There is always a little suffering on that rocky runway toward beauty. Just ask anyone who has plucked eyebrows, waxed the bikini line, wobbled on platform heels, stifled the sneezes brought on by faux fur trim, or endured a scalpel, Botox or collagen injections. Perfection is not without its inconveniences.
The latest fashion ripple? The bare leg. Absolutely nude. No fair cheating with sheer or opaque nylons. We're talking no stockings. No hose. No security blanket to mask your ghostly gams or shield your razor-nicked knee.
We're talking skin. Shivering skin.
"It was freezing out today, and I had on a leather skirt and leather boots, but I had no stockings. I was freezing! And I thought: This is kinda nuts. But hey, this is the look," said Lauren Ezersky, who, as fashion and beauty reporter for Paper magazine in New York, has observed a growing number of women going stockingless. "The nude-leg look seems to look right for some reason. Heavy stockings just don't cut it. It just looks too heavy for the fashions today. Everything today is sheer, opulent, beaded. The leg can't interfere with that. Even the shoes are feminine. High heels, little spindly shoes. It just doesn't look right with the stocking."
The naked-leg message was launched on the runway several seasons ago but really caught on this past spring and summer, when stylish gals heave-hoed their hose to take advantage of strappy sandals and sexy skirts. Jennifer Lopez, Mariah Carey, Natasha Richardson, Charlize Theron, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Courteney Cox are all sporting bare legs, even as we transition to fall. Bare calves could be seen everywhere during the recent New York collections for spring 2000, setting the no-hose bar for Milan, London and Paris.
But as a fashion statement, unencumbered lower limbs were cemented by the sirens of HBO's hit "Sex and the City." Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha and Miranda--that frisky fab four--established bare flesh as the year's definitive style trend. None would be caught dead covering her bruised shins and lacquered tootsies with stockings. (OK, except for maybe Samantha, who employs a wardrobe of stockings to prolong her parlor games.) Skin, it seems, is the gotta-have-it fashion accessory for 2000.
"It's very liberating. It's very, very comfortable," Nancy Sotomayor, a New York-based editorial stylist for Cosmopolitan magazine, said of the no-stockings look. "I like the feeling of flesh--even my own. It's nice to reach down and feel your leg and feel skin not through nylon. Flesh is a turn-on."
Spoken like a true Cosmo girl! Sotomayor, who works frequently with fashion stylists, said the trend goes beyond being a fleeting fashion twitch. She likens today's stocking-shunning sisters to their bra-burning '60s foremothers. "It's part of coming into your own where you don't have to strap yourself down with pantyhose," Sotomayor said. "It's not just a fashion thing. It's for power women to strut into the office with a power suit showing the power leg."
And yet it's not lost on Sotomayor that even the liberated woman needs to feel sexy and attractive--to either sex. "There has to be part of your body exposed. You have to do it for your own sensuality," she said. "Nude legs are the new cleavage."
While that's all well and good, the nude-leg look probably won't cause landfills to bulge suddenly with discarded nylons. There are many women who feel comfortable, protected and polished wearing hose. Maybe they remember their mothers' edicts about never leaving the house without stockings. Maybe they like the support. Maybe they like the way hosiery minimizes skin imperfections or slims the silhouette. Maybe they feel more put together wearing hose.
American women spent $2.25 billion on sheer hosiery in 1998, according to the Hosiery Partnership for Consumer Education. The partnership, which represents the hosiery industry, has seen sales of sheer hosiery decrease over the past several years (sheer hosiery sales for 1997 were $2.41 billion). But the industry recognized the trend toward the bare leg and responded with ultra- and super-sheer stockings designed to be "virtually undetectable to the eye in achieving the bare leg look." A bevy of new skin shades also ensures that there's a color among the many brands for virtually any skin tone, according to the industry group.
"The majority of women can't go without hosiery," an industry spokeswoman said. "It's possible to achieve the bare-leg look without giving up the benefits of hosiery. If it's going to be a stocking, it's going to be so sheer, it's like you're not wearing anything."
Then, of course, there's always just wearing nothing. Even if the leg isn't in perfect condition, nude rules, Ezersky said.
"The most fashionable accessory today is Band-Aids," said Ezersky, who hosts her own style show, "Behind the Velvet Ropes," on the Style Channel. "I saw a girl today with Manolo Blahniks on and two Band-Aids. But they were fashionable Band-Aids."
Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service.