Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hooray for Hosiery!

I remember the day I first glimpsed bare legs on a grown-up woman on a blustery winter day. It wasn't a collegiate atmostphere where one finds the perpetually underdressed. Or on a high school athlete who is leaving field hockey or soccer practice without covering up in sweats. No, it wasn't even an all-too-common holiday party scene where the halls are decked with rosy-cheeked girls sipping on mulled wine clad in sheer silk dresses, strappy heels, and not much else to shield them from the frosty December air.
The scene was the middle of the day in our nation's capital where I labored at the time, poor and sharing a house with 3 others but happy to be involved in the exciting events of Capitol Hill. The victim (or should I say the perpetrator) was a gorgeous brunette with shapely limbs that were bronzed to perfection. She wore a short wool coat over a sweater, a knee-length pleated skirt, and dress pumps. She didn't appear to be shivering. In fact, she appeared to have been transported directly from San Diego, only clad in decidedly thicker attire. Horrified, I wanted to run and wrap my long mohair scarf around the surely freezing girl's legs. But too embarrased to sound like my mother, I stood and stared helplessly.

Could the madness have started that fateful season when Vogue magazine witnessed the first sightings of bare legs in winter? It was the fall of 1994, and I was barely into my second year of college. Sure enough, photo after photo cropped up in magazines featuring bare-legged gals prancing through city and country scenes, allegedly unaware that the temperature was probaly under 45 degrees. Not that they didn't look season-appropriate. Wrapped in snuggly scarves, cozy gloves, and woolen hats, they looked altogether toasty, except for their lack of adequate leg coverings.

If you're like me, the mere thought of going practically naked on the bottom gives me shivers. Sure, there are cool, brisk days when summer is just shifting into fall and you don a short skirt but quickly cover up with a cozy sweater. Or the unseasonably cold days when the temperature hovers at 55 degrees even though it should be spring already. And of course I can understand those active gals who sweat it out at the gym in short shorts (damn them and their svelte thighs) then sprint around grocery shopping and doing chores on a frosty evening.

But what I cannot understand is how a girl can purposely leave her house on a blustery mid-winter day completely devoid of leg coverings. When the thermometer dips below 40 -- or even 50 degrees -- my first instinct is to grab a coat. My second instinct is to wear long sleeves. And my immediate thought is to cover my legs and probably wear closed-toed shoes. It's not that I don't like to feel a fresh breeze on occasion when the inside of an overheated office gets too stuffy. It's just that, frankly, I freeze my tootsies off if they're not propertly insulated from winter elements.

I was watching one of my favorite shows recently, What Not To Wear, and Stacy and Clinton were rescuing a poor beautiful young thing in Colorado from severe work attire inappropriateness. This young lady had a promising career in human resources, had just married a handsome lad, and was very sociable and sweet. She had everything going for her except proper work clothes. She had a terrible habit of wearing the same wretched pair of black pants for 3-4 days in a row because she was convinced that she couldn't find any others that fit her, but what was really bizarre about the pants is that they were held together at the seams from crotch to ankle by -- safety pins! Now, that's wrong beyond a doubt. But what really shocked me to the core was her choice of shoes: she refused to part with a nasty, chewed-up pair of white (well, they used to be) platform flip flops. Yes, I said flip flops. She wore these to work constantly, along with the aforementioned black safety-pinned pants. Mind you, in rain and snow. Snow for heaven's sake!

What has this world come to? Can't a person have enough sense to cover their toes, let alone the rest of their feet, when walking ankle-deep in snow? But you've seen these people. The ones who refuse to adjust for the seasons. They believe that if they dress for summer, it just might feel like summer. Um, no, that's not likely to happen. But you probably will catch a cold if you continue to dress for a beach party in January.

Lest we snowball (pardon the pun) all the blame on the fashion magazines, let's examine the latest -- admittedly lovely -- edition of the ubiquitous J. Crew catalogue. Let's see. it takes no more than 7 pages to arrive at a chicly-styled shot of two fresh-faced models displaying the newest collection in an eclectic blend of colors and patterns. Argyle cashmere sweater? Check. Wool houndstooth mini? Goosedown puffer vest? Striped wool muffler? Check and check. Calf-hair leather gloves and tweed newsbuy cap? Check. Flannel bow-trimmed dress heels? Double check. Pantyhose or tights? Hmmm, not in this catalogue.

Incidentally, I visited the link for "socks & tights" in the "accessories" section of J Crew's website. I found 8 eye-catching patterned socks of varying lengths and one lonely pair of tights at the bottom, already reduced in price. Tights must not sell terrifically here. Hey, if you have superbly tanned, airbrushed legs, who needs tights?

