Saturday, March 04, 2006

Hose: A brief history of underwear

"From the tips of her toes to the tops of her hose " is a quote from the talented photographer Elmer Batters and encapsulates exactly his fascination with lady's legs. I have a similar fascination for words. You know how a word gets into your lexicon and you use it all the time but never think about where it came from. Well for me that word would be "hose". I use it to describe things other than shoes, worn next the feet. Hose is often taken to mean stockings,socks, or tights but it can also include underclothing, as I will explain.

Some authorities believe the incidence of Candida infection of toe nails (Thrush) has increased subsequent to the popularity of tights. The story of pantyhose is relatively short compared to other leg coverings and the absence of information on yeast infection prior to the invention of pantyhose make meaningful comparisons impossible.

Prior to the last century the term hose was used to describe all things other than shoes which were worn next to the feet. Hose came to mean stockings, socks, tights as well as underclothing. According to Hawthorn (1993) stockings were worn over 3000 years ago. Nomadic tribes of Arabia were known to knit sandal socks well before the reign of Cleopatra (69-30BC). The women of the tribe spun the yarn and the men did the knitting. Sandal socks were worn to keep the sand from getting lodged between the toes. As knitting techniques improved the crafts were broadcast far and wide by the Christian missionaries as they spread across the Mediterranean.

Most Europeans covered their legs with rough fitting knitted or woven trousers which stretched to the ankles. Called hose in Old German the term meant to cover the leg. Chausses were also worn and provided rudimentary stockings which criss-crossed the legs were held up with garters for decoration. Some chausses covered the foot others stopped at the ankles.

Between the fourth and tenth centuries, hose was made from knitted materials in a tubular shape. Tapes sewn to the tops served as simple garter supports which were tied to a cloth belt and worn around the waist under the gonelle or kirtle. Men wore hose either under their breeches or pulled up over them. In warm weather the working classes wore stockings crushed down over their boots. By the 11th century, Spain had become the centre for hand knitted silk hose and later the fashionable influence spread to France and the rest of Europe.

In Britain silk stockings were at first worn by the clergy but by the time of Chaucer's (1340-1400) Canterbury Tales, they were a common part of both male and female attire.

"Hir hosen weren of fyn scarlet reed,
Ful streite y-teyed"
Canterbury Tales , Chaucer

By the crusades and gothic periods (1000-1300) tube hose were replaced by linen hose made from two leg profile pieces and sewn together. These were held up with tapes tied to the waistband. Under the hose were worn a shapeless pair of linen legs which were stitched through the crutch, hemmed at the top and gathered by a drawstring around the waist. In time the outer hose were joined and called the closed hose, or pair of legs. The leg sections of the limb coverings were made to fit more smoothly by means of a series of small darts, hidden by embroidery, around the ankles of the hose. As doublets and supercotehardies came into general use the hose or chausses were first worn over the breeches but eventually these became only brief trunks and were then discarded in favour of the full bottom hose. Both these styles of leg coverings were attached to the doublet or jupes by cord laces with metal tap tips.

From about 1340 men started to wear shorter body garments called gippons or pourpoints. No one below the rank of lord, esquire or gentleman was allowed to wear a coat, cape or smock so short that it failed to cover the private parts and buttocks. The fine for such behaviour was 20 shillings. A historian from 1367 recorded,

"Fashion became so ridiculous that young men wore coats so short that they failed to cover their private parts front and back. When they stopped they exposed their bare posteriors. What a scandal!”

The short garment exposed the leg and required hose to be better supported and tighter. Hose were generally made to measure and available in different styles. There were fur lined hose, hose for horse riding, soled hose which replaced shoes for indoor wear. Towards 1371 to meet the criticism of immodesty levelled against the new clothing, someone had the idea of sewing the two pieces together giving a full bottom look with a small opening at the front. At first this provided a useful access and was covered with a small piece of cloth. Better knitting techniques were developed and the full button hose and cod piece were introduced. This innovation came from Germany.

The codpiece like slashing may have been a recurring reference to war. Long garments survived at court and ecclesiastical and academic circles. Liturgical (or ceremonial) hose covered the foot and part of the leg, and was knitted or cut from cloth. These became quite popular with men in the Middle Ages. Towards the middle of the fourteenth century people often wore soled hose which did away with the need for shoes indoors. An old English law, passed in 1475 suggested exposure of the private parts was a privilege reserved for the upper classes.

Liturgical hose served as a model for the short cloth hose which grew longer in the 14 and 15th centuries finally becoming fully length tights. The use of silk and other costly materials gave clothing more variety. There was a vast range of new tints provided by dying and the mixture of different coloured threads. Eventually the straight lines of the medieval period were lost to the softness of silk. Not all stockings were knitted and most were made of material cut on the cross. Cut hose or cut ups were worn as late as 1970 by a French order of nuns.

The tailored stockings were thick and still could stand unaided like a pair of boots. Chausses sometimes had strings to hold them in place. The upper border or welt of the long hose worn by men were pierced with eyelet holes through which strings were threaded and attached to the tunic or doublet. These were a type of suspender called points and the process of attaching the stockings to the tunic was known as trussing the points. As was the fashion stockings became longer than the leg until they extended beyond the crotch where they joined. These were known as upper socks or later tights. The stockings were often dyed bright colours or partly coloured with one leg one colour and the other different hue. In some cases the legs were completely different patterns. Hose were often slashed. By the end of the fifteenth century the portion of tights covering the male posterior was called the 'trawses' or 'breach'. These often were made of different material from the stockings, giving the appearance of a separate garment. In Scotland trousers are still referred to as 'trouse' or 'breeks'.

By the early 16th century, hose could be divided into two separate garments i.e. upper hose and lower hose. Upper hose became the forerunner of underpants and were fitted closely to the thigh down to the knee, and lower hose which became stockings. The first knitting machines were invented in England, and began to appear about 1527 when silk stockings became the predominate fashion. In France the industry only developed under Henry IV (1589-1610). Ordinary stockings were made out of course worsted and luxury stockings from silk. Stockings acquired a new importance and were cut on the cross from cloth until about 1590. These were increasingly replaced by knitted stockings and sometimes of made of silk. Yellow was a popular colour and the fashion for bright coloured stocking became vogue.

Hose were often adorned with clocks of coloured silk or even with gold thread, and were gartered in various ways. Some were worn with a simple ribbon tied below the knee and a bow at the side. Cross gartering became fashionable by 1560 onwards and was formed by a piece of ribbon encircling the leg below the knee, crossed at the back, brought forward above the knee and tied in a bow. Often gentry wore these sewn with gold thread and jewels.

During the reign of Henry VIII (1509 -1547), the middle classes became more influential and began competing with the gentry, many of which had become impoverished by the civil wars. All men wore tight hose, sometimes puffed at the knees and slashed. Silk stockings become available after the middle of the sixteenth century and Henry VIII had several pairs in his wardrobe. Shoes were very broad, and sometimes stuffed into a mound at the toes. They were frequently sewn with precious stones (especially seed pearls or cut and puffed with silk.

Despite Elizabeth I (1558-1603) being an autocratic sovereign she was responsible for many social changes which resulted in substantial improvement in domestic comforts. Her reign brought economic well being for all except the poorer classes. The Tudor period was particularly the age of advancement of the middle classes and during her reign both worsted and silk stockings began to be knitted.

The invention in 1589 of the first knitting machine by William Lee revolutionised hosiery making and England held the monopoly on European hose production. Hose became cheaper and popular with both sexes. These were worn in bright colours often embroidered with gold thread on the instep and up the shin. At first Lee's machine produced coarse worsted stockings which were poor in quality. Queen Elizabeth I refused to grant a patent for it. Undeterred he invented a machine for silk stockings a decade later and although the Queen was pleased with the results she again refused him a patent. It took another seventy years, before Oliver Cromwell eventually chartered the machine wrought hosiery trade in 1657.

Although Elizabethan women did not wear underwear they did sport stockings. These usually came to just above the knee and were held in place by a garter at the top of the calf. According to Edmund Howes in his publication The Annuals or General Chronicles of England, 1615 (cited Kenton, 1999), Queen Elizabeth I was presented with her first pair of black knit silk stockings by her silk woman, Mistress Montague in 1560. These were given as a gift to her majesty for the New Year. Apparently the Queen loved them and refused to wear cloth stockings again.

"henceforth I will weare no more cloth stockings."
(Bressler, Newman, & Proctor, 1998)

Charming as the tale may be it was probably a fabrication however what was documented was she received gifts of silk stockings from commoners.

Mary Queen of Scots wore a white pair of knitted socks covered by a pair of sea-blue socks with silver clocks to her execution. The socks were probably made in Jersey in the Channel islands. By 1558 knitting had been established there and "Jersey Sock" were very popular in Elizabethan Times. During Elizabeth's reign knitting became a pastime for many thereby relieving poverty and keeping people fed. By the time of her death, English wool was being exported to Germany, France, Italy, Holland and Spain.

"These worsted stockes of bravest die'
And silken garters fring'd with gold;
These corked shooes to beare them hie,
Makes them to trip it on the molde.
They mince it with a pace so strange,
Like untamed heifore, when they range."

An Elizabethan Poem

Fashionable leg coverings for men consisted of trunk hose or breeches and nethersocks (modern stockings) The two were fastened together by a number of decorated ties called points. Long hose covering the entire leg, were fastened to the jacket or doublet by means of a species of points called herlots. Both male and female nethersock and shoes were very much alike.

According to Stubbs people with limited earning potential would still endeavour to own several pairs of silk or fine wool stockings. Silk stockings were often interwoven with gold and silver threads. Fashionable corked shoes and slippers , or pantoffles with an inch high sole (fingerbreadth) were reportedly hard to keep on the feet, uncomfortable and caused the wearer to flop up and down in the dirt. This may have been one reason why stocking were highly decorative. Throughout Tudor times there were numberous sumptuary laws passed. Those relating to the latter part (Mary and Elizabeth) had economic motives and were less detailed than those of earlier period of Henry VIII. Laws prohibited the wearing of a solitary fabric or article of dress this was the prerogative of the ruling classes. Besides suppressing extravagance many of the statutes were intended to maintain and perpetuate distinctions in rank by preserving the ancient differences in dress. By the end of the Elizabethan period many writers were questioning the need to enact such acts since they felt high living was advantageous to the nation. This was of course provided the luxuries were manufactured at home since it encouraged domestic manufacture and commerce. Despite several laws regarding apparel being promulgated by the House of Lords, these were all rejected by the Commons. Baldwin considered this was an attempt of the Lords to bolster aristocratic privileges by restricting freedom of dress to the new middle classes.

At the beginning of the seventeenth century elegant men vied with women in inventing new fashions. Males wore silk stockings of all colours and displayed a la Pompignan in the shoes and in winter for hunting they wore wool. 16th century men wore stockings to show off their well formed legs. Up until the time of Charles I (1600-1649) fops continued to wear false calves to enhance their leg shape and wore garters to keep their stockings or hose from wrinkling. Makers of hose had a technical problem at the time when attempting to join the foot to the leg. This usually left an ugly seem which the makers were keen to disguise. They began to embroider designs into the material which took the eye towards the level of the ankle bones. Boot hose were made in cloth and worn over the stockings and were either full footed or fitted only with instep straps flaring out at the top into wide funnels trimmed with lace which spread over the boot tops. The wider the opening at the top of the boot, the more lace was used to fill the gap.

By far the preferred design in the 16/17 century was a clock face and these appeared on either side of the stockings. There are many paintings of the period showing the wonderful range of material combinations worn by the aristocracy. These stockings were worn by both women and men. By 1625 the length of skirts dropped to the floor and because women of substance led kept lives which did not require they walk outdoors, the stocking became more associated with ladies attire and hose became more of a male preserve from this period onwards. By the next century respectable men wore conservative clothing with darker colours preferred.

In Spain nethersocks were widely worn by men with trunk hose. Later these developed into looser breeches which were worn with stockings held in place below the knee with garters. Ordinary trunk hose could only be worn with 'canions' These were breeches worn underneath the trunk hose and reaching to the knee. The stockings could be drawn over them.

Another popular style of stocking was the Gunnester stocking which dated from the mid 1600s. Both gold and silver clocks on stockings were popular and frequently referred to in both Elizabethan and Jacobean literature.

During the 18th century stocking manufacture was the responsibility of the hose master or Hoosier. He rented out frames to frame knitters, called stockings who would work from home. In England, Spitalfield in London was the centre for silk looming and the northern cities of Leicester, Nottingham, and Derby continued to produce sturdier varieties of thread, wool and worsted. In France, Paris produced fine silk with other yarns coming from Rouen, Troyes and Lille. the term lisle was taken from an English corruption of the French, Lille. It took eight spinners to keep one loom supplied with enough yarn.

By 1764 this problem had been largely over come with the invention of the spinning jenny. (James Hardgreaves). Richard Arkwright revolutionised the entire industrial process with a design of a machine that was driven by a steam roller. By the end of the century it was possible to loom net, ribbed, fleecy and 'elastic" materials for hose. Stockings were hand finished with seems at the back (frame knitted stockings were finished flat). The hosier sold their wears either through agents or by bag men or haberdashers. There were successive fashions for stockings with embroidery, open work or lace inlets from the 18th century to the early 20th century.

Cotton stockings were very fashionable in the last third of the eighteenth century, and lisle thread under Louis-Philippe (1773-1850). There were successive fashions for stockings with embroidery, open work or lace inlets from the 18th century to the early 20th century. Men's formal costumes in France was laid down by the Emperor and consisted of coat, short breeches, and black silk stockings.

By 1815 English styles were fashionable, the young beau would wear embroidered stockings or open work socks worn over a white stocking. In the nineteenth century when long skirts were in vogue stockings either matched the gown or sometimes the shoes (made from coloured leather). Embroidery or needlework was often incorporated into the stockings. Silk was still for luxury and lisle was most often worn.

At the beginning of the century stocking frames were still being worked by hand, although they had been attempts at devising a simple drive mechanism to rotate the frame. None were successful until 1857 when a mechanically controlled rotary frame was introduced which not only knitted faster but also narrowed the fabric to the correct leg shape. In the early 1800s machines stood idle with workers too fearful to use for fear of reprisals from the Luddites. The regulations applying to framework knitting meant the few who risked life and limb to produce stockings made very little money. Hose frame rents needed to be paid and the stockingers had to work in very poor and cramped conditions. Lord Byron was appointed to head a commission to investigate the plight of exploited workers and eventually their conditions improved with the setting up of factories and full time employment.

In 1879 ladies stockings took on a new appearance and were worn finely striped in peacock blue and golden yellow. After 1910 open work stockings disappeared, giving way to plain stockings, decorated only with clocks at the sides. During Belle Époque stockings embroidered over the instep were popular.

Stockings came to just above the knee clocks still accentuated the ankles of the well to do and colours from the 1880s were quiet. Daytime stockings were available olive, dove, grey and brown, with yellow clocks, and dress wear were usually black , white or pastel shades. White silk was still essential for evening dress but pink was increasingly worn for less formal social occasions. The pink gave the ladies leg the appearance of a blush through the thin classic styled dresses. As the male leg was less visible, female attire began to highlight the leg and became the main focus of attention especially during social dances.

Why blush dear girl prey tell me why
You need not I can prove it
For tho' your garter met my eye
My thoughts were far above it.

From 1820 until 1840s it was proper to wear coloured silk stockings with silk dresses and likewise, open-work cotton with sprigged for light summer frocks. For courtly wear, including balls, women wore fine white silk with embroidered clocks. Black silk stockings in winter , except for mourning, were considered bad taste , unless worn with a black dress. Warnings were given not to wear silk stockings and kid leather shoes in winter, otherwise chilblains may result. Women shoes were entirely flat, like ballet slippers and this gave the appearance of gliding, swan like, across the floor.

The next fashion for Victorian women was for tight wasted dresses with swelling, balloon shaped sleeves and ever widening skirts, the hems of which showed a neat ankle and a pretty shod shoe. The effect was rather over the top and doll like. As Queen Victoria grew into family responsibility, romance gave way to sentimentalism and women's clothes took on meeker, heavier appearance, with emphasis on deep full skirts that hid the wearer's feet. During this time the women's leg became unmentionable.

Stocking suspenders attached to the front of the stays were patented by 1882. By 1893 there were a lot of suspender belts available. Despite poorer women continuing to elastic their knees suspender belts were preferred as the garter fell from popularity. Alienation of the previous fashion was accompanied with claims that they caused cramps and varicose veins. The suspender belt was made in satin and elastic with gilt mounts and clips with a shaped belt fitting round the corset. Suspenders took a definitive place not just in fashion but in the history of eroticism. Can Can dancers from mid 1890 displayed not just the petticoats but also the forbidden expanse of thigh flesh highlighted by the black suspender. Stockings remained short necessitating long suspenders. The demise of the wooden toilet seat was also thought to have taken place because the metal clips in suspenders caused severe splintering of the polish surface (Hawthorn, 1993).

Until the end of the nineteenth century children's legs and how they were covered was a reflection of adult clothing. Small girls wore white cotton socks until about 1855 where stripped stockings were worn. This style was also fashionable for adults. After 1870 black and brown in silk, lisle, or wool were commonplace. Black and bronze kid shoes were popular. Mr Daniel Neal's shoe shop in Edgeware Road was well known at the time. The style worn by boys is still reflected in the uniform of many of today public schools. This was especially true of the traditional charity schools such as Christ Church, founded in 1552. From 1638, boys wore yellow stockings nicknamed 'muster pots'. Charity education for girls was available towards the end of the eighteenth century. Knitting, darning and mending socks were some of the skills that personified the lower ordered of womanhood up to the first half of the twentieth century.

The Workwoman's guide published in 1840 was the bible of practical sewing during Victoria's reign. Shoe fashions of 1860-1870 concentrated on toe exposure not seen since the last years of the 1600s when shortened skirts led to elaborately decorated stockings, high heeled shoes. All went to create the high arched foot that was the mark of a pedigree. A lady was at pains to present her feet in as dainty a way as possible. The rising heel supporting the pretty foot and ankle was especially appealing. More so when dressed on eye-catching hose. Plain white cotton or silk were usually with daytime house shoes, but coloured stockings were shod with the latest novelty, ankle boots. The Osborne, Balmoral and The Imperatrice (made in France satin with patient leather tips) were three exotic shoes styles of the period. Spotted socks monochrome or coloured on contrasting grounds became popular as did circular designs. It took until 1840 before the wordsocks became the accepted term describing hose for men and boys. It was another four decades before the term socks was applied to young female attire.

After the death of Prince Albert in 1861 violet in silk or cashmere emerged as fashion leader but by 1865 strong colours were everywhere during daylight hours. Croquet was popular because it focused male attention of the female leg. A writer of 1867 wrote "One of the chief reasons of the pleasure men take in this game is the sight of a neatly turned ankle and pretty boots.

In 1887 Morley developed chemical dye with aniline salts and stabilised the colouring process. Prior to this vegetable dyes were used which were unstable and would streak and stain the skin. Fine pastel coloured silk stockings were worn with evening dresses. During 1880s stockings were generally cotton or wool (ribbed cashmere if wealthy) for day and plain coloured with contrasting clocks were usual. Heavy bustled dresses were toe length and worn during the day. For evening wear stockings were fanciful silks with deep embroideries up the front of the leg. Red silks with flights of swallows pale and interesting yellow wreathed in butterflies or garlands of flowers for the respectable girls and the more flighty sported embroidered snakes that coiled sexily around the calves. By 1888 black stockings had become fashionable for both day and night wear. This may have been practical since many working girls traveled on public transport. Special stockings were worn for recreational activities such as walking, bicycling and sport. Black stockings were worn with tennis dress and swimming costumes. During the late nineteenth century the garment industry was sumptuous to those with the readies. Cheaper off the peg clothing also became available reaching the working class girls via new magazines and periodicals. The beauties of theatre and High Society were copied.

Skirt hems rose in the 1900s and soft transparent and durable stockings became vogue. Poor girls wore their stockings to the knee and tied in a knot. Affluent young ladies wore short silk chemises, silk drawers worn over stockings that stretched to the knee or corsets with suspenders (known as a basque). After 1910 open work stockings gave way to plain stockings, decorated only with clocks at the sides.

In 1912 the first stockings were made from artificial silk by the American Viscose Co. Rayon was the artificial silk and a bi-product of pulped wood. This was the first of a range of man-made fibres which eventually lead to Dupoint's first, nylons stockings in 1938. Artificial silk meant working girls could for the first time own and wear glamorous undies and look-a- like silk stockings. Saucy slits in skirts worn whilst doing the tango or turkey trot made these essential.

In 1913 a new type of woven elasticised material emerged in the US and was incorporated into the American slip on. This supportive garment was worn by those who had abandoned the whalebone corset during the tango dance craze of the 1910s. The decline of the upper and middles classes caused by the Great War transformed women's fashion. Many discarded the ornate toilettes for simpler styles and as the hem of skirts rose then legs again became the focal point. Silk stockings became the symbol of luxury with low cut shoes replacing high boots.

In times prior to wireless, cinema and television, children of the poor were taught to knit and mend socks. Washing socks and stockings was another job women were selected to do. Woolen stockings were hand washed in warm, sudsy water, with three rinses to clear the soap, and then had to be thoroughly wrung out through a towel or mangles and pegged toe first in the open air to dry. Silk hose were washed in soft water, rainwater being the best, with good soap, squeezed rather than rubbed and then if possible a glass of gin was added in the final rinses before they were pulled into shape and dried flat. Afterwards it was customary to rub them with a soft piece of flannel to bring up the lustre. Silk or rayon stockings could not be mended so many ended up in shoulder pads or other fashion accessories.

In 1916 working women wore short drawers which had a garter mid thigh to which newly fashioned stockings were attached. By the 20s garters had become very fashionable and manufacturers sold them with ribbon rosettes which were worn under the short skirts of the time. Susan Lenglen was a tennis player at the time and competed in clothing designed by French courtier Jean Patou. She played in short skirts which tantalisingly showed off a strip of bare flesh above her stockings. This fashion soon caught on but by the end of the decade suspender belts had replaced garters.

Stockings were seasonal wear and black was favoured in winter and white in summer. Special colours were worn for evening wear. The main idea was to expose the leg and popular colours were shaded pink, beige and fawn. At the Paris Exposition des Art Decoratifs (1925) silk stockings were launched as part of the Art Deco movement. Designers showed gold and silver stockings with feathers embroidered in coloured silks and embellished with diamond bracelets or hand sewn pearls at the ankle. By 1926 girls were displayed coming from a car showing legs above their stockings. Stockings took on an erotic overtone until the thirties when the suspender belt came back into fashion and the garter disappeared.

Marlene Dietrich wore stockings in the Blue Angel to play the temptress attempting to manipulate men's fantasies. They also feature in The Edwardians (1930) (Vita Sackville-West) as part of power dressing.

Garters & Suspenders

Cecilia slowly sewed six sexy suspenders to
Her silky suspender belt
So that some of her sincerest suitors should
Surrender to sin.

Rayon was a fibre made from plant cellulose and came into general use in the 1920s. Rayon dresses had the glamour of silk but were much cheaper. Skin colored, lightweight rayon stockings soon replaced the dark woolen or cotton stockings that had been part of every woman's wardrobe. Nylon was the first fully synthetic fibre and was developed by Wallace Carothers in 1935. Sheer nylons were first developed in 1938.

1940 saw the launch of nylons in the US with over 4 million pairs sold in the first four days. The origins of the name nylon are reputed to have come from the rivalry of two competing teams of chemists one based in the US and the other UK. The name was a construct of New York and London i.e. NY and LON. The first nylon yarn was produced in 1938 and tested as hosiery in 1939. Nylon came from the program of experiments at the Du Pont Company, Delaware USA

Nylons were launched in 1940 but were only available in US & Canada. When the US entered the War 1941 the production of nylon was stopped and deflected to making parachutes, tents and ropes. Betty Grable sold her nylon stockings for $40,000 (US) for war bonds. US servicemen posted abroad however did have sufficient supplies as to be able to woo the local girls with the promise of chocolates, cigarettes and nylons. Many a fight broke out when the local lads felt the visitors had an unfair advantage when it came to chatting up their girls.

During times of rationing it was common place for women to paint their legs an attractive tan and many drew pencil lines down the back of their legs, to give the impression they were wearing stockings. Even after the War, rationing made it difficult to buy nylons and the black market flourished. Nylon stockings became a fashionable wedding gift. These are two skipping songs from the time.

We are spivs of Trafalgar Squers
Flogging nylons, tuppence a pair
All fully fashioned, all off the ration
Sold in Trafalgar Square.

Give me the gift of a GI Boy

Have you got a fag, boy, have you got a flame?
Have you got some chewing gum?
Like to know my name?

Have you got a fag, boy, have you got a match?
Have you got some chocolate?
I might lift the latch?

Have you got a fag, boy, have you got a light?
Have you got some nylons?
I'll be yours tonight?

After the War (1945) when nylons were reintroduced to Macy's Store in NY, they sold out their entire stock of 50,000 within six hours. At the same time 40,000 women waited all night in the rain outside a Pittsburg store. By 1948 production was back to meet the demand. Although fully fashioned stockings were still available in silk, nylon became the favoured material. They were classified according to weight and 30 denier were worn in the daytime and 15 for special occasions.


"Nylons turns nice girls naughty and naughty girls chic"

The new nylons were much preferred to rayon stockings and the fashion soon caught on worldwide . Sadly the inventor Wallace Carothers never saw the impact of his creation and died 20 days after applying for a patent. He took his own life, completely oblivious to the impact his invention would have on the materials industry. Rising hemlines meant much greater interest in legs and ladies were delighted when cheaper nylons became available.

Elbeo is the oldest branded hosiery company in the world. Founded in 1741by Johann Christian Bahner it was Louis Bahner that took over in 1906 and began making stockings and put his initials LBO on his products. The superior quality of Elbeo's stockings quickly gained international recognition at the 1937's World Exhibition in Paris. Pretty Polly was named after a famous race horse owned by a book maker. When he daughter started a hosiery wholesaling company she took the name. It was taken over in 1926 and by 30s Pretty Polly was famous for its high quality stockings made in silk, nylon and lisle. In 1939 annual sales were in excess of 48 million pairs. In 1959 they released the seam free stockings.

The circular knitting machine came shortly after the WWII and brought seamless stockings. Christian Dior launched fully fashioned stockings in 1947. The stiletto (1951) highlighted the ankle and swivel of the hips. Thick lisle made legs look thicker and incompatible with the rise in hemlines. The top of the nylon was manufactured with a special band at the mid thigh to help keep the stocking up and no longer requiring a garter By the 50s stockings were cheaper and finer. Closer fit encouraged designers to raise hemlines and bare legged look of seamless stockings were introduced in 1958. New aniline dying improved colouring and the invention of Spandex a stretch fabric made saggy stockings a thing of the past.

War played a major role in creating the cult of the teenager. Young girls earned money by babysitting for adults on night shift. For the first time teenagers had disposable income and Madison Avenue etc., were determined to milk it off them. Saturday nights, crowds of teenage kids converged on their local dancehalls. By the late forties girls had a uniform of pleated skirt, baggy sweater, bobby sox and penny loafers (two tone saddle shoes).

In the 60s manufacturing innovation meant tights could be made without leg seems and separate heel sections, hemlines rose yet again to incorporate miniskirts. Backless sandals with high heels became a fashion vogue, and the rest is, as they say, history. Panty hose became all the rage and at first these were stockings which merged with pants knitted in thin natural rubber threads. Mesh was used to make the legs look sexier.

Stocking were replaced by tights but did make a fashion comeback in the 70s Disco attire and slit skirts revealed legs in a whole new way. By the middle of the decade designers were experimenting with any number of leg wear styles from anklets to knee high and full tights. Fabric mixtures changed pantyhose forever, with warmer winter tights.

Leg warmers enjoyed a vogue after the film Flashdance and were worn under the skirt like leggings. Seamless tights and stocking have a strong following and was thought to have appealed particularly to the Afro American community. Contemporary tights incorporate a modern girdle like panel into the tight panties to create the perfect silhouette.

In the 80s Lycra revolutionised fit of tights and stockings making them hug and shape the legs. Foot less tights and leggings also became popular (Hawthorn, 1993).

The Sock Shop opened in 1983 and had over 100 outlets by 1990. Jasper Conrtan and Vivienne Westwood designed for the outlet but eventfully the chain collapsed in no short measure due to a mild winter and over hot summer (UK). It did reappear a year or two later. Novelty socks became the vogue . These were socks which incorporated your favourite cartoon character name or some clever and witty slogan like "Gotballs".

For men the 90s became the era of clever socks. Clever manipulation of polymer structure not only offered more robust coverings for the feet but also included nano technology to produce antimicrobial action to combat unwanted smells and fungus. Some sock are manufactured in two layers (double knit) to reduce heat caused by dynamic friction which can cause skin blistering. Another feature was the inner layers I were made from material called Tactel. According to designers this helps draw moisture (wicks) away from the skin preventing build up of perspiration on the skin surface. Much of these innovation came through the uptake of hose in sports.

Long been a secret known only to children and back packers and that is the shoe can be a great place to hide your cash and valuables. Well again thanks to the clever sock industry you can buy socks which contain a secret compartment to hide your credit card.

Baldwin FE 1926 Sumptuary legislation and personal regulation in England John Hopkin Press
Bigelow MS 1970 Fashion in history apparel in the western world Minneapolis: Burgess Publishing Co.
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Reviewed 10/12/2016

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