A tribute to nurses, a sinister provocation or a nod to ‘for women only’ fashion: Why have white stockings returned?

Chanel’s latest fashion show had all its models wearing pantyhose in this color, social media is embracing the trend and brands of all price ranges are selling them

Margaret durante el último desfile de alta costura de Chanel.
The Chanel Haute Couture fashion show.Stephane Cardinale - Corbis (Corbis via Getty Images)

Announcing their return doesn’t make their presence less shocking. White stockings combine connotations as varied as childhood, the 1960s, the spirit of the first “mods,” nurses in 1970s hospitals, photos of models in 1990s magazines, “man repeller” esthetics and the Chanel fashion shows of recent seasons. Now, they are making a comeback on the catwalk and on the social media pages of influential opinion leaders: Blanca Miró, Pernille Teisbaek, Camille Charrière, Emili Sindlev... many have incorporated them into their styles, and brought them into the conversation. Despite some fashion labels’ fondness for them, in recent years they had fallen into disuse. Now, the question is whether they can convince and definitively reach the streets. If they take the definitive step this time and end up being a trend, it will probably be the effect of repetition: no matter how bland or even ugly something may seem to us, if we are exposed to it enough times, we will end up finding it more attractive. Even beautiful.

Marlo Thomas en 1967.
Marlo Thomas in 1967.ABC Photo Archives (Disney General Entertainment Con)

It won’t be for the fashion shows. In the recent Chanel fashion show during the Paris Haute Couture week — the epicenter of luxury and high fashion — designer Virginie Viard once again insisted on white tights, and in presenting her spring/summer 2024 collection, all of her models walked the catwalk wearing these tights: a total of 56 outfits featured this complicated garment. Karl Lagerfeld’s successor has been including them in her collections since 2019, and since then, other firms such as Gucci, Balenciaga, Off-White and Saks Potts, have flirted with them from time to time since then.

There are many more examples in next spring’s collections. Model Irina Shayk wore them in the Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood show (“look” 38). They also made an appearance in the Givenchy show (for example, “look” 12, worn by Ilya Vermeulen) and were used repeatedly in the Louis Vuitton show. At Lapointe, they were worn by a bride in a white sequined ensemble, while Nina Ricci’s show featured the lattice version under a large pastel blue blazer that served as a dress. Palomo Spain added them to his men’s offerings, and many brands used them in their own way: Sportmax and Roksanda, Versace (here, they were very thick and with bare toes) and Burberry in its Resort 2024 mid-season collection (combined with high-heeled flip-flops).

But why now? What’s behind the constant appearance of white stockings?

Irina Shayk en el backstage del último desfile de Vivienne Westwood por Andreas Kronthaler.
Irina Shayk backstage at the latest Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood fashion show.Ki Price (WireImage)

There are several reasons for their popularity, and they respond to a variety of influences. On the one hand, we’re just coming from a few months of fascination with an esthetic called balletcore, which was born on TikTok and captures the essence of feminine delicacy and strength. Bows and ballerinas are two accessories that have permeated the overall esthetic, and white tights are an extension of that style.

Moreover, white stockings are in the wardrobes of women who brag on social media about dressing not to please men but rather themselves. Their outfits share much in common with those of Leandra Medine McCohen, the New Yorker who entered fashion thanks to her blog Man Repeller in the 2010s and continues to wear white stockings occasionally today. This garment, which is not particularly pretty or flattering, thus serves as a wakeup call for all the esthetics that seek to beautify women from a traditional perspective.

Una modelo con un traje de Cavanagh y una boina en 1967.
A model in a Cavanagh suit and beret in 1967. Evening Standard (Getty Images)

Indeed, white stockings have a somewhat vindictive past. To understand it, we have to take into account the 1960s birth of a garment that turned out to be essential for the popularization of waist-length stockings (until then they had been worn up to the thigh and knotted with garter belts). We are talking about the miniskirt, Mary Quant’s invention that was a gesture of feminine freedom and a vindication of youth. Models Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton began to wear miniskirts with colored stockings (until then only transparent, black and sheer stockings were acceptable) in a “look” that told a new story about young women’s place in society: their clothes clearly belonged to a new generation. Many no longer desired early marriage or early motherhood: as Time magazine explains, in the 1960s, the average age of marriage among American women was about 20, and the average age of having a baby was 21, but “young women riding the revolutionary wave of the time often rejected the expectation that they become wives and mothers so early. So, their closets reflected that idea by adopting a youthful twist.” And that’s when white stockings came along.

One particular movement took over the youthful look: “Mods,” a subculture that created a refined uniform that defined itself through two-piece suits, Chelsea boots, green parkas and Fred Perry or Ben Sherman garments, along with headbands, miniskirts and white stockings to go with them. This allowed women to extend the time between childhood and adulthood. As Quant, the mother of the Mod movement, explained it in the Times-Tribune in 1976: “When I was 13, I sat and cried a lot about growing up. What really got on my nerves was the terrible realization that adult dress was grotesque and drab. I wanted to evade the whole question of adulthood by wearing children’s clothes forever.” Quant took her children’s uniform of a short skirt paired with stockings and reinvented it for young women. Tights in bright colors, fun prints and embellishments became fashionable, but the ones that best captured that innocent esthetic were white.

La princesa Diana con un vestido de Victor Edelstein y un sombrero de Frederick Fox llegando al derby de Epsom.
Princess Diana in a Victor Edelstein dress and Frederick Fox hat arriving at the Epsom derby.Tim Graham (Getty Images)

By the 1980s, the female role had changed markedly, and white stockings were overshadowed by sheer ones, the transparent ones that sparkle, in pursuit of the feminine executive “look.” They had naïve connotations, and during this decade, women sought to shed any label that infantilized them: they were reclaiming a place in the office. Then, at the end of the decade and in the early 1990s, they reappeared in formal attire, and one of their influencers at the time was Diana of Wales. Thus, the 2024 return of white stockings is also connected to the rabbit hole of esthetic nostalgia for those years.

The French company Chanel has been a major standard bearer of this garment, including white tights in its fashion shows since 2019. In March 2020, it even launched a version with the logo of the two Cs embroidered, which was a sales success (today, they are resold on websites such as Vestiaire Collective for around $700); other luxury brands, such as Miu Miu ($249) and Wardrobe NYC ($298) continue to sell them on sites like Theresa.com. Uniqlo ($13.99), Calzedonia ($7.54), Falke ($28.19) and COS ($16.27) have already made them available at a more affordable price. Their last major incorporation was the one by John Galliano in his much-discussed offering for Maison Martin Margiela, in which the thickness of the white stockings gave them a gothic, sinister look that could lead one to confuse them with leggings or even bandages. So, there they are, many forms of white stockings, just waiting to hit the streets.

Gwendoline Christie at John Galliano's highly praised Summer 2024 fashion show for Maison Margiela couture.
Gwendoline Christie at John Galliano's highly praised Summer 2024 fashion show for Maison Margiela couture.Pierre Suu (Getty Images)

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