24 February 2016

History of Tights

Have you ever wondered where tights came from? I did. Here I want to share with you some interesting facts I found about the history of tights.  

Socks came first

It is believed that very first socks were knitted by Arabs. The socks protected their feet from hot sand when walking in open sandals. Knitted socks were also found in sarcophaguses of Egyptian Pharaohs.

Hesiod, the Greek poet, mentioned socks for the very first time in 700bc. He recommended to wrap feet and legs with felt animal hairs or wool to protect them from cold weather.

Stockings only for men

Stockings played a major part in men’s clothing during middle ages and this was because only men were allowed to show their legs at that time; women had to hide their legs under long skirts. Men’s fashion changed over the years: their cloaks became shorter whereas stockings became longer until they reached waists! They were made of colourful silk, wool or velvet.

Knitted stockings

Knitted stockings became very popular in the 16 century. People noticed that knitted stockings were more comfortable than sewn or felt ones. Knitted stockings had nicer shape and could be made in different colours and patterns.

Knitted stockings started in Spain and Italy first and then came to the rest of Europe. Stockings were worn by almost everyone by the end of 16th century, however, ladies had to keep their stockings hidden under long skirts. Rich people wore stockings made of silk, often patterned with embroidery and silver and gold threads, whereas poorer people and soldiers wore stockings made of wool.

Stocking frame knitting machine

William Lee was an English inventor who invented the first stocking frame knitting machine in 1589. Refused a patent by Queen Elizabeth I, he built an improved machine that produced a silk of finer texture. The Queen denied him a patent once again because of her concern that mechanization would reduce the demand of hand knitters. William Lee took his machine to France where he found better support and was granted a patent. Lee began stocking manufacture in Rouen, France, and prospered until the climate changed abruptly on the king's death when William Lee lost his protection and died in distress in 1614.

19 century – stockings for women!
Stockings from 19c
Men started wearing longer trousers in the 1800s and stockings became the norm for women. Stockings became more colourful, patterned, decorated with details, crystals and pearls.

The turn of the century brought new freedoms for women and it became socially acceptable for women to show their legs.

Rayon was introduced in 1910 and man-made fibres began to replace costly cotton and silk. Every lady could afford fashionable and shimmering stockings previously only available to the rich ones.

Nylon, which was originally named “nuron” (the name was changed to avoid the rhyme with “moron”), was introduced by industrial materials company Du Pont de Nemours (better known as DuPont) in 1939. First nylon stockings hit the market in 1940. They had a seam at the rear and were commonly referred to as “nylons”.

Nylon stockings were in short supply during World War II, when the flexible fibre was used to make parachutes, ropes and tyres, so women tried to give the appearance of wearing stockings by putting “makeup” on their legs – staining them with brown gravy and painting seams on their legs with an eyebrow pencil. 
Painting tights on legs during the war time                                                                Make up for legs "Bare legs made beautiful"
Shoe store offers service of painting stockings on women's legs, 1940     Painting seems on legs during war time                    Service in a shoe store - painting stockings on legs                   Painting seems on legs during war time 

In the 50s, Du Pont invented Lycra and discovered that it could add stretch to nylon. This improved the fit and comfort of hosiery and helped introduce seam-free stockings to the market.

Tights or Panty-legs in 60sHistory of tights, as we know them today, started in 1959 when Ethel Gant complained to her husband, Allen Gant Sr. (then running textile company Glen Raven Mills), how inconvenient stockings were and demonstrated him her own idea of comfort – she took a pair of her panties and fastened the stockings to it. Inspired by his wife’s invention, Allen Gant Sr. developed what they later called “Panti-Legs.” Their product—the world’s first commercial tights or pantyhose—began lining department store shelves in 1959.

With the trend for hemlines creeping higher and higher, models Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, Veruschka, Penelope Tree and others needed a product that worked with their miniskirts.

By the 1970s tights were outselling stockings. Tights came in different styles, patterns, colours and prints.

As with every aspect of fashion, tights are subject to the whims of passing trends. It does not seem that tights will go extinct anytime soon.  Tights still are a must for some women in more conservative work environments. For me personally, tights are irreplaceable in winters to protect me from colds and blistering boots and shoes. Also, tights is a great accessory and a form of self-expression. 
Tights 60sGreen tights from 60sPurple tights from 60s
    Colourful tights from 60s

Photo credits: mashable, georginagoodman, swingingsixties, newenglandwoodstock.

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