Tights, pantyhose, stockings. What are they and how do they differ? Although the term hosiery isn’t one commonly used today, we’re all familiar with the garments we use to accentuate the appearance of the leg, protect our skin from the harshness of winter and add an extra element to an outfit– but where did it all begin?
What’s the difference between tights, pantyhose and stockings?
The term hosiery can be used for any garment designed to cover the legs or feet, but when it comes to differentiating between tights, pantyhose and stockings – where do you start?
Tights are footed, tight-fitting full leg and rear hosiery and are typically never worn alone, but rather as an undergarment with skirts or dresses. Tights can come in a wide variety of denier, colours, styles and materials – making them a very versatile type of garment.
Pantyhose are typically the thinnest type of hosiery and are usually made from nylon and designed to go over the feet and up to the waistline. They are often associated with style and sexual dress.
Stockings are very similar to tights in that they can come in a variety of designs, thicknesses and colours, but they are typically over the feet and stretch as far as the tops of the thighs, rather than offering full coverage like tights do.
When was the first hosiery used?
Today women often rely on different types of hosiery to compliment an outfit or add an element of intrigue into the bedroom, but this wasn’t always the case. In fact, the first official documentation of hosiery in the way we know it now was in the 1590s, with speculation over other, less traditional hosiery being used as far back as the Egyptian era.
In 1590, the first stocking was made from woven cloth using knitting machines designed specifically for the manufacturing of stockings. These stockings could be made from cotton, linen, wool or silk – and are a far cry from the type of stockings we know (and love) today!
However, all hosiery designed pre 1920s was done to meet a practicality need, rather than style and so hosiery was used for warmth and warmth alone and were typically dark in colour.
The introduction of flesh coloured stockings
It was in the 1920’s that the first flesh coloured stocking was manufactured and was initially used to combat the cold as hemlines naturally got shorter, and women wanted an additional layer of warmth. This meant women were sporting long johns, with flesh coloured sheer stockings on top – but it was this that led to the first indication that hosiery could be used for more than just practical purposes as the fashion of the 1920s took off in a big way towards the latter years. Women had started using hosiery and other items of clothing to display their sexuality, and interest in hosiery that still revealed some of the leg, typically the thigh area, rose.
Introduction of nylon stockings
Until 1939, stockings were primarily made from silk or rayon but the innovative American company Du Pont would be the first to change the face of women’s stockings when they addressed a huge gap in the hosiery market for a new material.
Nylon stockings held the promise of durability, a luxury lost on the delicate nature of silk stockings, and they were incredibly affordable – so it was no surprise that the company sold up to 4 million pairs of their nylon stockings in the U.S., just in one day.
The sale of nylon stockings on the black market
With the unprecedented popularity of nylon stockings came a hard blow when America entered into World War II and Du Pont were required to use their nylon reserves for the fabrication of parachutes and rope. This sudden stoppage of nylon stocking production led to the creation of a black market for stockings.
The nylon riots of 1945
The end of the war marked the reintroduction of Du Pont’s nylon stockings production, but demand was higher than ever after years of shortage, and so the company struggled to meet the volume needed, and so the nylon riots began.
Commonly referred to as the “stocking panic”, this period marked chaos across American stores that were flocked with huge mobs of women trying to get their hands on a pair of nylon stockings. Tens of thousands of women would queue for miles in a bid to get a pair of stockings, and many had no issue with knocking down the competition and destroying shop displays in a bid to get their goods.
It wasn’t until 1946 that Du Pont were able to meet demand, marking the end of the nylon riots.
Film and theatre influence
The rise of film and theatre in the 1940s and 1950s led to the creation of a sort of precursor to pantyhose. Experimentation in costume and innovative thinking brought on the first glimpse of the pantyhose with stockings that were sewn to the briefs of actresses and dancers.
But it wasn’t until 1959 that the first pair of commercial pantyhose was brought to market, leading to the rapid decline in stocking use.
Pantyhose became the most popular form of hosiery
In 1920, U.S. sales of pantyhose officially exceeded that of stockings, as women had made the switch and showed no signs of going back. To this day, pantyhose remains to be the most sold kind of hosiery in the world, and we can totally see why!
Do you love women’s hosiery?
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