Underwear as outerwear. Vintage menswear. Military. Utilitarian. These major trends of this past season can be credited to a number of designers and stylists, but there is just one accessory that encapsulates them all: sock garters. Sock garters – or sock suspenders, depending on whose grandfather you ask – have trickled up from the dredges of the internet to mainstream fashion and are talking over the blogosphere this season. With the return of the knee-high sock present at labels like Marni, Prada and Alexander Wang, the sock garter is an edgy, modern interpretation of the wartime essential, and the next big accessory.
Garters, both calf and thigh-high, have been an integral part of dressing since Medieval times, but the invention of Lycra in 1959 saw what was once a utility become antiquated and near extinct. Men’s garters stuck around on the old-fashioned, but it was women’s thigh-high stocking garters that took the focus as the garter of choice for fashionable folk. Thigh-high garters have often carried an over-sexualized stigma, but, with the recent popularity of the calf-high variety, women can enjoy the vintage nostalgia of garters without the catcalls that unfortunately follow those in thigh-highs.
They snapped back into fashion in the past few seasons as model-turned-designer Erin Wasson, for Erin Wasson x RVCA, Richard Nicoll, and Christian Dior featured thigh-highs in their fall 2009 collections. It wasn’t until influential bloggers such as Queen Michelle of Kingdom of Style, Jennine Jacob of The Coveted, and Susie Lau of Style Bubble began integrating them into their enviable wardrobes that the rest of the world took notice.
Queen Michelle of Kingdom of Style
If this movement were to be credited to one person, it would have to be Canadian DIY-fashion merchant Tara Bethune-Leamen. Owner of SWANclothing, the Etsy shop where she sells her wares, Bethune-Leamen first garnered international recognition with her Rose Quilted Louche Tote and Ruffle Bustle Bumbag. Both styles sold well to local and international clients, but the buzz really picked up when a number of influential style tribe denizens began wearing them and promoting the shop online.
Always a supporter of the blogosphere, Bethune-Leamen wanted to send a gift to blogger Imelda Matt of Well Shod, Well Informed, and was searching for the perfect garment. “He’s more than a bit of a wild child and I enjoy his somewhat feral yet glam blog very much,” says Bethune-Leamen on the blogger. “I wanted to send him something, but he is a shoe blogger. And I can’t make shoes! So I thought, well I can make him sock garters. That’s where it started.” Little did she know, the style would soon pick up and she would become an Internet phenomenon. “I have always been fascinated by the details of menswear. So it wasn’t a huge stretch,” says Bethune-Leamen, who now sells her custom-made, swan-emblazoned garters to both men and women.
Jennine Jacob of The Coveted
“They are nerdy sexy, but not overtly sexy, with a lot of other fashion culture and subculture “keyword” interest too – 50’s, prim, etiquette, steampunk, neo-Victorian, burlesque, pin-up, androgyny,” says Bethune-Leamen. “They embody a lot of ideas that society is playing with in terms of the continued definition of femaleness. And luckily, they just look really nice.” Men need not worry though – the accessory hasn’t been stolen from them for good (the jury is still out though on whether you will ever get your shrunken blazer back.) “Men also buy them for themselves. So it is a rediscovering of gentlemen wear for them, I would guess.”