The Stocking “King”
An Interview with Daniel Whitsett of Secrets In Lace
By Angie Pontani
I first met Daniel Whitsett in the early 2000’s as he was building his online stocking empire. One margarita-fueled meal led to lots of brainstorming, burlesque building concepts, and over a decade of friendship. From sponsoring countless events to working together on multiple Viva Las Vegas presentations and an epic Lingerie Fashion Week show, Secrets In Lace has been a strong supporter of the burlesque scene for well over 10 years! From outfitting to inspiring shows and looks! I was thrilled to ask Daniel some questions about Secrets In Lace and ask some deconstructing-the-stocking questions you have always wanted to know but were afraid to ask!
How did Secrets In Lace come to be?
Secrets In Lace started in 1984 as a retail store in Northern Virginia. When my wife and I were doing our research we conceived of the business as a mail order company. In the early 80’s starting a mail order company was difficult. There were no desktop systems with which to work; digital cameras didn’t exist. So, we decided to open a store.
At that time the majority of the lingerie available was from companies that are considered vintage brands today (and most of which no longer exist). We were selling bullet bras, merry widows, shapewear girdles, garter belts, and authentic nylon stockings (full fashioned and reinforced heel and toe). As time went on we added more modern items to our selections but we never stopped selling the vintage looks. We found that the vintage styles and stockings did the best. We grew to three stores in our area and in 1993 decided to transition to mail order. This coincided with the beginning of the internet. We published a traditional mail order catalogue and launched a website focused on the vintage styles centered around our expertise in authentic nylon stockings.
Did you have a background in marketing or textiles?
Not really. I know what I like and I like what I like; it’s easy to create and market when you look at it from that point of view.
Was the emphasis always on authentic nylon stockings?
Remember we were selling 1950’s and 1960’s designs that always had a garter belt or girdle so we naturally offered stockings. Authentic, 100% nylon stockings without lycra, were always in the product mix but not the focus.
“Silk stockings” is a popular phrase, but when it comes to stockings, what’s best? Silk or nylon?
Silk is a natural fiber and is therefore not uniform in its shape. Because of that, the end result for a silk stocking is something that feels a little “sticky” to the touch. Nylon is uniform and has a very smooth feel. Most people when given the blind test will pick nylon, but it’s up to the individual.
There is so much detail and nuance in stockings, was it trial by fire or were you always an expert in stocking styles, colors and deniers?
I always knew what looked good, so having ideas for different stocking styles was not a problem for me. The challenge is implementing the designs on 1950’s machines and finding the complementary yarns to create the styles.
For those who have no idea what “denier” means, can you break it down?
Without getting into units of measurement and the “science” for stockings the denier relates to the weight of the single fiber of nylon yarn per meter; the smaller the denier the finer the yarn. Most Secrets In Lace Ultra Sheer Nylon Stockings are 15 denier and are very sheer. We have some 10 and 7 denier stockings that are even more sheer (and lighter weight). With finer denier comes finer, more delicate yarn that are more easily run.
What is the enduring appeal of stockings?
First, I think it’s all about sheerness on the leg. Legs in stockings look better than those not in stockings (some will also say pantyhose – Yikes!). After that, the answer is all over the map—from femininity to sex appeal to fetish.
You manufacture on original pre-war machinery; how did you get your hands on that equipment?
In the late 1980’s we became involved with the remaining factories that were knitting full fashioned stockings. We worked with the knitters at the machines developing our exclusive styles and then bought production time to knit the styles in large quantities. This is different from our competitors “tagging on” to existing production or in some cases even buying the factory brand and repackaging it to look like it’s a different product and then making claims that they had developed their own style.
As time went on, these factories developed financial difficulties. Secrets In Lace stepped in with the financial resources to keep them going. In essence, we kept the factories that were supplying our competitors alive without getting credit. Eventually, we purchased the factories and today we own two of the remaining four factories totaling over 60% of the production of full fashioned stockings. Additionally, we have vintage circular knit machines which make our famous Reinforced Heel and Toe Stockings. When we say “Secrets In Lace developed” something, it’s really true.
Do they even manufacture machinery capable of making that style and quality of stocking anymore?
Not for fine denier stockings!
You always hear Cuban Heel or French Heel, what is the difference?
Several different names out there! Some of this also depends on the part of the world the original manufacturers came from.
There are two simple heel types; a pointed heel and a squared heel. Since we bought some of the original stockings from French companies, the pointed heels were called French Heels. The factories in England called them Point Heels. The look is a bit more elegant and subtle.
Cuban Heels are squared, not pointed. In the early 1980’s when we started marketing full fashioned stockings, many women considered Cuban Heel stockings something worn by “Street Ladies” and women didn’t want to be associated with that. I decided to change the shape of the heel by making it a bit wider and shorter and called it a “European Heel”.
You create gorgeous collections of bras, panties, and garters. What are your inspirations?
I have an extensive collection of garments from our stores and vintage shops. It is easy for me to get inspired!
You often mix bold colors, red and blues, purples and red, is it a risk?
Anything new and out of the norm is always risky! But when I like something it is hard to get the look out of my head. When I first considered bold, contrasting colors it was from an outerwear outfit I saw in Paris. I thought it would be interesting to create some collections based on that look.
Who do you find to be your target audience?
First, let me say that I really don’t do “playwear”. We like to design toward the notion that Secrets In Lace can be worn out.
Our audience is growing all the time. We reach young vintage inspired ladies, men looking to get something elegant for their wife or partner, and women tired of the same old T-shirt bra look.
You connected early on with burlesque, supported so many shows, and dressed so many performers. How did you make the connection?
I had the good fortune to meet a group of young ladies bent on bringing burlesque back to the forefront of entertainment. After a couple of dinner meetings and margaritas, I was pretty much all in. I believe that was the 3rd New York Burlesque Festival.
A lot of people who are not retro dressers or lingerie experts get nervous at the thought of stockings, thinking they are more complex than they are. If you were to recommend a “Stockings for Dummies” product set, what would it be?
Any of our Garter Belts are good choices. We have a few video clips we put together many years ago (before camera phones) that explain the “How To”.
We have two very easy-to-wear stockings that are 100% nylon and have a bit more stretch so they both fit well and are easy to put on: Style 9730 Dana and Style 9512 Dana with a Backseam. Our Classic Reinforced Heel & Toe Style 9900I is also wonderful and comes in five sizes.
There is nothing to be nervous about. Secrets In Lace really has something for everyone—from a bullet bra beginner to a seasoned corset connoisseur!
All images courtesy of Secrets In Lace and Angie Pontani