Death to Pantyhose
Death to Pantyhose
Recently I was thinking about head gear. The heroine of my favorite series of time travel books, a thoroughly modern Twentieth Century woman, found herself in the Eighteenth Century and absolutely refused to wear a kerch. What the hell is a kerch? I wondered, and why would she rather piss people off than wear one? I'd just had a similar experience trying to visualize the racy "French hood" made popular by Anne Boleyn -- until the movie poster for "The Other Boleyn Girl" came out and I saw Natalie Portman wearing a kind of saucer thing on her head. Wouldn't you know, my kerch question got answered in the same way. Last weekend I watched the premiere of "John Adams" on HBO, and there was the admirable Laura Linney wearing a stupid little scrap of lace that I wouldn't be caught dead in either. Aha, kerch!, I thought, no wonder. Even worse were the men in their ridiculous wigs. I'm sure everyone's happy we dispensed with that nonsense centuries ago.
Kerches and French hoods naturally set me thinking about JFK's inaugural address and its great unintended consequence -- the death of the modern millinery trade. One guy takes off his hat to give a speech, and suddenly sartorial history is cut into two parts. The part where you wouldn't any more leave the house without your hat than without your shoes or your pants, and the part where wearing a hat marks you as a weirdo. Think about it, who just wears a hat any more? Monica Lewinsky in her black beret? Proves my point; Miss Fashion Savvy she ain't. The fedora and the pillbox have gone the way of the French hood and the kerch. People reading about them in the 22nd Century won't even be able to imagine them without visual aids.
I'd been ruminating about head gear for a while when I had a sudden revelation. Hats aren't the last thing to fall into the fashion black hole, and they're not the most important either. A week or so ago, I was admiring the pedicure of Kelley from the Lee County Library System at an event in Fort Myers. (There's your shout-out, Kelley. Now you'd better post!) Kelley had elaborate designs painted on her toes, flowers in black, white and silver. Fancy pedicures were de rigeur in Florida, she explained, since women no longer wear panty hose.
She was right. We've been liberated! I was born and raised in the era of pantyhose, and I have lived to witness its death. This, to me, is a much greater historical moment than the fall of the powdered wig.
I'd sort of realized this a number of years earlier, based on my experiences as a woman lawyer wearing -- or not wearing --pants to work. The year I started in the U.S. Attorney's Office, Bill Clinton was President and Janet Reno was Attorney General. My boss in General Crimes was a tough woman, a liberal and a feminist. My first week on the job, she called me into her office. "You're pantsuit is beautiful," she said, "but you can't wear it to the office. Pants are not appropriate for a woman in the courtroom." I was pissed, but I listened, especially since she told me that certain male judges might refuse to let me appear in their courtrooms if I was wearing pants. Who wants to risk humiliation like that, even at the hands of some crotchety old geezer whose days on the bench are numbered?
For the eight years that I served, I heeded her advice and wore skirts to work without fail. Then one day toward the end of my tenure, I made a bunch of arrests on a big case and spent some time doing bail hearings in magistrate's court, a place that as a senior prosecutor, I rarely visited. All the baby prosecutors were hanging out there, stuck with bail duty. I didn't recognize them or know their names, but one thing I couldn't miss. The young female prosecutors all wore pants.
I looked down at my outfit -- skirt suit, with the skirt hitting above the knee, and heels. I look like a slut, I thought. They look like professionals. It was obvious. Women in pants are taken more seriously. Women in pants are de-sexed. Nobody's looking at your legs while you're arguing legal precedent. And moreover -- no more pantyhose!!! No more huge runs just when you have to stand up to deliver your summation. No more feeling like your nether regions are tied up in a strait jacket. No more wading through the pile of ratty old hose, none of which are presentable to wear. No more freezing legs in winter time.