April 18, 2012
Glamorous Gams in the 1700s
The other day I went to Target looking for a nice pair of colored tights–red, blue, pink, blue, green, really anything other than brown, black, nude or navy. I failed in my mission. Miserably. It seems that tights are out and leggings are still hanging on for dear life. I really don’t like leggings because I didn’t inherit my mothers shapely legs, but rather got these short, spindly little knob-knees supporting my not-so-skinny upper half. Tight, neon-colored leggings are NOT for me! They cut off awkwardly at the ankles in the most unflattering way, but tights are genius! They make your legs look so much longer and more elegant, adding casual pizazz to a boring dress or dressing up a sundress. Fancy stockings are a godsend for making a nice outfit.
I am so jealous of these 1790s stockings (If only Target carried them, I could die happy…after wearing them, of course)! Stockings back in the 18th century were quite colorful and fancy, even though they weren’t shown off as much as modern socks and tights. They often matched the rest of a woman’s outfit, especially her shoes. 18th century stockings often have inserted lace at the ankle or a touch of embroidery. Since skirts of fashionable gowns like the Robe de Polonaise were slightly raised above the floor, the pretty flash of decoration helped both hide and display the beauty of a lady’s fine ankle.
This little flourish at the ankle is called a clock. Clocks were usually made to match a pair of shoes or a dress, but could be as simple as a small stitched flower. Good quality dress stockings like these were made of silk. Since they hadn’t invented elastic or spandex yet, stockings would slide down if they weren’t held in place with garters.
Garters could be as simple as a drawstring tied in a bow to satin ribbon, lace, beads, and velvet rosettes. Most everyday stockings reached to just below or above the knee, but fancy dress stockings and winter stockings could go higher. Fancy stockings in this style continued to be a must in court well into the 19th century, including this magnificent piece from about 1800:
Stockings such as these fancy white and gold ones were worn for extremely elaborate and formal occasions. Emperor Napoleon had a pair of stockings similar to these for his 1804 coronation. Fancy stockings continued to be popular until the 1900s, when skirts shortened and silky nude or sheer black stockings became the preferred style, but from the 1660s clear through 1910, wild stockings hid under the wide skirts of ladies around the world!
As with all my articles, all of the images in this article are either linked to larger versions, articles explaining them, or other fact-filled sites to help you explore, so please feel free to check them out!