A bluestocking is an educated, intellectual woman, originally a member of the 18th-century Blue Stockings Society from England led by the hostess and critic Elizabeth Montagu (1720–1800), the "Queen of the Blues", including Elizabeth Vesey (1715–91), Hester Chapone (1727–1801) and the classicist Elizabeth Carter (1717–1806). In the following generation came Hester Lynch Piozzi (1741–1821), Hannah More (1745–1833) and Frances Burney (1752–1840). The term now more broadly applies to women who show interest in literary or intellectual matters.
Until the late 18th century, the term had referred to learned people of both sexes. It was later applied primarily to intellectual women and the French equivalent bas bleu had a similar connotation. The term later developed negative implications and is now often used in a derogatory manner. The reference to blue stockings may arise from the time when woollen worsted stockings were informal dress, in contrast to formal, fashionable black silk stockings. The most frequent such reference is to a man, Benjamin Stillingfleet, who reportedly lacked the formal black stockings, yet participated in the Blue Stockings Society. As Frances Burney, a Bluestocking, recounts the events, she reveals that Benjamin Stillingfleet was invited to a literary meeting by Elizabeth Vesey but was told off because of his informal attire. Her response was "don’t mind dress! Come in your blue stockings!"