History of Hosiery

Long way of pantyhose fabrication


By Inna, our Ukrainian Connection

First socks and stockings era


Would you ever imagine that such a fanciful piece as pantyhose has equally venerable history as, for instance, omnipresent wheel could boast with? This article is here to prove it true and narrate some important key moments of the hosiery evolution, that eventually turn a leg-wear into the shape and form we know it today.


From the times immemorial, cavemen used animal skins wrapped and fixed around the ankle, sometimes animal fur was to hit the spot for keeping extra warm and lower limbs protection. You can find a plenty of the very earliest references to elementary socks of ancient Dark times here and there; Greeks and Romans left indirect, but undeniable evidences in their cultural legacy, like Greek poet Hesiod who wrote of ‘piloi’, socks made from matted animal hairs, yet in the 8th century B.C.


The first example of knitted socks was found in Egyptian tombs of the A.D. 3rd-6th centuries. At that time a whimsical craft, called nalbinding (‘one-needle knitting’) was used to make stretchy fabrics, several centuries before the regular two-needle knitting technique itself was invented.

First Egyptian knitted socks – process called nalbinding (‘one-needle knitting’) – one of the first steps in the history of hosiery


Northern and Central Europe was familiarized with privilege of slipping in socks thanks to ‘Northern Barbarians’. The former named them ‘leggings’ and covered not only the foot, but the whole leg as well, and fastened leggings up at the waist by a leather belt or girdle and often cross tied down the legs with strips of leather. Remarkably, this ГѓВјber complex ancient prototype of modern stockings was attributed not to women, that were men who strutted their stuff. Knighthood of The Middle Ages handled leggings popularisation farther into the continent during the Crusades, simultaneously adopting the Oriental manner of pulling on long textile hoses attached to linen undershirts.


Knights are wearing what is now considered to be Leggings.  If we look at the history of hosiery, we find that it was first worn by men.

12th century crusade knights are wearing hosiery that is covering the whole leg.

As the humankind grew up in general, new attitudes and values were raising. At some point in early medieval times, woven or cut from fabric and sewn socks symbolically become pertaining to the noble classes, whereas peasants lingered on wearing pants. Thus, as we will witness later, such superior hosiery’s position in historical costume would last through ages on.


Renaissance cultural uplift in society reflected in soaring up the hems of former lengthy men’s tunics, shortening of breeches, and creating refined, close-fitting, opulently embellished and decorated with embroidery, colourful silk, cotton, and wool hoses, that, consequently, seized a hefty part of men’s wardrobe. Women in their turn also wore stockings, held up at the knee by garters and entirely shrouded under the skirts, so unfortunately not visible to catch sight of.


By the 16th century, most of the wealthy in Europe had at least one pair of extremely expensive hand-made socks among their priceless paraphernalia. As an example, in 1560 Elizabeth I received her very first pair of knit silk knee-length stockings and liked them so much that from there continued to collect many in bright colours and designs. When in 1566 another royalty, King Eric of Sweden, had a garment inventory done, it occurred he owned twenty seven pairs of silk stockings imported from Spain, each pair costing the same as his valet’s annual salary!


King James of the 16th century is wearing Spanish stockings.

Machine-knitted stockings era


While the knitters who supplied the court grew considerably in number during the second half of the 16th century, an English clergyman William Lee, frustrated from the lack of his love interest’s attention – by the way, the woman was always busy with her knitting needles too –  made the first knitting machine in 1585. It was a major breakthrough in hosiery craftsmanship of the time, and even though nobody before implemented automation in hosiery knitting the innovation was underestimated on the outset.

At first, Queen Elizabeth I denied William Lee the patent for his knitting machine for the reason that she didn’t like the feel of the stockings it produced. As we already learned, by that time, she was accustomed to exquisite Spanish silk stockings. The queen lamented William Lee’s device is only capable of making wool stockings that were unrelentingly coarse for her tender royal ankles, moreover, the wool socks were pretty well immediately associated with the lower working class of medieval community.


