Historical Meaning of “Blue Stocking”
In some languages this is quite a common phrase, it usually refers to a completely unattractive woman who only cares about her studies or work and nothing else.
Let’s look back in history to see where this figure of speech came from. It seems that at least all around Europe this is usually directed at a highly intellectual woman to ridicule her a little bit for her nerdy outfit. The meaning of this expression is quite vague, depending on the country or era. This term in German is known as Blaustrumpf, in Dutch as blauwkous and in French as bas-bleu.
Even though this phrase is used to describe a woman, it originated in Europe as a nickname for Benjamin Stillingfleet in the 17th century who was a botanist, translator, and an author from England. He was a very intellectual man and without him there was no more interesting discussions. However, he paid no attention to fashion, wearing blue stockings instead of silk black, as it was common back then. Other sources may say that silk was too expensive, so he wore blue worsted stockings instead.
The "lack of fashion" idea was later emphasized by a French painter Honore Victorin Daumier in the mid of 19th century who painted humorous series called Les Bas Bleus to mock the blue stockings society. These paintings had a satiric nature to them, showing women in a repelling and androgynous way, completely immersed in philosophical discussions and oblivious to the mess and dirt around them.
Meaning of "Blue Stocking" in different countries
Germany: This was a way to tease those who tell on others (snitch or tattle teller), thus making a reference to street policemen who wore blue stockings.
Italy: Probably this is the only country with a positive meaning for this expression. InVenice in XV century blue stockings were only reserved for scientists and academics. It was an attribute of an educated person.
France: For French this expression would be a synonym of being a slob. It implied that one would be so immersed in intellectual development that would not pay any attention to fashion and household chores.
Eastern Block: In former USSR this is a way to call a woman without any charm who only focuses on her work or academics. But this is probably all coming from the French.
Could this be the reason why navy blue hosiery is so rare these days? Could it have the negative connotation dating to the middle ages in Europe? It is time for an upgrade.
Have you seen women wearing these at all lately? This is 2012 and when I look at educated women, they are rarely in stockings to begin with! There is even rarely a dress code in science-oriented companies and most women come in blue jeans, not in blue stockings. Why can’t a woman in blue stockings be a smart and trendy lady who knows how to present herself well?
Let me share some responses here that I got from people about blue stockings.
Falbala: There is also a UK online store called Falbala that offers hand made decorated stockings and a lot of them are blue, Karen, the owner admits that blue and gold is her favourite combination. Their products are actually very unique and trendy, thus re-defining blue stockings as a modern fashion accessory. I asked her how to wear blue stockings in a stylish way and this was her reply " I wear them with black denim shorts, patent black heels and a royal blue top with a gold necklace".
Bluestocking Lounge: This is in fact quite a trendy burlesque lounge in South Wales and for sure they are not lacking any style. To answer my questions about why they chose this name, this is what they had to say on Twitter about this:
"This exactly what we are about – going against the norm and doing the unexpected. Our guests feel like they’re a secret society! A name is just a name until you fill it with meaning by however you use it. I took it (the name) from Bluestocking Society, the 1400s society founded in Venice by erudite men and women."
Tricity Vogue : Another interesting personality is a jazz and cabaret singer, Tricity. She is also the co-founder of the Blue Stockings Society cabaret and burlesque sorority in London, UK.
I asked about what this expression means to her and this was her reply on Twitter: "To me blue stockings mean a combination of clever and sexy, with a healthy dose of rebellion thrown in." What a perfect way to put it! She wrote the best detailed history article of what blue stocking really means and where it came from. You can read it here.
Thank you to those who contributed to this post:
Falbala Stockings – a source of crafty and fashionable stockings in many fashion colours, including blue.
http://www.falbala.co.uk/ (UK online store)
Blue Stockings Lounge – a dynamic burlesque and alternative cabaret lounge offering a variety of shows, events, classes/workshops and custom parties.
http://bluestockinglounge.com/ (South Wales)
Tricity Voque – one of a kind vintage jazz and cabaret singer, ukulele player, co-founder of the Blue Stockings Society in London.
Blue Stockings Society – London’s cabaret and burlesque sorority, founded by a cabaret performer Tricity Voque and an international burlesque clown Audacity Chutzpah. They are a regular Time Out Critics Choice and their nights have been dubbed "London’s most celebrated sorority" with "the best line-up in town."
*Friends, the only funding for this blog is from the shop. Why not see if there are any fancy stockings that catch your eye?*