Fishnets: From naughty to nice

New colors, patterns, materials are enhancing the mainstream leg

December 14, 2003|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Sun Staff

No matter how old you are, fishnet stockings have probably made at least one appearance in your life, if not your wardrobe.

In the 1950s, fishnets were for sultry pinup girls like Bettie Page. In the 1960s, fishnets in the form of pantyhose went Carnaby Street mod. Worn in the punk world with micro-minis, they took on a more sinister cast in the '70s. In the '80s, women pulled on fishnets to dance to Madonna's Like a Virgin. More recently, fishnets became a staple among the Goth and Industrial subcultures.

"They come and go, but I think they are sort of timeless," says fishnet fan Karina Vaysburd, the marketing and public relations director for Water Water Everywhere, a chain of bathing suit stores.

So what's the big news?

Fishnets now come in countless variations and can be worn on practically any occasion by women of all ages. With so many colors and pattern sizes to choose from, fishnets can be sexy, subtle or just a lot of fun. And today, fishnets, reinforced with lycra, don't pouf out at the knees and ankles as they used to.

"Once it's at Target, you know it's mainstream," says Vaysburd, who finds her fishnets "anywhere from Nordstrom to Wet Seal to Target."

Worn "in a graceful and sophisticated way, [fishnets] always look so feminine and beautiful," says Vaysburd, 28, who lives in Baltimore.

Fishnets add texture, yet can work in the most conservative of settings. "I would never wear nude pantyhose," Vaysburd says. "An alternative to that is wearing a pair of nude fishnets with high heels or open-toe sandals."

Jennifer Culler, an administrative assistant at Trahan Burden & Charles advertising agency and a free-lance costume designer, makes the most of fishnets. "I have a whole variety; different colors, black and silver, sparkly, burgundy. Beige [fishnets] are very popular right now," says Culler, who has bought them at Victoria's Secret and Hot Topic.

Like Vaysburd, Culler, 31, sees fishnets everywhere. "I had a friend who just got married in Vegas in a Titanic-era gown, and she wore Victorian boots and ivory fishnets," the Charles Village resident says.

Not long ago, Culler went to New York City, where she wore "knee-high black boots, a pleated skirt, cashmere sweater and fishnets."

The "trend is definitely patterned hose and fishnets," says Lynn Fram, co-owner of Bare Necessities, a Greenspring Station lingerie shop where Wolford fishnets are available for $38 and $40 a pair.

Even if your occupation is not dancer at the Moulin Rouge, fishnets can easily go to the workplace, Fram says. "I wear them to work, because I want people to see that they can be fun and they can wear them all the time."

Classic black fishnets "sell more for evening," Fram says. She recently had a client who was attending an evening wedding that called for cocktail party attire. "She had a funky dress and killer shoes," and the fishnets "went great with them," Fram says.

"If you wear them for work, I would stay away from black," Vaysburd says of fishnets. She suggests wearing nude fishnets "or a great brown pair with a tweed skirt and maybe high-heeled Mary Janes."

Pairing brown fishnets with something sexy, like velvet, achieves a look that is richer instead of racier, Vaysburd says.

"I'm working them into my work wardrobe, which I can do because I work at the American Civil Liberties Union, where we're all about freedom of expression," says Stacy Mink, director of development and public education for the ACLU of Maryland.

Fishnets have a way of uniting the old and the new. "I dress in a mix of new and vintage clothes," and the fishnets tie it all together, says Mink, 38, who lives in North Baltimore.

Wearing fishnets should not be limited to women of a certain age, Fram says. She recently had a client who was "probably in her late 70s. She was tall, very attractive, very hip." She bought fishnets with the new, large diamond pattern and looked great, Fram says.

"I do think age is a factor with fishnets, but more in terms of color," Vaysburd says. "Neons like pink or green or yellow definitely work best on younger women, but I think that a pair of nude or brown or dark-green fishnets would be beautiful and elegant on an older woman.

"More than anything," Vaysburd says, "I think it comes down to a woman's attitude and personal style -- if she feels she can wear fishnets, then she probably can."

Kimry Perrone, the manager of Ma Petite Shoe and Oh Said Rose in Hampden, is momentarily expecting a shipment from We Love Colors, which offers 40 fishnet hues. As she speaks, Perrone says she is wearing tie-dye fishnets in a fashion fusion of the '40s and '60s, she says.

Many of the shoes in Perrone's shop are "'40s-inspired," and look great with fishnets, she says. Perrone also suggests layering colored, opaque tights underneath fishnets of another color. She wears purple tights with green fishnets, for example.

Knee-high fishnets are another new twist. "If I'm wearing jeans, I will put on black fishnet knee-highs with open-toe shoes or strappy sandals," Vaysburd says. It's still a striking look, and "you don't have to show any leg for that," she says.

And those who are more daring may try to "pull off fishnet knee-highs, high-heeled Mary Janes and a little pleated, Catholic-school girl skirt," Vaysburd suggests.

Culler also notes a proliferation of fishnet clothing, such as tops made of opaque fabric covered with fishnet mesh. Vaysburd is also seeing an explosion of fishnet beyond hosiery. "There's a lot of that fishnet mesh in the bathing suit collections for cruise and resort wear for 2004," she says.

And always, there is the ageless allure of fishnet stockings. Vaysburd describes their sly sex appeal as "almost like a wink." Not to mention: "They do this great, curvaceous thing for your leg."

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