Blame it on Mary Quant. Stockings remain sexy as ever, and it all goes back to the miniskirt.

Prior to the mini’s exposure in the ’60s, legs did not run around clad in pantyhose. Stockings, garters, and garter belts sheathed women’s legs and the era’s appropriately knee-length skirts concealed the gadgetry (for the most part). Pantyhose did not fit as well at that time (does it still?). As many women know, pantyhose is a struggle to pull up from toe to navel, it makes visiting the toilet cumbersome, and its crotch never fails to hit the knees at some point in the day. But the mini changed all that.

The rising hemline left garters exposed, an obscene sight of a lady’s intimate apparel. Rush in the pantyhose! Don those bright tights! Sales for stockings and their accouterments plummeted. But since then, the fetish appeal of stockings et al. rose in volume.

Today, even pantyhose seems a little outdated. You wear it for a job interview. Or you wear a thick pair with a dress when it’s cold outside, but even then leggings seem the better choice. Increasingly more women are strutting around barelegged (even in professional contexts) with little to hide and nary a backseam in sight. Wearing stockings nowadays is practically an advertisement for its fetishistic allure because the sight is so rare and the need so limited.

As opposed to pantyhose, stockings imply openness: easy access to the panties and juicy bits, a nice clean breeze wafting between the legs, and the speed in which they can come off. But these thoughts are not new to the world of hosiery.

In the flapper days, the sudden glimpse of a garter or stocking-top as a beaded dress swung above the knee was pure boner material. Stockings were and forever are a part of women’s underthings, always kept under wraps just like bras and panties usually are. (Usually.) That connotation of intimacy aroused the voyeur. Back then and until the ’60s, women slipped into stockings as a routine, not necessarily to titillate the happenstance audience. Above the stocking, though, lay the first exposure of nether skin. It was a border of flesh between the leg and the privates, a shock of nakedness between modesty.

Why else do stores like Victoria’s Secret still sell stockings and corsets with garters attached and (sacrilege!) faux garter pantyhose? Stockings are sexy. Because of what they connote and because they are special, as Dita Von Teese attests in her book Fetish and the Art of the Teese:

I think I would feel naked walking out in the world without the right run of stitching clasping my calves, pulling at my heels, my gams. I believe I would miss the rasp the nylon makes when I cross my legs, the way the garters pull them taught, gently restraining me. What’s more, they’re something for a lover to grab hold of on certain occasions or to caress under the table at dinner. Oh, they are delicious! A delicate union of modesty and naughtiness stitched into one.

A woman who wears stockings in the 21st century does so not because it’s de rigueur but because it sets her apart. Or it feels good. Or it looks good. To signify something. For fetish. For voyeurs to follow the seem up her leg and underneath her skirt. Antiquated fashion, perhaps, but stockings continue to complete the bedroom seduction of corset, bra, and panties. They code the woman who knows, who wants to see and be seen, touch and be touched. Though not strictly exhibitionist, stockings outline a person dressed for mutual pleasure: the pleasure of the self and the pleasure of others. And that’s sexy.

Image by Markusram.

The Sexual Manifesto is Christine Borden’s weekly column on sex in the city, sex and culture, and, well, sex. Got a tip for Christine (and it’s not in your pants)? Email her at

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