the fabric of your pantyhose for any missing links that might be the cause for any unsightly runs.

In addition to giving your legs a sheer, sexy look, why do you wear pantyhose?

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CC Image courtesyScooby1980 on flickr CC BY 2.0
CC Image courtesy JacobEnos on flickr CC BY 2.0
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