I read both vintage novels and novels set in various historical periods. The latter depend on historical verisimilitude and it’s all in the details. I’m not a professional historian, but when an anachronism crops up it makes me jump a little. And the easy to check, minor details make me jump the highest. Obviously when the novel is Steampunk or Fantasy, all bets are off. The anachronisms are part of the game. Dates and facts aren’t important, but… for regular historical settings, it’s best to double-check the details that bring the backdrop of a story to life.
I was watching the new Amazon series ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ and one of those easy to check flubs ruined my confidence in the detailed and almost seamless façade of the late 1950s in New York.
It was an easy one to check and it jumped out because I KNEW it was wrong. How did I know? I’m getting old. No, I’m not THAT old! But I know that when I was a little girl—in the late 1960’s women wore stockings with garter belts and not pantyhose.
In the MOD swinging 60’s of 1967, 1968 & 1969, everyone wore fishnets. I remember begging for the shoes I saw in the movie posters for ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ and to wear fishnet stockings like the grownups I saw on TV. Eventually my mom relented and I was rewarded with a pair of white fishnets and the garter belt to hold them up. It was uncomfortable and even my natural stubbornness failed. I hated that garter belt.
And in a matter of months, pantyhose took over the market. If I had to guess, based on my childhood recollections, this was the spring of 1968. The movie came out in 1967, but it took a while for the fashions to filter out to the suburbs. The stockings and garter belt stayed in my sock drawer for years, nesting with my heavy tights and little girl socks. Girls were not allowed to wear pants in my elementary school and I wore tights all the time.
So when Mrs. Maisel made a reference to two-for-one pantyhose, I wanted to scream. A quick Internet search yielded the invention in 1959… but it took a long time to catch on. It wasn’t a good joke and it broke the magical spell of the late 1950s. Historical fiction is a magic act and it’s important not to undermine the spell.
As for my other early ‘fashion passions’…. I also begged for a pair of black & white go-go boots. They would have suited Emma Peel in ‘The Avengers’ and my mother refused. Decades later, I bought a pair and they remained in my closet for years. They were as uncomfortable as the garter belt.