Vintage stockings and pantyhose

This month we’ve been listing lots of new accessories to the webshop – and I’ve added a link to the blog and the webshop so you can see the new listings on Facebook – a downside of having over a thousand products available online, it’s hard to see what’s new.

Vintage hosiery is a topic close to my heart: like Dita it was lingerie that first summoned me into vintage and I bought my first seamed stockings and garter belt aged fourteen. I thought you might like a short history on the subject.

Hosiery goes way back in fashion history, all the way back to the Ancient World but the earliest examples in my collection are from the late Victorian era when ladies would wear cotton, silk or wool stockings under their copious skirts, secured with garters around their thighs.

Early ’20th century versions are also made of rayon or “artificial silk” as it was called at first. Early stockings were “fully fashioned”, or knitted in the shape of a foot and leg and sewn up the centre back creating a seam.

Silk stockings were the finest, most expensive and the sheerest – cotton and rayon were popular for ladies who needed hard-wearing hosiery, like maids. Suspender straps were first attached to some corsets during the Edwardian age (early 1900s) to hold them up but most still wore garters until the ’30s when suspender belts became an essential part of a lady’s wardrobe.

Ladies would darn their ripped stockings using matching threads, available in small packets. I’ve got a number of stockings from the ’20s and ’30s with hand-stitched mends – they were expensive and so looked after, unlike today when we tend to throw them out.

Silk stockings were replaced with nylon versions during WW2, but most of the nylon stockings you see are post 1947. During the 1950s seamless stockings were made on new knitting machines and so seamed and fully fashioned ones became rare.

“Denier” indicates the fineness of the weave: the lower the number, the finer the stocking. 8 is the lowest, 15 denier is the most common and opaques are between 30 and 80 or more.

By the early 1960s almost all stockings were seamless, and stronger types of nylon are introduced including “micromesh”. Up until this point, most hosiery is manufactured in various shades of skin colour, ie, tans and nudes. Blacks were much less popular, mostly worn by older ladies and widows.

With the explosion of colour in the ’60s, hosiery expands into different hues, textures, patterns and prints – and as skirts become higher, ladies felt exposed with their stockings and suspenders and started wearing pantyhose (first invented in ’59).

If you’re unsure if hosiery from the ’60s or ’70s are stockings or pantyhose, keep in mind that during this transitional period packets took care to alert the shopper to the latter, so if neither is identified, they’re probably stockings.

By the late 1970s, stockings had become a nostalgic fashion worn for pleasure rather than practicality as pantyhose have taken over the market, with only old ladies and the odd fourteen year old wearing stockings.

Unlike other types of garment, hosiery fashions change slowly and I’ve found many packets that have been updated as times change, but the product inside remains the same here – here are some examples, now available from the webshop. I love oddities like these.

Click on each image to see the listing – 1930s cotton lisle fully fashioned stockings by Jeanette, repackaged in a 1950s box.

Mid 1960s Kolotex Clings stockings: the cover design has been altered when shoe heel fashions changed (a layer has been added to the carpet to hide the now unfashionable stiletto heel and pointy toe).

Late 1960s Prestige stockings with loose cover added to box, with seasonal Christmas design.

Both of those ’60s packet designs were still being sold well into the ’80s so revisiting them shocks me a little, as you couldn’t get away with selling many other fashion items over such a long period of time. You can see more vintage hosiery here.

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