The Ladies of London Take Their Stockings Off

June 13, 2009 by Louie Jerome  
Published in Fashion

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.

Image via Wikipedia

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.

Image via Wikipedia

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.

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17 Responses to “The Ladies of London Take Their Stockings Off”
  1. Uma Shankari Says:

    Very interesting.

  2. Glynis Smy Says:

    That was very interesting and informative.

  3. Christine Ramsay Says:

    A really interesting article. I must say I never wear tights or stockings. I always wear trousers in winter and I go barelegged in summer.


  4. Lex92 Says:

    how interesting.. It must have been really hot in the summer with stockings on

  5. s hayes Says:

    Very interesting – women have come a long way thank goodness x

  6. Patrick Bernauw Says:

    Ahum… I’m the first guy to comment here? I love those vintage photo’s… and the great story!

  7. Daisy Peasblossom Says:

    Poem from my mother’s childhood:

    “Monkey see, Monkey do;
    I’ve got painted stockings, too.”

  8. Inna Tysoe Says:

    A fun read and I learned something too!



  9. Ruby Hawk Says:

    Interesting and women did love their silk stockings.

  10. George W Whitehead Says:

    Great article, Louie. When I was a lad, if we found out a girl was wearing stockings, the stock phrase was ‘Heaven’s above’!

  11. C Jordan Says:

    My mother told me that here in the UK during the war years, gravy browning and pencil lines substituted for stockings. :)

  12. Nicholas Kenney Says:

    Loved this Louie!! I still say the seam up the back of a pair of nylons is sexy!!

  13. Judy Sheldon Says:

    Didn’t they need the cotton and rayon for parachutes or something during the war? Sorry, I’m a bit foggy on my history. Louie, you surprised me on this one, I was quite curious to see what you had cooked up. I remember the girls using eye liner to draw a line down the back of their tanned legs in school, because stockings were required and sometimes we’d get a run in one & not have a spare.

    Great read. Take care!

  14. Fegger Says:

    I think we’d all be much more friendly with one another if we simply wore the same clothes as put forth by the “Emperor’s” creative designer…..great little piece here, Louie!

  15. Louie Jerome Says:

    Yes, Fegger, the Emperor’s new clothes were magnificent!

  16. Jackie Fields Says:

    Thanks. I never really knew who started the trend. I thought it was probably Katie Couric. Never would have guessed it was Lady Di! In any case, the trend took off like an African brush fire. Wish it would go back to ladies wearing nylons again. Bare legs look wrong at formal affairs, and nowhere near as sexy or beautiful as stockinged covered legs. I hate dancing at wedding receptions in my bare feet. Stockings looked and felt so much more normal.

  17. Natasha Mittilini Says:

    I agree with Jackie Fields. Bare legs dont look as nice in more formal situations as a nice pair of stockings or tights or pantihose.
    Here in Australia the bare legs have been embraced with great enthusiasm. But I feel it looks unfinished in more formal situations.
    Casual trends are often embraced most enthusiastically here. Mini Skirts and bare legs are worn a lot here. It is all very well to feel laid back and casual but I feel that any for formal situations (including office work) that this look is not flattering at all.

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