Tuesday, February 16, 2010

History of Hosiery

I am reprinting information here that was gathered together by Christopher James, a young graphic designer who also happens to share a great interest in men's legwear. Chris has a website, called Graphic Illusions, to showcase his work, and has recently added a "Leg-Gear" page to his site. I included a brief mention of Chris in my recent Examiner article (Male Tights-Wearers Gaining New Sense of Confidence), and I'm hoping to do a profile of Chris a little later on. For now, I just wanted to reprint the great information he's pulled together--mostly from Wikipedia. Although Wiki-info can sometimes be of suspect accuracy, I can attest to many of the facts cited herein, and believe all of it to be sound. Read on ...

How many people know that men were the first to wear pantyhose?

Centuries ago men wore hand knitted stockings made of wool. In 1589, William Lee of Calverton, Notts, invented the first Knitting Frame. Excited about his invention, Richard Parkyns (a member of the Parliament for Nottinghamshire) arranged for William to meet Henry Carey and Lord Hunsdon (members of Queen Elizabeth Privy Council).

With a pair of wool stockings to show what great work William’s new invention has done, they presented it to the Queen for approval. The Queen at first rejected the idea in consideration of what it would do to her poor subjects. It would bring them to ruin by depriving them of employment, thus making them beggars.

The Queen turned to Lord Hunsdon and declared, “Had Mr. Lee made a machine which could give me silk stockings, I would perhaps been justified in granting him a patent”. Then looking at William she said “To enjoy the privilege of making stockings for everyone is too important to grant to any individual.”

Not giving up on the dreams William had for his invention he worked making and selling wool stocking until 10 years later when he had finally perfected his invention to knit silk stockings. Unfortunately the Queen passed away in 1603, a bit too late for William to present his improvements.

William took his invention and moved to France where he met the De Caux brothers, and drew up a very complicated but precise contract in partnership for the manufacture of stockings made from silk and wool.

Tights were made as a close fitting garment for men of nobility such as King Henry VIII of England, the material would be made of silk or wool, rather than the coarser fabrics used by the so called “lower classes”.

The technology remained reasonably the same, until the 1930’s when a new circular knitting machine meant garments could be made in one piece, and no longer needed to be sewn together. A man named Julian Hill discovered that by pulling a heated rod from a mixture of coal, tar, water, and alcohol, he could create a filament that was strong, sheer, and silk-like in appearance. Further research led research led to the first synthetic fiber, which soon came to be known as Polymer. In 1937, Du Pont patented his discovery.

At the World’s Fair in New York in 1939, synthetic fibers were first shown to the public. Taking the “NY” from New York, and adding “Lon” from London (the origins of stockings) came the word “Nylon”. The first Nylon stockings appeared in New York stores on May 15th, 1940. Women of course started wearing the newer, lighter, softer, nylon stockings and well over 72,000 pairs were sold in the first day alone, causing the Japanese silk market to collapse overnight.

In 1942, during World War II , nylon production was switched into tent and parachute manufacturing for the military forces. During this time, women who desired the look of wearing stockings would shave their legs and oftentimes draw a vertical line up the back of their legs to simulate the effect.

In 1953, Allen Grant Sr. of Glen Raven Knitting Mills developed a commercial equivalent named “Panti-Legs”, but didn’t introduce it to the markets until 1959. During this time another North Carolinian, Ernest G. Rice invented his own design (similar to what’s used today) and in 1956 submitted a patent titled "Combination Stockings and Panty".

It wasn’t until the 1960s that a combination of factors made them a veritable fashion necessity: improved manufacturing made them cheaper; spandex (or elastane) made them more comfortable; and the miniskirt made thigh-high stockings obsolete.

After the 1980’s pantyhose sales to women started to fall, as they began to prefer the “bare-legged” fashion. Pantyhose where no longer required in many workplaces as part of the female dress code. While sales remain low today by comparison, alternative styles are seeing growth. Fishnets, patterns and colors, opaque tights, low-rise, footless shape wear, and pantyhose for men.

About 14 years ago, L'eggs introduced an online discussion board on their website. Although intended for women, they soon discovered that the majority of respondents were men discussing the fact that they wore women's pantyhose. More surprising was that the reasons given were practical, legitimate uses such as leg support, added warmth, and so forth. More recently, L'eggs has done research and discovered that nearly as many men enjoy buying, and wearing their product as women. Currently, there are many companies, worldwide, making or selling pantyhose for men, sometimes referred to as 'mantyhose'.

Some of these are:

* ActivSkin
* Aries
* Doyeah
* Ela
* Levee
* Collanto
* Emilio Cavallini
* Gerbe
* Levee WoMan
* Lexwear
* Legwear 4 Men
* Lida
* Shapings.com
* Hosiery Museum
* Luxelegwear
* Hosieria

Some examples of men today who wear pantyhose are:

NFL football players (who wear them under their uniforms for warmth); Hunters/Campers often wear them for warmth and to protect against ticks and other insects; Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have worn them under their uniforms for protection against sand fleas; Men with varicose veins or other circulatory problems often wear support pantyhose in lieu of medical hose to improve blood circulation.

There are thousands of men in the U.S.--as well as overseas--wearing pantyhose for hundreds of reasons. Men have been wearing pantyhose since the invention of stockings, and men are still wearing pantyhose today.

Many decades have passed since women have taken over legwear fashion, and men are finally taking back what was originally theirs. Although not really "taking back," since we don't want to be selfish... Women look great in hosiery, too... Men just want to show the world that tights and pantyhose are indeed a unisex article of clothing.

[Thanks, Chris, for assembling a great piece on legwear history. -Steve]


  1. I thought the New York/London theory of Nylon naming had been thoroughly discredited. My go-to source for all things urban legendary, Snopes.com definitely says "False"

  2. I'll have to look into that. However, I must say that Snopes.com, which in the past has always been my go-to source also, has lost a good bit of its luster this past year in my eyes. I can't offhand remember where I read it, but I ran across an article that pretty conclusively demonstrated that Snopes.com is NOT the paragon of objective legend-debunking that we all may have thought it was.

    It turns out that maybe even Snopes isn't an impeccable source of reliable info.

    If I can find more on the NY-LONdon element of the name source for nylon, I will post it.

  3. Steve, you have a way with words! "Although Wiki-info can sometimes be of suspect accuracy,..." is a euphemism for 'Wiki can sometimes get it hopelessly and completely wrong', or as they would say in Nottingham UK, 'wrapped round its neck'.

  4. So if it's not the New York/ London theory, then whan is the origin of the name? Any alternative theories? I've always been pretty much convinced it was the new York/London thing thus never gave it a second thought...


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