Stocking Series, Part 4: The Rebellious Roll Garters | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
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Stocking Series, Part 4: The Rebellious Roll Garters

Wearing rolled stocking back then must have been akin to the liberating, punk rock feeling of wearing ripped fishnets today

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Bold women in their bathing suits and rolled stockings. Note the uniformed officials in the background who don’t look pleased. Date unknown.

It’s time to bring back rolled stockings. This isn’t attributable to scientific research or trend-spotting. It’s that in compiling Threaded’s Stocking Series (read Parts 1, 2, and 3), this was one trend I could imagine incorporating into what I wear today (as opposed to, say, paint-on stockings). Grimace if you like, but I’m imagining navy stockings rolled just below the knee, clog sandals, a knee-length, high-waisted pinstriped skirt and a vintage 1980s paisley blouse (with the shoulder pads intact, of course).

The rolled stocking, complete with  roll garter, had its heyday in the 1920s and ’30s. It was sandwiched between a period when women wore corsets with garters used to hold up stockings and a time when women’s undergarments included less bulky, but still cumbersome garter belts, also with attached garters.

 

Packages of roll garters (for sale now on Etsy).

So how’d it work? You’d slip on your stocking, slide the garter roll up your leg to the edge of the stocking (mid-thigh, usually) and fold the stocking edge over the garter, rolling it down your leg until it was just where you wanted it (generally below the knee).

 

Roll garters and their packaging.

This wasn’t some passing fad like winter of ’71 hot pants craze. In fact, a Paramount silent film from 1927 starring Louise Brooks was even named after the phenomenon: Rolled Stockings!

Movie poster for Paramount’s Rolled Stockings.

Keep in mind that during the peak season of garter rolls, stockings weren’t what they are today. Made from silk, they didn’t stretch (as nylon hose weren’t introduced until 1939), they came as a pair, and they needed to be held up on your leg – somehow.

Women show off their rolled stockings, 1920s.

So roll garters provided a real utility, safeguarding women from clothing malfunctions like finding your stockings gathered at your ankles. But rolling your stockings over a garter was also about making a fashion statement (the equivalent of  ’80s legwarmers?). In the 1920s – as corsets were worn less frequently, dresses became looser, hemlines rose, and flappers rebelled against preconceived notions of female etiquette – many women embraced the new roll garter, forgoing subtlety and increasing the chances that the roll – and a little leg! – might be seen. (Heard the one about the schoolteacher who was fired for a stocking roll dress code violation?).  To draw attention to this risqué business, stockings were often rolled beneath the knee and padded garters were patented to increase the girth of the roll.

Flapper garb in Moscow, Idaho, in 1922. Donated by Dave Bumgardne.

Something about the slouchy, more relaxed look of these rolled stockings is reflected in the women’s faces in the photos I found during my research. Dress silhouettes had been pretty rigid until that time, enforced by restrictive undergarments. From their satisfied expressions, and without any concrete evidence to back me up, wearing rolled stocking back then must’ve been akin to the liberating, punk rock feeling of, I don’t know, wearing ripped fishnets today?

Elsie Chocola poses in a bathing suit and rolled down stockings. Date unknown.

That being said, I haven’t attempted the rollover garter technique (turns out they still sell them !) so I could be dead wrong. Maybe it’d feel as restrictive as wearing 100 elastic bands around my calf. Hopefully, the women in these photos aren’t just grinning and bearing it.

Any Threaded readers out there who’ve rolled their hose and want to share their own memories?

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