I've worn a pair of pantyhose exactly once in my life. My uncle got married when I was twelve and somehow it was decided that I should wear pantyhose, so I did. I don't really remember anything about it except that the pantyhose I wore were made by L'Eggs and came in that awesome plastic egg I remember my mother having tons of around the house, as she worked in an office that required her to wear hosiery. As children, my brother and I did a lot of hilarious arts and crafts with those leftover 'eggs'.
I've never worn a pair of pantyhose since, and I can't really think of a single reason to wear them in this day and age. Maybe if you are a lady lawyer trying a landmark case against the tobacco industry and you're pretty sure they will end up making a major motion picture about you, so you want to give the costume designer a quirky character trait to work with later on?
Now that I've typed all that, I realize I kind of did wear pantyhose to my grandmother's memorial service -- they just happened to be sheer black with dots.
That particular occasion seemed like it called for leg-covering. (My gramma was a very proper Southerner her whole life, after all.) But I'd never have thought to wear the bog-standard flesh toned version, and I've attended a jillion weddings, baptisms and semi-formal events since then and didn't see the need to wear stockings of any sort, ever.
Stockings have actually been around in some form since the 1500's, but the sheer kind we know as modern pantyhose first made an appearance in the 1920's (right as hemlines started to rise). They were made of silk or rayon until late 1939, when nylon came on the scene. But World War II put the kibosh on nylon stocking production almost as soon as it had gotten started, as nylon factories switched to manufacturing materials for the war effort. Fashionable women of the 1940s had to make do with "Victory Hose" (a.k.a. leg makeup) instead.
Stockings came back with a bang at the end of the war in 1945 -- and throughout the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, pantyhose were a de rigueur part of office dress codes everywhere. But at some point in the early 1990s, women started to quietly ditch the pantyhose and rock bare legs with impunity. Now, in 2014, we have an entire generation of women who are entering the workforce to whom it would never occur to purchase or wear a pair of flesh-toned pantyhose, ever.
While some flight attendants and all Hooters waitresses are still required to wear nude pantyhose as part of their uniforms, almost every major American corporation has banished any mention of pantyhose from the pages of their dress code manuals. Outside of über conservative law firms, intensely formal occasions and Southern debutante balls, the answer to the question "Are pantyhose necessary?" is a resounding NO.
That is, unless you are a television actress in Hollywood. The women I dress almost never go on camera in a dress or skirt with bare legs. But nobody wants to look like they are wearing stockings either -- so I swear by Donna Karan's entire collection of "The Nudes." It's ultra-sheer hosiery and it really is the next best thing to bare legs.
They come in either sheer-to waist, panty or control top options and do a bang-up job of smoothing out minor imperfections and giving an ensemble a 'finished' look from hem to toe -- without ever calling any attention to themselves. You have to look really hard to even notice that someone has them on. They have zero shine and are ultra lightweight. We buy them twelve at a time and hoard them like old newspapers.
Their ultra-sheer nature makes them a little more fragile than the $10.00 stockings you can get at the drugstore, but a little babying (including putting on ALL of your jewelry AFTER your hose) goes a long way. The big drawback is that they only come in four different shades -- which isn't nearly enough. Donna Karan's B04 shade does a decent job on black women with lighter brown skin tones and darker Asian and Latina women, but when I need a bigger range of shades, I head straight for Falke's "Perfect Skin" line of stockings. They are a bit hard to find, but well worth the hunt.
If I were to attend a dinner at the White House, I'd probably wear a pair of ultra-sheer stockings just to feel completely "dressed." But until that invite comes, I'll be bare-leggin' it at parties, weddings and balls all across the USA. What about you?
I'm on Twitter: @IveyAlison