Rachel del Valle | A woman’s right to bare legs
Duly Noted | The comeback of pantyhose would be a step back for modern women
November 14, 2011, 12:09 am · Updated November 15, 2011, 12:25 am·
Rachel del Valle
After 15 years of stalely hanging out in the aisles of drugstores, L’eggs pantyhose is launching a new TV ad campaign to target the 18 to 35 age market. The 42-year-old brand is pitching its antiquated undergarment with a cheeky jingle: “You’re in luck. You’re in L’eggs.” Until you get a run right above your knee before your job interview. Then you’re kind of screwed.
The one thing I like about this advertisement is that it clarifies the pronunciation of the brand name. Admittedly, I’ve been saying “le-eggs,” like an unsophisticated American in a French restaurant, for the past 19 years.
This may seem trivial, especially to guys reading this who thought pantyhose went out of production around the same time the atom bomb showed up. But I find this generational crossover kind of fascinating. It’s said that fashion is cyclical, but I just don’t see nude pantyhose in the pages of Vogue anytime soon. Sure, lipstick and hot rollers have made an unexpected comeback. But there’s something about pantyhose that puts a wrench in the rotating machine of trends. I’m going to make a not-so-bold prediction right now and say it: pantyhose just aren’t going to happen.
Perhaps L’eggs is banking on the trend toward modesty that has been led by tastemakers like Michelle Obama and Kate Middleton, whose social positions require their style to be grounded in higher necklines and lower hemlines. But even the first lady, who wears shift dresses and kitten heels like Jackie Kennedy before her, rejects pantyhose. Kate, on the other hand, is a hosiery devotee. But then again, she’s also a princess — so, you know, her standards of decorum are a little rigid.
When I was about twelve, the word “pantyhose” faded away from my vocabulary and my sock drawer. At the risk of sounding self-centered, I feel like this goes for most girls of my generation. My mother’s insistence that I wear those strange, sheer and always-ripping things to church or parties started to wane around high school. It just wasn’t cool anymore, and it wasn’t for me.
Pantyhose represent something that looks and feels dated. One of only places you’re likely to still see women wearing pantyhose besides Sunday services is in the workplace. Corporate environments dominated by men reinforce this idea that women have to wrap their femininity in layers of clothing to be taken seriously. And that bugs me. Legs with a powdery sheen should not be a job requirement. Neckties are one thing. They’re an identifiable, expressive part of the professional dress code. Pantyhose are different because you’re not supposed to know they’re there. To me, pantyhose embody this weird paradox of femininity in which women are expected to look perfect without letting anyone know that they’ve put any time or effort into looking that way.
There’s something unnatural about the concept of a “sheer” finish; you’re putting on a layer of something that’s meant to look like skin, but isn’t. Your legs, no matter how closely you try to match them with “Sun Beige” or “Soft Brown,” look different from the rest of your body. It’s just weird.
One might say that makeup is equally artificial. But I would argue that there’s a level of control, empowerment and self-expression that comes from cosmetics that cannot be fairly compared to a piece of nylon. Indeed, an interesting study published last month in PLoS ONE found that women who wear makeup appear more competent. The study, funded by Procter & Gamble, a major company whose brands include CoverGirl and Pantene, obviously has some vested interests, but I think its fundamental finding is indicative of women’s ideas about appearances today.
Most modern women don’t scorn beauty and grooming products as misogynistic Madison Avenue brainwashing tools. Instead, they decide what products or procedures they want. I think that consumer autonomy is one of the major changes in our generation’s perception of beauty. I find it odd that advertisers are presenting a relic unsuited to the lifestyle of young women today. It’s uncharacteristically out of touch to expect a twenty-something to accept their mother’s leg wear.
Things have changed. We’re allowed to have bare legs and blown-out hair and fitted clothing in the boardroom or the classroom. Definitions of modesty are meant to change with the times. If they didn’t, we’d all be walking around with Victorian necklines and petticoats.
Rachel del Valle is a College sophomore from Newark, N.J. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Duly Noted appears every Monday.