Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pantyhose: ethnography of an object

   Pantyhose have been a common western commodity since the 1960s.  These articles are created by a man, Ernest G. Rice, and patented in 1956.  Although these articles seem innocent and often practical, there is a deep rift of controversy and erotic connotations behind the scenes when it comes to the use and purpose of pantyhose.  Pantyhose were a big deal when they come out to replace the old style of stockings women wear to cover their legs while wearing skirts shorter than the ankle.  It was often the case that workplace and school uniforms required pantyhose as an article that women and girls are required to wear.  Hose are often worn by women to keep their legs warm or to help buffer the discomfort from shoes.  Some individuals like the way pantyhose can cover imperfections of the skin such as varicose veins, scars, and blemishes.
   Pantyhose begin to strike up controversy from the beginning.  Not only was Ernest G. Rice’s copyright and patent contested by other inventors of similar articles, but during the 1960s and 1970s was a strong wave of feminist thought that advocated boycotting articles such as the pantyhose and braziers (men’s inventions to suppress women).  The argument was that women should not have to use these articles to become the perfect sexual objects men desire.  This did not stop the hose from becoming a highly popular commodity up through the 1990s.  The hegemony of pantyhose had taken hold of western society.  With the turn of the century came the popular style of keeping legs bare, thus the pantyhose were no longer needed.  However, it is still currently fashionable to wear hose with formal wear and in the colder months tights become a fashionable way to keep legs warm.
   An unusual fashion for pantyhose has come to light recently: “mantyhose.”  These pantyhose for men may have started with the medical use of compression socks for vascular problems or they may have been spurred by the boon of keeping legs warm in addition to other types of pants.  This odd pantyhose fashion may have had a more erotic starting point.
   There has been a fetshization of pantyhose from the time of their creation.  An appeal to long, slender, hairless, and smooth legs was invigorated by the invention of pantyhose.  The sexualization of pantyhose was inevitable, and we can see that in the advertisements of the 1960s and 1970s.  It became an incredibly erotic sight to see a woman in nothing but pantyhose.  This interest also spurred a re-occurrence of images of women in the old fashion stockings and garter straps.  There is a tale of bondage and submission to be told about women encased in this hosiery.  The garments give a glimpse of the pressure the women are constantly under.  In the community of drag queens, pantyhose are necessary for the trade; to represent the female means to submit oneself to the pressures she lives with.  Some fetishists who wear pantyhose seek the pressure of being encapsulated by layers of nylon or spandex; full body stockings are popular for this kind of erotic game of dress-up.  Fetishists who enjoy wearing the hosiery often seek the tactile pleasure from the experience. "[Pantyhose] provide a certain amount of applied force, as if hundreds, perhaps thousands of hands were applying pleasure wherever the nylon touched or the nylon pulled away, leaving a split second vacuum only to reapply again." says Rantali, an internet fetish blogger.  Pantyhose have a history of being very soft and silky to the touch.  Fetishists who seek to put others into pantyhose may often extend the experience into a more direct form of bondage and literally tie up their partner using the hose.  Using the pantyhose for this purpose really removes the original function of the hose and changes them into a new object only with some residual memories of its previous form (Baudrillard).
   There is a movement of value in this commodity in the economic and the social markets.  In the past, pantyhose were a hot commodity and have recently lost the interest of the public; the economic value is depreciating due to changes in style.  The social value of the pantyhose is changing from respectable business woman garment to a drag queen’s #2 wardrobe necessity.  Though the business woman is not much different than the drag queen in that they both follow their interests and make money while looking good, there is a difference in the cultural groups in which they conduct business in.  The social capital accumulated by both individuals and their pantyhose can be high or low depending on the way they display their taste in hosiery (Bourdieu).  Taste is a big factor in how others are judged.  In a business setting, the drag queen’s attire (hose and all) are in bad taste, and vice versa, the business woman would not easily fit into a crowd of drag queens.  These two individuals remain connected through pantyhose and through the message each is trying to send out.  The business woman is trying to portray a figure of conservative and sexy feminine power.  The drag queen is also displaying sexy feminine power but with a campy style or over exaggerated femininity.
   Tasteful or tasteless, pantyhose are the hegemonic tool to make women perfect or they are the tools of the trade for a cross dressing man.  Used as clothing, medical apparatus, a face covering for convenience store robbers, or an erotic device of bondage, pantyhose fit well into many functional niches.