We have spent hours (mindlessly, sometimes), scrolling through our Instagram feeds. We come across individuals experimenting with fashion, playing with colors, latching on to trends; deciding what’s chic and what’s not. Fashion has evolved. It has taken a few steps backward to come forward. Fashion causes an uproar, it demands changes. Fashion has made individuals tolerant of one another. The same goes for fishnet stockings and tights.
The fishnet stockings and tights have come a long, long way.
The term “fashion stockings” was in use by the 1800s, but it didn’t appear in the Oxford English Dictionary until 1933. The first mention of this term was in one of Aesop’s fables in the 1900s. In the story, “The Peasant’s Wise Daughter”, the peasant is guaranteed his daughter’s marriage if she proves to the king how clever and intelligent she is, standing true to the claims. The king says, “come to me not clothed, not naked, or riding…”. The daughter, with a fashion sense that’s absurdly ahead of her time, covers herself in a fisherman’s net and returns to the king. Come to think of it, it was genius. Pure genius on her part.
This fashion trend came to America in 1908, from Paris, France, and became increasingly popular in the 1920s. Flappers, burlesque dancers and stage artists were quick to adopt this fashion trend. They wore it underneath their dresses to allow freedom of movement and be fully themselves. But when it came into being, this trend wasn’t wholly accepted. According to opposers, this was worn by women of questionable standards.
This opposition qnd resistance can be traced back to orthodox times.
In the early Victorian era, high necklines and long dresses were in vogue, and showing skin wasn’t considered very lady-like. A slight glimpse of their legs might have been considered the most impishly attractive thing, but the outright skin show was considered to be highly ignoble for a woman.
Ironically, these women wore black stockings to cover up their legs – the same stockings that would later reemerge as a fashion trend with the rock punk age and Madonna, of course. They were made in different colors and patterns to downplay the sexual connotations.
Many actresses from postmodern era imperiously donned it. Madonna is a classic example, being a prominent representative of this trend. She appeared wearing fishnet gloves, pants, and helped this fashion trend become more mainstream. It has not taken long for stockings to become waist-high pants called fishnet tights. Fashion icons and big-time celebrities like Audrey Hepburn, Abbe Lane, April Kent, Debbie Reynolds, Evelyn est have all appeared wearing fishnet stockings.
In the 70s, punks embraced them. They ripped and tore these to imply and declare this association with violence, sex, and rebellion. The holes were also modified and expanded to suit the punk culture. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is yet another example of how this trend was closely associated with sex and could be worn by all, regardless of their gender. It grew enormously popular, and just for the right reasons.
It is a boisterous way to rebel and who doesn’t like a rebel with a cause. Celebrities, like model Kendall Jenner, rapper Cardi B, OUR VERY OWN LADY GAGA, Rita Ora, Gwen Stefani, have all appeared wearing the fishnet stockings one time or another. This kind of liberation has emancipated women coming from all walks of life to break free and men to embrace their true selves. The change in the idea of sexuality- how one can be beautiful and sexy and still not feel sexualized. There’s a fine line between the two.
Roland Barthes, a French philosopher, stated that the association between fishnet and sexual liberation is because of “intermittence”. In 1973, he wrote that the most erotic parts of the bodies are the areas where clothing open. He said, “it’s the intermittence of skin flashing between two articles of clothing”, that’s sexy. Not traditionally the person’s erogenous zones. In 2014, fashion historian and expert Valerie Steele expanded his theory and stated that “the interplay of seen and unseen, the very essence of striptease is distilled in fishnets”. Paradoxically, fishnet stockings and tights make the ‘skin that’s covered’ look even sexier. It’s the conceal and the reveal that makes it stand out. One wouldn’t even realize that there’s bare skin peeking out of the diamond knit holes from afar. This gives artists belonging to the indie and subculture something to play with.
Women, like burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee and in the later years Bettie Page, broke free and embraced their femininity and if they can do it, what’s stopping any of us? Today, six decades down, we’re still wearing our fishnet and in that process going backward to move forward and help fashion evolve, by distorting and disfiguring it at times, but assiduously working to make it better and demand changes through it.