Queen Elizabeth I wore Spanish silk stockings.

Like it or dump it idle aristocracy, machine-knitted stocking out of a non-elastic or only barely elastic fabrics can not be made without seams, as is the case with modern socks. So leg wear was created combining two pieces: the larger one formed the shaft, heel and upper part of the foot, the smaller one substantiated the sole. For a better fit, a wedge (formerly, largely known as clock) was inserted where the slits are drawn together and sewn into integral piece, going up well above the ankle.


In 1598 unyielding experimenter William Lee enables the machine to knit both wool and silk  stockings, launching the epoch of mass stockings production and appealing to both the general population and the royalty, respectively. From now on, the ‘clock’ (a gusset, patched into the ankle area of stockings, remember?) took over the domineering part in hosiery fashion arresting all the attention with rich decorations and gaudy contrasting textures and colours of material it was cut off.



Another gimmicks, featuring from 16th through 18th centuries luxurious hosiery fashion, embraced wearing several finest silk stockings in layers at a time of cold weather and folding down the wide hosiery tops over the boots for the jaunty vivacious look.

Folded over socks were a trend from 16th to 18th century.

Another example of folded over socks from the 17th century.

Introduction of  Р“ўв‚¬ЛњDerby Rib’ attachment to the stocking frame by another resourceful inventor Jedediah Strutt in 1758 made it feasible to knit cotton socks mechanically, to boot, that paved a broad way to simplicity and sturdiness of plain outfits for emerging English bourgeoisie and French revolutionaries. In the end of the 18th century, men totally conceded the privilege of adorning their legs with stockings to women, when sleek and snug pants and pantaloons took their place in costume history.


Women eagerly snatched the hosiery in the relay race of fashion trends, comfortably and decorously covering bare legs that otherwise would be discernible under see-through dresses. In the 19th century machine-made cotton and silk stockings became massively available for women, accompanying short skirt style of after World War I time span. Then, new circular knitting machine was designed in 1930s to allow one-piece production, so stockings no longer needed to be sewn together.


Nylon stockings era


The habit is the second nature, and even nowadays we can stumble upon the pair of pantyhose with the back seam, mimicking the past stockings’ manufacture for their proper fit. What positively brought  incomparable ease and comfort to stockings was DuPont Company’s novel artificial fibre, which they correspondingly called nylon synthesising two capital letters of the city, where it was demonstrated for the very first time. At the 1939 New York World’s Fair, DuPont annunciated as strong as steel, as fine as a spider’s web fibre and showcased it in front of three thousand women crowded at the exhibition. The same year later, ingenious company constructed the full-scale nylon plant in Delaware, USA and shortly began commercial production of last-word stockings to their tremendous success!

At the 1939 New York World’s Fair, DuPont presented nylon stockings to the public.

Available for the general public to purchase since 15th May, 1940, nylon stockings (or simply ‘nylons’ as the company insisted in naming them) were sold 72,000 pairs in the merely first day, despite the fact their pricing didn’t come lower than Japanese silk stockings’ cost. It seems that nylons were number one sought-after garment of early 1940s’ and demand never lessened up in the course of the next couple of years until after it totally outstripped nylon stockings supply, disappearing from the retail. In 1942 United States waded in World War II, and all output of a such resilient and strong material as nylon was sent to parachutes, tents and bomber tyres making.


While American women could substitute their favourite transparent hosiery with rayon or cotton stockings, war time deprived Europeans of the most of extravagant and fashionable clothes that exceeded boundaries of forced austerity. All in all, nothing will ever stop women from looking good at any time and circumstances, and bearing that in mind, cosmetic firms invaded the market with so-called liquid stockings to make up for their filamentous counterparts void. Leg make-up was offered in diverse forms of giant lipstick or ‘leg-sticks’, therefore, in spray guns, in cakes, and in bottles. An article in Time magazine, dated 15th June, 1942, mentioned a Leg Bar in one of New York City’s salons, where women could find water-proof, streak-proof, run-proof cosmetic stockings. Liquid hoses were brushed on preliminarily peeled and shaved legs to make sure they would not leave any streaks or marks on the naked skin, then the back of each leg was lined with faux seam for full-fashioned stockings impression. (pics of drawing the seam and liquid hosiery bottle)


These women are getting stockings painted on their legs!

