In Georgian polite society elegant poise and posture were considered of the utmost importance. Promenading, assemblies, tea-drinking, and of course dancing, placed great emphasis on the carriage of one’s head, the movements of arms and hands, and perhaps most importantly the disposition of one’s legs and feet. Essential to the elegance of the lower limbs was their clothing: stockings and garters.
As shoes became more elaborate and luxurious, stockings expanded in variety and sophistication. Both sexes had a wide choice of materials for their stockings, including silk, fine cotton and worsted (wool yarn), while technical innovations such as ribbing and gore clocks (wedges inserted above the instep) ensured a better fit. By the middle of the eighteenth century white silk stockings had become the fashion for formal or semi-formal occasions, with brighter colours being favoured for daily wear. The decorative qualities of stockings could be enhanced by intricate embroidered motifs such as naturalistic floral and leaf designs in the gores, helping to accentuate a shapely ankle. During the last quarter of the eighteenth century striped stockings became all the rage with fashionable young men about town, as horizontal and even zig-zag effects were made possible by technical advances in the stocking frame industry.
These stockings were held in place by garters, fastened by arrangements ranging from simple ribbons to elaborate tasselled bows that closed with clips. Although garters were, like stockings, a necessary ‘everyday’ accessory, they were produced in many different forms from the plain to the luxurious, decorated with embroidery and crystal beadwork. Symbols such as Cupid’s arrows were often woven onto garters, or they would be embroidered with mottos or rhyming couplets ranging from the endearing to the risqué. Such treatments highlight the possibilities for non-verbal communication and flirtation offered by the decoration of these intimate accessories – an aspect often explored in Georgian visual satire, and in paintings depicting fashionable ladies at their ‘toilette’ by artists such as French painter François Boucher.