Sometimes empathy with the characters gets in the way of fiction. My chief thought when Harriet Vane goes swimming with Lord Peter Wimsey in Have His Carcase is not the implications of running around semi-clothed at an isolated beach with the man one is adamantly not marrying,* though presumed to be his mistress by a goodly proportion of the population, but that – as if the poor woman has not suffered enough – she is going to have to put her stockings back on over legs which it will have been physically impossible – because it just is – to have got all the sand off. Forget getting shot and landing on a wheelbarrow, this is dedication to the art of detection.
I hate tights. I have always hated tights. When I started primary school, my mother sewed buttons on the tops of the tights and loops on the bottom of my vests in an attempt to stop my complaints that my tights were always falling down. Fortunately, because she is a sensible woman and it was not worth the daily battle, she soon gave in to long socks instead, and so I merely spent the next nine years with very cold knees. At high school, uniform trousers were permitted, and henceforth I simply didn’t wear winter skirts (that were not for best, and ankle length) until I fell in love with a tartan blue and pink one when I went to university, and the problem began again.
Oh yes. Tights by this stage may not have been woollen, ridged, and itchy, but they were still tights; hot, except when too cold, with a tendency not to fit, and by the end of the day, still itchy. It’s impossible to guess from the sizing on the box what the correct size is, and whether too large or too small, they always seem to fall down. I switched to hold ups – no annoying waistband (I loathe the waistbands of tights), but with the “hold up” band, impossible to forget that one is wearing them. Oh yes, and itchy by the end of the day (did I mention I have rather dry skin?). On the plus side, being individual legs, if one has multiple pairs it doesn’t matter if scimitar-like toenails go through the toe of one, as the other is still usable, and there are some fabulous designs available.
Then there’s stockings, which I have tried in a fit of “surely they can’t be so bad”, but the belt is annoying, being one more layer around the waist that really isn’t needed on top of knickers, camisole, blouse, and skirt, the stockings are – inevitably – itchy, and gravity’s toll in inexorable. I shall pass over bodiless tights. They’re actually pretty decent to wear, but I’ve only ever found them in cheap and nasty material.
So the quest continues. Do nice tights exist? Is silk hosiery of any breed worth it (as in, doesn’t itch, and, given the price, lasts more than one wearing)? Are garters an option if one isn't a bride? Any tricks to prevent ladders? I’m rather fond of winter skirts and frocks these days, but the hosiery issue does take the shine off.
But perhaps I shouldn’t complain too much. Sigrid Undset’s eponymous heroine Kristin Lavransdatter has to run through the streets of Oslo with no shoes, and icy water seeping through her leather hose. That's misery.
*I'm sorry, but puerile as it may be, I cannot but notice that Peter apparently elects not to turn round to observe Harriet coming down to swim until he is up to his neck in cold water.