Liquid stockings paint, or leg make up.

These liquid stockings even had the welt and the back seam painted!

After the end of second World War nylons returned with a vengeance. Hungry for web-like luxury, women flocked to buy now available accessory in droves, and up to 1965 nylon stockings remained the principal element of ladies dressing. In intervening years, creative manufactures learned to dye the fibres, and contemporary ads promoted stockings in special seasonal colours rather like interchangeable lipsticks, with one spring 1953 ad touting a wickedly beautiful … honey blonde beige stocking in the colour ‘Cheesecake’ for Gotham Gold Stripe nylons, illustrating a woman clutching packages and a tiny poodle dog, as a fierce gust of wind blew up her skirt, revealing long, honey-blonde legs.

Pantyhose era


Speaking of revealing girls legs, was it coincidence or just forerunner of future fashion, in 1956
perky short mini-skirt was designed and introduced via sci-fi flick Forbidden Planet, thanks to
actress Anne Francis’ swagger to flash her beautiful legs. In the film, hem-high futuristic attire was
introduced without wearing any leg covering, what would be severely reprimanded if happened in
reality, of course.

Anne Francis is showing off her beautiful legs in Forbidden Planet.

However affectionate at that time were women about wearing nylon stocking, or no matter how stringent were rules of dressing etiquette, dealing with garters and girds called for certain mastery, which in some special cases turned out all but hard to accomplish. Thus, pregnant wife of textile Glen Raven Mills owner once suggested him to stitch together pair of panties and stockings, when her fiddling with stockings over  growing belly become overly exhausting and futile. Notwithstanding, she couldn’t allow herself showing up at public without that lady’s articles, and  Allen Grant, her husband, took the heed and in 1959 he managed to merge underpants and stockings all in one garment. Together with his colleagues, Allen Grant called new hosiery one-piece item ‘Panti-Legs’, and straight away the same year first commercial pantyhoses went to open conquering store shelves.

No doubts, that new revolutionary product was way too easier to pull on, on the backdrop of struggling with stockings’ fixing in place, the combo was slowly reaping its audience of devotees, magazine advertisings and editorials flattered pantyhose in every manner possible, but it didn’t gallop in sales until 1965. Two thing happened coincidentally and autonomously by the first half of 60s’ decade. For the first, Glen Raven Mills tapped themselves on the back with development of seamless pantyhose version to smoothly and nicely cover the thigh area, and on the other hand, spandex (an anagram word for ‘expands’), the fibre with incredible stretching qualities was employed in production of hosiery.

What we all know as Lycra is a trademark name for elastane, successfully synthesized by DuPont
scientist Joseph C. Shivers far back in 1959. Although recognized hosiery company wasn’t the first
entity that discovered stretchy filament (the credit goes to German firm Bayer), they went ahead
of others to blend spandex in knitting consumer goods and attaining the registered label name for
it. Lycra has tremendously re-shaped fibres and fabrics values ever since, welcoming the epoch
of comfortable, snugly-fitting, easily-stretching garments. Underwear didn’t only become more
adaptable, Lycra threads obliterated creases, rumples and bunches from the surface of corsetry and
hosiery, rendering the look more smooth and eye-pleasing.

As by 1965 mini skirt was gradually being accepted by high fashion houses and ready-to-wear clothes designers, so being granted formal permission, it was quickly adopted and widely popularised by top-notch models, Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy to name a couple, and propelled the avid hunting after seamless hosiery among fashionistas et aliae, striving to don their minis as well.

Twiggy, supermodel, is posing in a mini skirt.


Believe it or not, it was precisely pantyhose that constituted an excellent index to advances in the area of female liberation, as proclaimed by Life magazine in 1970. See it for yourself, new kinds of sewing techniques and further improved elastic threads brought the cost of the pantyhose down while increasing the range of sizes that could be offered. Wide assortment encouraged women of different shapes to try hosiery, infusing confidence and elating self-esteem in them. In 1970s’ and 1980s’ hosiery earned the leading position in women’s wardrobe, as a lot of women exchanged their housekeeping chore for heading into the workplace. Arguably, the most boldly radical ad belonged to that epoch pantyhose, it pictured three voluptuously built women, wearing nothing but their hosiery and straightly proving the magic of sheerness applied on the naked body. Big Mama, you’re beautiful the ad stated. Ads of 1980s were mainly concentrated on highlighting new colour, textures and qualities, with a vivid example due to inventive minds behind  L’eggs trademark, who concocted an unusual container in the shape of (you guess!) a chicken egg.


Starting since 1990s the fashion pendulum swung more towards the casual outfit ensembles, more and more generalising pants or trousers in women’s environment. Also formal dress code slackened a bit towards free personal choice for each woman separately whether to don hosiery at all.

Consequently, socks and textile tights expelled pantyhose from the fashion scene, resulting in declining pantyhose sales, and what we have now is quite opposing, differing viewpoints on up-to-date celebrities’ penchants. For instance, iconic trendsetter Lady Michelle Obama officially confesses she doesn’t feel like hosiery is mandatory at present day; the same time British Princess Kate Middleton persists on and seconds wearing hose wherever she goes; and Angela Hawkins, the president and executive manager of L’eggs trademark, assures that pantyhose are returning, because we are in a very feminine fashion cycle, influenced by abundance of dresses and skirts on the catwalks.

For that matter, the general rule is there exists no rule at all, and considering every pros and cons about pulling on stockings or pantyhose for a particular venue is absolutely up to you!

History of Hosiery – Article by Inna


8 thoughts on “History of Hosiery

  1. Thanks for all the comments and remarks!

    Yes, Gillian, you are right about FP, the picture was actually released on the wide screen in 1956. Now, as this part is fixed in the article with the chronology put together, it seems even more stunning that sci fi film predicted the advent of mini skirt almost a decade before it went on the fashion scene.

    Michel, thanks for pointing out at importance of Lycra in continuous hosiery evolution, I have added short paragraph about it as well. Surely, it’s crucial step that have brought positive changes to pantyhose history.

    And James, the pleasure is mine, thanks for reading this relatively brief essay on essentially endless subject!

  2. Very interesting article. Most people don know that hosiery was first worn by men. Also, most people dont know that today there are manufacturers that make hosiery for men. I have (and I am a man) worn pantyhose for several years to help with circulation issues. I benefit from the compression of hosiery. I also like the feel of hosiery, as does my wife.
    Check out comfilon.com for some examples of men’s hosiery products.

  3. This article is truly amazing, not just because of how complete and comprehensive a job she does in delivering the message, but how she articulates every point – never losing my interest as the reader, in a language that is not her own. I salute you, Inna. By communicating this well, you don’t learn the “accepted” English – you change the English with your gift, and make it your own. This is how languages evolve…

  4. … this is an amazing article, not just because of how comprehensive she is at telling the story, with fascinating illustrations, but that she does it so well in a language that is not her own. Never losing my interest as the reader, and nailing every point with precision and skill, she doesn’t follow the “text book” English, but rather embraces the language and makes it her own. Inna, you are a master of communication. To me, this is how languages evolve – by others getting involved and giving them a new spin. Thanks for a great reading experience!

  5. My bad I haven’t been visiting this article page for a while to respond in timely fashion.

    Thanks to Greg and David for reading and appreciating it, and I’m truly flattered by David’s compliments to my writing style, that’s what every writer values most of all. Thank you again!

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