The leading ladies of social media weren’t the only ones having fun with the coy accessory. At Christian Dior, models stepped out in knee-high black and white fishnet tights with Mary Jane heels for a Lolita-type touch. Industry-veteran label Xuly.Bët put a look-at-me spin on the style by making them in highlighter yellow and hot pink. By contrast at Valentino knee-highs felt as if they were almost part of a school uniform when worn with a suit. London-based designer Nensi Dojaka put her signature sultry twist on the tights by fastening them like a halter to a pair of crosshatched flats. Meanwhile, Yuhan Wang showed dainty thin white socks embellished with little florals but subverted their innocence with brutal black lace-up flats with a square toe.
Of course, knee-high tights and socks have been around for decades. They were all the rage in the ’60s, frequently worn with the ubiquitous mod mini. Of course, they’re also associated with the age-old fetishized schoolgirl trope. Look up “schoolgirl costume” and cheeky knee socks on the limbs of some buxom blonde—who is certainly no longer in school!—will show up front and center on your screen.
And yet the look never fails to get a high-fashion spin. In a December 1993 Vogue article introducing Charlotte Gainsbourg, daughter of English actor Jane Birkin and French singer Serge Gainsbourg, Charlotte was dressed up in an itty-bitty mini with, of course, knee socks. “A perfect foil for fashion’s schoolgirl-meets-sex-kitten attitude,” reads the introductory line.
Fast-forward a few months later to the March 1994 issue of Vogue, and a piece titled “Hot Socks” rounded up all the above-the-ankle socks and tights from the spring collections. Gianni Versace created an optic white lace pair with combat boots, and Anna Sui offered a sheer cream iteration. Ralph Lauren made black tights to reach over the knees, and Prada heightened the bobby sock and paired it with sturdy loafers for contrast.
When hemlines shrink, cropped tights and socks are the best way to provide coverage without feeling too bare or too boring. Saucy and with endless options to mix and match, knee-highs are the answer.