Let’s own it, ladies—we don’t gussy up the way we used to. In the 50s and 60s, a Southern girl wouldn’t be caught dead wearing pants to church—or any social event—nor would she think of stepping out in a dress without sheer stockings. Even for summer revival services—in the days before air conditioning, no less—she would wrestle on that girdle with the little attached clips that held up her nylons. (Senior ladies would often forego the girdle and use little elastic bands to hold their stockings up.)
In the heat of summer, just coaxing hose all the way up “glistening” legs was a feat in itself. And what did Mama’n’em get for their trouble? They got to sweat in all that synthetic fabric.
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During the 40s, when nylon was needed for the war effort and stockings were in short supply, our Southern sisters would use makeup on their legs to create the illusion of hosiery, which, you’ll recall, was seamed back then. With an eyebrow pencil, they would draw a seam up the back of each leg. Now that’s commitment to style.
The very next decade, though, something wonderful happened. In the 1950s, while NASA scientists were paving the way for future moon walks and space exploration, a man named Allen Gant, Sr., did something REALLY noteworthy: He invented pantyhose. They hit department stores for the first time in 1959. According to smithsonian.com, Gant’s new invention didn’t take off at first, but once miniskirts came on the scene—and pop icons like Twiggy were wearing their hemlines higher than traditional stockings could travel—pantyhose got a leg up.
“Oh, it was wonderful!” says a Southern Mama in Alabama. “They were so much easier to put on. In the beginning, they weren’t tight enough to hold you in, so we would wear a girdle over them. But over time, the manufacturers added control top, and we pitched our girdles out the window.”
Even in the South, however, our love affair with pantyhose was not to last. We’ve become more and more casual. Mama’n’em decided it was just fine to wear dress pants to Sunday services, and that meant knee-highs, not pantyhose. What about weddings and other social affairs?
“I only wear pantyhose in case of dire emergency,” our Southern Mama says. “Of course, if I’m wearing a dress to a wedding or something, I’ll break out the Silk Reflections. Some lines you just don’t cross.”
As our Millenial Southern sisters have abandoned pantyhose in favor of leggings, tights, or bare legs, they have passed their knowledge of self-tanners up the line to Mama’n’em. (Southern women still like “a little color” on our legs. We're just not willing to sweat for it any more.)
As pantyhose brought several foundation garments together, so has our rebellion against them united Southern women of all ages. Millennials can Google a million better alternatives to the “pantyhose hitch-up”—that final wrenching tug we give the waistband once our legs are covered. And as for Southern Mama?
“True, pantyhose kept everything sort of contained,” she says. “But you know what? The older you get, the less you care what hangs out.”
Amen to that, sister. Amen to that. And now for a few items we WILL keep in our closets:
We can live without wearing pantyhose but not without wearing pearls. Or seersucker, gingham, and eyelet. What about you? Got some style staples you can't live without? Share 'em, sisters!