Women’s legs had never received so much attention as they did in the 1920s. Flapper styles exposed the calves with short dresses that ranged from mid-calf to daringly just below the knee. Before the ‘20s, women wore stockings for warmth more than anything else. But once the legs could actually be seen – in public! – stockings became yet another fashion accessory in the style-obsessed decade.
Stockings, also called tights or nylons today, of the ‘20s were made from silk, wool, cotton or synthetic rayon – a new material. The rayon versions were so shiny that many women who wore them powdered their legs over the stockings to make them look matte. They came to about mid or upper thigh and had to be held up by garters or a garter belt. It was common for young women to “roll” their stockings down to just above the knee- a trick that wasn’t easy to master.
Beige, ivory and pastel colors were favored rather than the old-fashioned black. Stockings also became very sheer for the first time, worn in the evenings – these were for fashion, not warmth! Plain tan or pastel colored stockings were the easiest choice, but for the most stylish women, plain colors would just not do! Decorated stockings were the fad during the decade.
An allover pattern was worn often – checkers were a favorite, especially for sporty occasions. Stripes, polka-dots, bows, and zig-zags were also stylish choices. Feathers or flowers were embroidered around the ankles or calves with contrasting colors. Pictures could even be printed anywhere on the calf or knee. Since seams were still a necessary part of stockings, they were sometimes sewn using decorative thread in metallic or contrasting colors up the back or sides. Some stockings even laced up the back!
Flapper girls started to get even more risqué with their stockings, especially for a night out. Stockings rolled down to mid-calf were associated with dancers and the nightclub lifestyle. Decorated gold or sliver band garters (yes, made of the actual metal) were worn just above the knee with rolled-down stockings, exposed whenever a skirt swung just enough – shocking the older generation yet again.
African American women didn’t have skin tone stockings to choose from. Manufacturers were not making them in skin tone shade darker than a medium tan. Instead, women of color could choose any color of stocking they like. Wearing black was common for women in service professions or for day to day durability. Nude colors lighted skin tones to a white person’s sun kissed tan while grey or white made flapper’s legs stand out.
Learn even more about the history of 1920s stockings here. Take a look at all the colors and patterns found in 1920s stockings.
Wearing 1920s Stockings Today
When choosing stockings for your 1920s dress keep these tips in mind:
- For basic colors, choose nudes and tans one shade darker than your natural skin. Otherwise, choose a light pastel color that matches your dress: pink, yellow, light green, or ivory. Black went out in the very early ’20s, but some mature women still wore them. For African American women you could choose any shade that suits you and your outfit.
- Matte sheen is better than shiny materials.
- Wear one to two sizes up for a looser fit which will look more period correct.
- Unless you want to show off rolled down stockings or your garters, you can wear full tights- no one will know the difference under your dress.
- Do not wear fishnets unless you are going for the naughty stage performer look.
- If your stockings don’t have seams, you can draw one in with a eyebrow pencil that matches the stocking color. Get a friend to help.
See a few of my favorite choices for 1920s inspired stockings here: