Roll ’em girls roll ’em girls
Go ahead and roll ’em
Roll ’em down and show your pretty knees
Roll ’em girls roll ’em ev’rybody roll ’em
Roll ’em high or low just as you please
Don’t let people tell you thats it’s shocking
Paint your sweetie’s picture
On your stocking
Laugh at ma, laugh at pa
Give them all the ha-ha
(1925, hear it sung)
Rolled stockings? Indeed! Flappers were known to roll down their stockings below the knee, and just to make sure you noticed that their knees were bare, they applied a little makeup to make their knees look rosy. Why? Because, women were not supposed to be seen with bare legs and this little glimpse of skin was such as Jazz Age kind of thing to do!
“Check out the getaway sticks on the flapper, bub!” (1920s slang)
It was simply unheard of for a woman to leave the house without some type of covering on her legs. That covering was almost always silk or rayon stockings. Some women thought the rayon was too shiny, so they would apply powder to dull the glare. Cotton stockings were available but they were considered practical not very fashionable. A mix of silk or rayon and cotton provided the best of both materials and the longest wear.
There are four styles of hose: full-fashioned, semi-fashioned, tubular, and cut.
Full-fashioned hose are knitted flat with a seam down the back of the leg and the bottom of the foot. The ribs of the stocking run diagonally into the V-shaped intakes on each side of the big seam. This type fits best.
Semi-fashioned stockings are of a circular knit. These are shaped by pressing on a form. A mock seam is made in the back to resemble the full-fashioned variety.
Tubular hose are made for children; they are not shaped and do not have a seam down the back.
Cut hose are made from fabric, such as net or lace.The durability of hose depends greatly upon the weight. The ultra-sheer hose are listed as “two-thread” chiffon. This means that every thread is made of two strands of thread twisted together. These hose are very fragile and should be worn only for evening. Three-thread hose are listed as semi-chiffon, and are suitable for afternoon or dress occasions. Four- and five-thread hose are called semi- service. The six-thread, seven-thread, and eight-thread hose are service weight. Semi-service or service-weight hose should be worn for school. Cotton, wool, or service-weight silk are good for sports wear.
Hold ’em Up
Fully fashion stockings came in sizes 8.5 to 10 which was a number that took into account your shoe size and leg width. There was no stretch to them and they tended to bag at the ankles. But they had to be held up by something, right? Enter the garter and the girdle.
For women going with the girdle option, their stockings reached to about mid-thigh and they attached to the girdle with clips or gilt mounts. Many women, especially in the younger crowd, did not want to wear a girdle which made the rolled stocking garter so popular. If you ever saw your grandmother or great-grandmother use a rubber band to hold her stockings up, she was using a makeshift roll garter. Authentic garter rolls were round soft covered elastic bands that rolled up the leg and then back down a little catching the top of the stocking. It was not an easy thing to do! Young women were fixing their rolls several times a day.
The jazz garter was a flat piece of elastic covered in ribbon, lace and small flowers that was purely for decoration. Usually women wore stockings with girdle clips and then placed the Jazz Garter over it- something to be spotted while dancing or sitting seductively.
Of course, it did not take long for young women to have some fun with the roll garter. A popular trend in the 20s was to roll one’s stockings down just below the knee and dust rouge on knee caps. Women did not only do this while wearing dresses. Some adopted this rolled stocking look while wearing bathing suits! Soon rolled down socks would replace rolled stockings.
Stockings Get Color
Stockings were available in a whole host of colors. Typically it was the flappers and the younger women who went for the colored stockings with embroidered patterns that made their way from the ankles to the knees. Bold patterns such as plaid, checks, diamonds and stripes were a favorite for sporty fashions. Mature women would wear solid, striped, or honeycomb black, beige, brown, or grey cotton lisle stockings by day and lighter sheer silk or rayon stockings by night. In the late 20’s “clock” or “clax” stockings featured vertical arrows or small patterns over the ankles, some with lace inserts. One short trend was to paint designs on stockings. Some were Art Deco designs, Asian motifs, or even your boyfriends face. Painted knees, shins and ankles were another way to attract attention to legs.
The mid 20’s saw the emergence of pastel colored stockings such as cream, light green, yellow, pink, red and silver (some with real metal thread.) They were fun to wear matching your dress or not! Otherwise a nude color, slightly more tan, than your natural skin gave that perfect beached tan glow that was perfect for day wear.
Seamed or Not
Women’s stockings had small seams*, although most women wished that they didn’t. They certainly did not want to do anything to accentuate the dreaded seams. The reason for that is quite simple: many women wanted to appear as if they were not wearing stockings at all. Imagine the scandal of appearing in public with bare legs!
The sheerer the stockings were the more hair was seen underneath (uh oh) time to shave those legs. Shaving underarms had been in practice for several decades already but legs were something new. Some stocking advertisers said “smooth legs and smooth stockings” go hand in hand while others said stockings do a find job of covering up unsightly leg hair. The leg shaving trend was only picked up by the most fashion forward flappers.
What about fishnets? Why fishnets are associated with flappers still perplexes me. They were worn but only by show girls and especially naughty flappers. They were simply too revealing for most women (and they did nothing to cover up leg hair.)
The final thing to note about women’s stockings were the various heel styles. Heels could be simply low reinforced heels or with more decorative designs such as the cuban heel (rectangle) or point heel.
* There is some dispute that some stockings were seamless but I have yet to find a reliable reference for this other than children’s tights and one reference that said there was a brief run of seamless stockings in 1928. The machine needed to make a circular pair of stockings had yet to be invented.
See more 1920’s flappers wearing rolled stockings, catalogs of stockings, and advertisements on the pin board.
Shop for 1920s style stockings and socks here: