Fishnet hose is making a comeback.
My father is turning over in his grave.
The two thoughts are synonymous.
I’ll never forget how I learned, as a child, that black, fishnet hosiery is derived from a Latin term: fuho netest, meaning: “SLEAZY.”
That message was not so subliminally ingrained in me as a young, impressionable adolescent girl during a time when studies showed that the average teenage girl’s brain was composed of Silly Putty, Hula-Hoops and Nehi grape soda.
When I was 14, a Greyhound bus service offered a route from my hometown of Churubusco to Fort Wayne, about 15 miles. Along with my neighbor and best friend, Roberta – nicknamed Bert – we would catch the Saturday bus in front of Barnhart’s Drug Store and Soda Fountain for about 50 cents – round trip – and travel to the big city.
We saved our weekly quarter allowance until we had a pile, hopped the bus and spent the afternoon wolfing down donuts and cherry sodas at Murphy’s 5 & 10 in downtown Fort Wayne. We also visited Stillman’s Department Store, a spectacular high rise – maybe five stories in all.
It was the glam world of the 60’s – women in pillbox hats and meticulous white gloves, gray-haired ladies who smelled of musty roses and snooty saleswomen wearing strands of pearls who worked all day selling meaningless attire – I mean, for god’s sake, there was an entire floor of gloves and nylons!
The clerks seemed oblivious to the fact that the world was changing around them – young boys were dying in some war in a jungle far away; women were marching for equal pay and in the South, people were being discriminated against and some were even being murdered in their quest for equality.
But there, on the top floor of Stillman’s – Hosiery & Gloves – life stood still.
I had saved my quarters until I had enough to make the ultimate of all acquisitions for a 14-year-old in 1966 – some groovy, black fishnet hose.
I told no one but Bert. Somehow, although we’d never discussed the complex, immoral implications of fishnet stockings, I instinctively knew my parents would not approve.
Besides, I wasn’t allowed to wear hosiery at all – fishnet or otherwise. That was in 1966BP (before pantyhose), and one year away from the fabulous fashion arrival of tights, so back then wearing nylons required as many mechanisms as a Rube Goldberg competition. There were complicated snap garters, Barbie-size rubber girdles, roll-up garters (which never failed to roll down at the most inopportune times) and garter belts.
Garter belt – well, it just sounded dirty.
Bert and I wore white anklets or knee-high socks. She was a good, Catholic girl. I was not. I was a half-assed Protestant, at best.
All I really knew was that once I possessed those black fishnet nylons – worn by all the chic, Twiggy-thin models in the fashion magazines – I would rise to the highest junior high level of popularity attainable anywhere in the Entire Universe of Churubusco.
My skin would clear up. Boys would want to hold my hand as we rode the Ferris wheel together at the annual Turtle Days Festival. The neighborhood bully would quit pulling my ponytail and spitting on my little brother. I would suddenly grow a bosom … or two? I would be invited to all the cool cats’ parties. The lunch lady would quit throwing potatoes au gratin at me while cursing, “$#%*&@ hold yer tray up!” Micky Dolenz of the Monkees would show up on my doorstep and we’d run off into the sunset singing, “Hey, Hey, We’re the Monkees…” I would be able to flawlessly perform The Twist, The Shake, The Mashed Potato, too.
Any old dance that I wanted to.
Life would be oh, so good. But first – I just had to get a pair of those black fishnet nylons.
One Saturday I donned my new mod, psychedelic, empire waist dress and traveled with Bert to downtown Fort Wayne. At Stillman’s, I emptied my accumulation of allowance monies onto the counter. The silver-haired saleslady smiled as she told me the fishnet hosiery was on sale and I had enough money for TWO pairs. Sweet bliss.
On the way home, sitting on the bus with our finery, Bert and I oohed and ahhed over the silky black stockings with the criss-crossed threads. I told her I planned to wear them to school on Monday.
We looked at each other meaningfully. That would be no easy task. But fortunately, I excelled in parental deception techniques.
Every morning a group of girls, who like me, were forbidden to wear nylons or miniskirts or makeup – would enter the “Girls” restroom, where we would change from our juvenile cotton socks into glamorous silk stockings with lace garters. We would roll up our knee-length skirts at the waist until they hung mid-thigh, but covered the top of the garters, which took strategic planning and an eye for detail. Some would carefully apply contraband mascara, eye shadow and Pretty in Pink lipstick, as well.
We went to school as pig-tailed Pollyannas and emerged from that restroom looking like eighth grade Ladies of the Night.
That same evening, after our trip to Fort Wayne, I decided to sneak out in my new hosiery and go to the high school basketball game. The school was only a block away and my parents would never notice.
But I forgot about The Family. I could not even floss without elbowing a sibling.
As I prepared to slide out the back door, one of my brothers yelled, “Ugh! … Why are your legs all crackly?” This caused numerous other young siblings to run in the back hallway and stare at my legs. “Ooohhh!” “Did spiders hatch on your legs?” “Are your legs rotten?” “Will you die?”
Mom and Dad entered the back hallway. My dad was frowning. Really frowning.
Okay – he flipped his wig, went ape, had a cow.
He ordered me to remove the hosiery at once. He demanded I give him both pairs and then marched out to the backyard burn barrel and set fire to my brand new purchase – all the while muttering something about “cheap, … bawdy … trash … not my daughter …”
Mom and I stared at each other – speechless. I had done some stupid – very stupid – things and would continue to do even more stupid things in the years to come, but we never again saw my dad lose his temper like he did that day.
Years later, I would wonder: Did he have a mean aunt who beat him with fishnets? Was it a painful memory of a sadistic saloon girl in Korea? Some morally ambivalent trollop from the bayous of Arkansas?
We would never know.
All I knew was that I would never wear fishnet nylons again.
On a good note, I did finally learn to do The Twist, The Shake, The Mashed Potato, too – but it was done in a pair of very uncool white cotton socks.