No fictional character has articulated this writer's position on pantyhose so well as when Claire Fisher of HBO's Six Feet Under stood atop her cubicle desk and belted out "You Ride Up My Thighs" (sung to "You Light Up Life") in ode to her ill-fitting nylons. Most sane people would agree: Hose are the bane of womanhood. Who wouldn't hate being confined in nylon as it slowly squeezes the life out of her?
Alas, there comes a time in every woman's life when the wearing of pantyhose is required. It could be a funeral; it could be the prom; it could be every day at your new corporate job. I used to have an office job that required pantyhose often enough to remind me how maddening they are. Now, I work at home and spend much of my "free" time chasing a toddler. When I wear hose, I need them to be good—I don't have the time or the energy to stash an extra pair or a bottle of clear nail polish in my diaper bag. So, what I want to know is this: Are all pantyhose created equal, or does popping for a fancy pair ensure higher quality and less sausagelike discomfort?
A Brief History
There is some comfort in the knowledge that, sadly, hose used to be more uncomfortable than they are today. In the days of Charlemagne, both men and women wore hand-knit stockings—a practice that continued until 1589, when Reverend William Lee invented a time-saving knitting frame that could weave stockings out of wool, cotton, and silk.
For the next several centuries, hose evolved little, until 1937, when a group of scientists at DuPont led by Dr. Wallace Carothers invented nylon. A DuPont team subsequently created nylon hose, unveiling them at the 1939 New York World's Fair. Like their predecessors, the hose had seams and were attached to garters, but the new material made them much less difficult to tear and much easier to wash and re-wear. In their first year on the market, DuPont sold 64 million pairs of hose. By the 1950s, seamless stockings hit the scene.
In 1959, DuPont scientist Joseph Shivers invented spandex, bringing forth the next generation of hose. (DuPont's brand name for this product is Lycra; all Lycra is spandex, but not all spandex is Lycra.) Because spandex boasts soft and rubbery segments, its fiber can stretch to as much as 600 percent of its original size and then snap back into shape. Since you now didn't have to worry about stretching your hose, they could last—in theory—a lot longer. According to the United States Patent and Trade Office, Allen Gant Sr. of Glen Raven Mills invented what we call "pantyhose"—an opaque nylon top that is sewn on to a pair of stockings—that same year. (Reader: Do you notice that all of these people are men?)
Combing the aisles of a hosiery department, be it at Duane Reade or Neiman-Marcus, consumers must not only decide which brand suits them, but decipher the differences between, say, L'eggs' "sheer vitality" and "sheer energy" lines, all without stepping foot in them. My testing criteria were as follows: All hose boasted sheer toes, and, whenever possible, I chose the color "nude." Nude is hardly a set color; some are the color of a bottled self tanner while others give you a Goth look. It's no small feat to find the perfect match: Many women I know would gladly sacrifice comfort for sheerness, so I evaluated color, too. I tested the hose by wearing each pair for a minimum of 10 hours; nearly every pair was worn for at least 12. I tested them by doing what most moms do every day: regularly jogging up and down stairs, picking up toys discarded from strollers, and other similarly vigorous physical activities. My friend Alicia, another work-at-home mom, helped me out. We were careful to note how long it took to don each pair, as wriggling in alone can be an exercise in self-flagellation.
L'eggs Sheer Elegance Silky Sheer Pantyhose Control Top
Panty: 80 percent nylon, 20 percent spandex
Leg: 85 percent nylon, 15 percent spandex
Run count: 3
Texture and Color: Like faux silk—mildly smooth but with a cheap, mesh feel. This L'eggs line doesn't make "nude," so I tried "buff," which resembled a light ivory on my legs—it's definitely for a pale woman or winter-only wear.
Fit: On the tight and suffocating side. The waistband in particular feels super-cinched. The hose began to itch halfway through the day, and we found them difficult to get on because of the fit.
Grade: F. Runs began spontaneously about three hours into wear, and did I mention that they are very tight?