Believe me though, I'm not the girl J. Crew intended when they haphazardly pair a plush wool coat with a colorful cashmere cardigan with an elegant silk skirt with a fetching pair of stiletto peep-toe slingbacks minus hose. The top part would look lovely. The bottom, however, would make people turn and stare in the street and young children hide their faces and cry. Rest assured, J. Crew, no one wants to see a pair of ghostly white calves glowing against a rich brown tweed skirt, or even pasty white knees creeping out of tall black leather boots. It's a little jarring, not to mention goosebump-inducing. Think about it. If it's cold enough to bundle up in gloves, scarves, and hats, it's probably cold enough to wear stockings. Or so my logic tells me.

Okay, my friend Anna has a perma-tan. She is the grown-up version of the Coppertone poster child, thanks to trips to Florida, the local beaches, and the neighborhood tanning booth. She could easily bare her legs in winter wearing nothing but sandals and a mini-dress and you would think nothing of it. I've seen her do just that when dressing up for evening functions in the dead of winter. Some girls can go bare and the world will celebrate.

I, on the other hand, have perma-pale syndrome. It doesn't matter if it's January or July. I'm going to have the same fleshy white legs as a freshly-plucked chicken. I'm so pale, if you held a mound of raw bread dough against my thighs, you couldn't tell where one ended and the other began. Well, maybe you could tell near the parts of my legs that have spider veins. But both would have equally pasty, dimply consistency. Now put both in a 45-degree refrigerator and watch the goosbumps form. All in all, it's not a pretty sight.

Fortunately for us of the pallid complexion, designers finally recovered from the long period of daftness and littered the runways with lots and lots of stockings. Red ones, blue ones, opaque ones, see-through ones. To be fair, this fabulous trend started last fall when all of a sudden, hosiery made a comeback. I'm sure that stock in Golden Lady Company, S.p.A, the company that manufactures Hue hosiery, soared. Like many great (and practical) trends, however, I was worried that this one would be short-lived. So far, my worries have been quelled. I am happy to report that the runways exploded with even more tights, this time incorporating the season's footwear trends.

God bless America, and God bless Reed Krakoff for infusing the Coach fall collection with loads of glorious stockings that are not only fun but flattering. What's even more wonderful is that they bravely pair opaque colored tights with printed peep-toe pumps. How whimsical! And, how very useful for those of us who wonder for the second year in a row how to wear all of our peep-toed shoes without freezing our toes.

Thank heavens too for retailers like Nortdstrom who, true to their Northwestern roots, recognize the need for functional and fun winter attire. Not content with simply black opaque tights, Nordstrom offers some unusual patterns to choose from. Match them with Nordstrom's always impressive shoe collection and you'll be the best dressed diva in town.

Want the ultimate in luxury? Check out Jonathan Ashton's cashmere subtly-patterned tights from British retailer Sock Shop. Available in 4 very wearable shades, these will massage your legs while providing a hint of interest under a solid or tweed dress.

Not into plaids, argyles, and polka dots? You can get your groove on with stylish cable-knit stockings or modified fishnets. My favorite? Cotton or wool ribbed tights. Nothing is toastier on chilly days, and the vertical stripes really slenderize your legs.

Also returning to the scene are sexy Hitchcock-era seamed stockings. They were sexy enough to propogate a generation of baby boomers, and they're back to add glamour to our much-needed wardrobes. Whether you favor stockings or full-coverage pantyhose, rev up the glitz factor with a sexy French seam running up the back of your legs.

Personally, I have a secret affection for stockings. Not just because they're sexy, but because I find them much more comfortable than pantyhose. My favorites are modern-day stockings that stay up on their own without the aid of garters. The fact is, it's easier to breathe -- not to mention digest -- when my potbelly isn't squeezed into a constricting nylon-spandex casing. Plus, there's the obvious (but not trivial) element of having to use the toilet and not needing to peel off pantyhose all the way down to my thighs, then have to gingerly roll them back up to my waist without stabbing a hole through them with my perpetually jagged nails. This is particularly annoying when you have to use a public restroom or are at a social function and you really don't feel like getting half-naked and trying to control the bottom half of your outfit from sweeping the floor. With stockings, it's simple. And, they do make you feel mysterious and vixen-like, particularly if you opt for a garter belt. No one has to know why you have a mischievous smile that day.

Normally, I stop wearing short skirts right about when sheer pantyhose become to, well, sheer for the weather. This usually happens around the middle of November, which is when chilly days, not just nights, finally hit the temperate Northern Virginia region, and the leaves actually turn red and yellow. I swtich to pants and long skirts that can be worn over boots, occasionally braving a short skirt when it doesn't look too silly with ribbed tights and winter boots. But this year, I'm inspired not only by the vast assortment of interesting hosiery options, but also by the carefree way in which designers are pairing bold colors with all sorts of winter tones. And, I am finally going to attempt to wear my beloved peep-toes with opaque tights.

Girls, let's all work together to bring back hosiery as a cold-weather staple! This is one runway trend that deserves to be seen for seasons to come.

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