A little bit about the construction and history of hosiery

Published: 30th June 2010
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What is hosiery?

Hosiery is simply a term for garments which cover the legs and feet. Another term which is often used in manufacturing and retail is legwear. They're the same thing.

Hosiery is manufactured by a hosier, so often a generic term for hosiery is simply hose. Just about all hosiery is machine knitted from both natural and synthetic yarns and are categorized not only by style and color but also importantly by weight or opacity. The opacity is referred to as denier and is usually indicated on the packaging. A 5 denier pantyhose is very sheer (mostly see through and light weight) whereas a 100 denier tight will be opaque and not let any light through to the skin.

Cotton fiber has been around for millenia, and for ages was the principal fiber used for knitting socks and stockings. Before that, wool was used (and of course still is today). Both are natural, warm and easy to work with. For a more elegant and refined look, the finest hosiery was traditionally made from a different yarn, another natural fiber. This one is spun from, not a plant but a spider. Silk stockings are still today considered to be the finest hosiery one can buy.

The story of women's hosiery here in America changed in a dramatic way in the 1930s. The materials changed and the supply of stockings became artificially scarce. Up until the 1930s, silk was the principal material used to knit stockings and the supplier of that silk was Japan. As the U.S. headed closer and closer to war with Japan, trade between our two countries ground to a halt and so did that lovely supply of silk. Hosiery manufacturers had to find another fine and silky yarn for stockings. In 1938 the Dupont company caused a sensation when it unveiled Nylon stockings for the first time to a huge crowd of eager women. The nylon yarn was the first truly synthetic fiber ever created. The softness and smoothness rivalled that of silk and became an overnight replacement. Women (and men!) loved the new nylon stockings....while they lasted. Soon, the U.S was at war with Germany and Japan and desperately needed all the nylon it could manufacture to be woven into parachutes and clothing for the soldiers. Women had to do without stockings until the end of the war in 1945.

Spandex was the fiber that changed hosiery forever. With the ability to be stretched to twice its length, it was first put into clothing in 1959 and soon went into hosiery. Hosiery such as pantyhose and tights could now stay up on their own. Thus began a dramatic change in the way women wore hosiery. Garters became unnecessary as spandex was blended into yarns used for hosiery and women began to simply wear pantyhose and tights instead of stockings. Bigger cultural shifts were on the horizon as well which would change women's fashion in a big way. Foundation garments like girdles and cinchers were abandoned from everyday use and relegated to the boudoir.

What is the difference between pantyhose and tights?

Well, in the U.S it's the difference in the weight of the yarn (denier). Any hosiery up to 40 denier (see above) is pantyhose and anything thicker are tights. In the U.K., well there are no pantyhose. They call them all tights.

Stockings, thigh highs, hold-up or stay-up...what does that all mean?

Stockings are a general term for hosiery that comes in two pieces, one for each leg. Stockings which cannot stay up on their own need garters or a garter belt to hold them up. They're still called stockings, but any stocking which has an elastic band at the top and can stay up on it's own is a "thigh high" in the U.S and a "Hold up" or "Stay up" in the U.K or Australia.

Patrick Bergert is a blogger and freelance writer living in Austin Texas.

For all sorts of information and advice about lingerie and hosiery, visit Kuhmillion.com

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