The Ladies of London Take Their Stockings Off
For many years it was considered proper for ladies to cover their legs. Influential models and actresses tried to set a trend and go bare-legged, but it was not until the 1980’s that it finally became accepted as respectable for ladies to leave their stockings off.
In the London of Queen Victoria, it was considered indecent for ladies to show off their legs and even the tiniest glimpse of a bare leg was enough to give respectable ladies a touch of the ‘vapours’. They would cover their eyes and swoon in a very theatrical looking faint with the sheer shock of it. (Attacks of the ‘vapours’ were a common thing and a way for ladies of this era to show how shocked they were.)
This was very much the fashion for the next forty years and no respectable woman would go without stockings. Then, along came the Second World War and because there was a serious fabric shortage, the British government virtually banned them.
Supplies of rayon and cotton stockings soon ran out and women turned to using special leg makeup to colour their skin and even to draw a line down the back of their legs just like the seams on real stockings. In 1942 the British government warned that if women did not stop wearing them in summer, then there would be none left to wear in winter and they would all freeze during the coldest weather
During the First World War actress Gaby Deslys who was the mistress of King Manuel of Portugal, attempted to start a trend by stating that she would never wear stockings again until Germany surrendered to the allies. This was not popular with women, who were quite shocked by the idea, but apparently, the men around her thought it was amusing.
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Then, in 1920, Pola Negri who was a well known Hollywood actress went bare-legged and in 1926, actress Joan Crawford stopped wearing stockings for evening wear. However, despite the fact that actresses often led the way where women’s fashion was concerned, the idea did not catch on.
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In 1934, the influential fashion magazine, the Weekly Sketch, declared that it was ‘inartistic’ for women to go around bare-legged and it spoiled the line and the softness of the skin.
Right up until the 1960’s it was still considered to be inappropriate for women to be seen without stockings. No self-respecting women would be seen in public with bare legs.
Model Jean Shrimpton arrived as guest of honour at Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne, Australia, without stockings, hat, or gloves. The society ladies were totally shocked by this behaviour.
Then, in 1983, the Princess of Wales turned up at a Government House party in Canberra with suntanned bare legs. That gave the bare-legged look a royal seal of approval and from then on, it became quite acceptable.