The honest to goodness truth is that no single item of clothing can be classy or slutty on its own merits. It’s all about who wears it, and what their intentions are while wearing it. Simply put ... there is no right or wrong way to wear fishnet stockings.
Now let’s move on to the good stuff.
Fishnets are, at their simplest, mesh nylons. Instead of the closely woven knit of regular stockings, fishnets consist of an open weave fabric with a large number of closely spaced holes. These holes are often, though not always, diamond shaped.
The size of the nets themselves are on a continuum. At one end, you have micronet (sometimes called tulle) tights and stockings. In the middle, we have what we’ll call “regular” fishnets, using a diamond pattern in which each space is approximately 1/16” wide. At the other end, there are stringer nets (also called fencenets or whale nets) which consist of extra large diamonds. Think lots of skin, very little nylon. A fourth pattern, not quite as popular as the other three, is the industrial net which comes between regular fishnets and fence nets in size.
While the most popular fishnet colors are black and nude, they there are endless variations ranging from bright colors to backseams to irregular patterns and so on. As with anything else, quality matters. Better quality fishnets (which often, though not always) have a higher price equal more durable stockings which will hold their shape after multiple wearings.
Why are fishnets so enduringly popular? I think it’s because the net pattern not only accentuates curves, it also breaks up the mass of the leg making it appear more shapely and defined but without adding bulk. The net also provides a visual distraction, glossing over imperfections. This probably why dancers—from Broadway to burlesque—favor them.
So when is it appropriate to wear fishnets? As with garter belts, first decide on your intentions. Are you looking to “tart it up” for a night of clubbing, bar hopping, and partying? Do you want to add just a bit of an edge to your office wear? Are you going for a retro pin-up look? Only once you’ve decided why you’re wearing the fishnets, will you be able to determine the best fishnets for you.
For example, many workplaces want to appear conservative. So, for that setting, micronets might be more appropriate as they have the appearance of textured tights with a slight sheen from a distance. Darker or more muted colors would likely be suitable for a business setting as well, though that doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to basic black. Slate gray or navy blue fishnets could strike the right balance of modesty and verve.
For a night on the town, however, you could try layering black fishnets over opaque tights (my preference, especially for industrial and whale nets). Some of my punk and goth friends like to layer different colored fishnets on top of each other, perhaps a green fishnet over a yellow one or a red net over a black one. For the more adventurous among us, Celeste Stein makes fishnets with a startling array of patterns.
I’m not going to give you any hard and fast rules. I’m just going to say that whatever look you have, make sure it’s deliberate. If you’re trying to look sedate and demure, then whale nets are likely not for you. If you’re trying to make your legs “pop,” then you may want something more pronounced than tulle. The same is true with whether or not torn fishnets are appropriate. If your look is grungy and devil-may-care, then go for it, but if you’re trying to appear polished and tailored, you may want to throw the torn nets away.
A few more notes ... if you’re worried about “squidge,” I’d recommend fishnet stockings paired with a girdle or waist cincher rather than control top fishnets. In addition, even though fishnets are really just stockings with holes in them and therefore have lots of give, you want to be sure to buy your proper size. Ill-fitting stockings never flattered anyone.
Fishnets never go out of style and that’s because they’re a classic metaphor for sexiness. To me, fishnets are the epitome of the tease, both revealing and concealing, plus they look good on everyone. What’s not to like?