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A brief history of fishnet stockings

Aug. 10, 2017
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All of a sudden, it feels as though fishnet is everywhere: it’s all over the runway; it’s all over Hollywood (just ask Bella Thorne and Hailey Baldwin); and it’s all over the internet, with websites like Teen Vogue and Popsugar eager to tell you how to “get the look”. But where did this trend come from? No, like, where did it really come from? To answer that question, we’re going to have to go all the way back to the beginning. 

Since their inception, fishnet stockings have allowed women to perform female identity. The impractical curve-highlighters symbolize sex on an adult woman—so it’s no wonder they were in vogue for teenagers during the early 2000s, when young girls would wear them to nightclubs and parties as a way to feign adulthood. Yet the mysterious fashion trend’s origins lie almost a century earlier.

The stockings date all the way back to the early 1900s, when women would wear fishnet as accessories under long dresses. In her essay “Holes in the Soul” for CR Fashion Book, fashion historian Valerie Steele writes, “The term ‘fishnet,’ meaning a loosely woven fabric, was in use by the early 1880s, but The Oxford English Dictionary dates the use of ‘fishnet stockings’ to 1933.” The nominal change can perhaps be attributed to a drastic change in use for the stockings: in a few short decades, they were transformed from a type of sartorial window-dressing into a sexual signifier.

Then burlesque entertainer Gypsy lee Rose popularized fishnets during her performances. This influence can still be seen today, as people continue to associate fishnets with prostitutes and hookers. The sexy stockings established their place in mainstream fashion in the 1950s, when centerfolds Bettie Page and Marilyn Monroe would casually don short dresses and fishnets. These stars popularized what people saw as a means to emphasize curves and femininity. From there, the rest is history.

In 2017, fishnets have made a comeback in a way that opens up their one-trick ability to accentuate femininity. People wear fishnet-patterned shirts, or pull jeans over their stockings so that the netting peeks out only above the waistline or below mid-calves. Celebrities like Kate Moss and Kendall Jenner have popularized this trend, though I would by no means credit them for this use of fishnets. Proenza Schouler invented fishnets under ankle-length coats, while many Europeans wear fishnets under jeans or loose pants. 

This new use of fishnets allows the diamond design to peek out on people’s lower calves and ankles in a way that hints at sexuality without being over the top. Fishnets now blur the boundary between tomboy and sexual intrigue; more importantly, they as a showcase for the new era of female sexuality—one in which women can be sexually intriguing without having to “play” feminine.

Sounds like a net win to us.