A pair of dark grey nylon stockings.
|Material||silk or rayon|
Stockings (also known as hose, especially in a historical context) are close-fitting, variously elastic garments covering the leg from the foot up to the knee or possibly part or all of the thigh. Stockings vary in color, design, and transparency. Today, stockings are primarily worn for fashion and aesthetics, usually in association with mid-length skirts.
By analogy, the term "stocking" is also used to describe a type of horse marking in which the white coloring extends from the horse's hoof to just above the knee.
Historically, even though the word sock is at least as ancient in origin, what men normally wore were often referred to as stockings, probably especially when referring to longer hose. The word stock used to refer to the bottom "stump" part of the body, and by analogy the word was used to refer to the one-piece covering of the lower trunk and limbs of the 15th century—essentially tights consisting of the upper-stocks (later to be worn separately as knee breeches) and nether-stocks (later to be worn separately as stockings). (See Hose.)
Before the 1590s, stockings were made of woven cloth. The first knitting machines were for making stockings. The stockings themselves were made of cotton, linen, wool or silk. A polished cotton called lisle was common, as were those made in the town of Balbriggan.
Before the 1920s, stockings, if worn, were worn for warmth. Women, particularly during the pioneer days, wore long underwear (longjohns) underneath their long dresses. In the 1920s, as hemlines of dresses rose, and churches were not heated, women began to wear flesh-colored stockings over their longjohns to cover their exposed legs. Those stockings were sheer, first made of silk or rayon (then known as "artificial silk") and after 1940 of nylon.
The introduction of nylon in 1939 by chemical company DuPont began a high demand for stockings in the United States with up to 4 million pairs being purchased in one day. Nylon stockings were cheap, durable, and sheer compared to their cotton and silk counterparts. When America entered World War II, DuPont ceased production of nylon stockings and retooled their factories to produce parachutes, airplane cords, and rope. This led to a shortage and the creation of a black market for stockings. At the end of the war DuPont announced that the company would return to producing stockings, but could not meet demand. This led to a series of disturbances in American stores known as the nylon riots until DuPont was able to ramp up production.
A precursor of pantyhose made an appearance in the 1940s and 1950s, when film and theater productions had stockings sewn to the briefs of actresses and dancers, according to actress-singer-dancer Ann Miller and seen in popular films such as Daddy Long Legs. Today, stockings are commonly made using knitted wool, silk, cotton or nylon (see hosiery). The introduction of commercial pantyhose in 1959 gave an alternative to stockings, and the use of stockings declined dramatically. A main reason for this was the trend towards higher hemlines on dresses (see minidress). In 1970, U.S. sales of pantyhose exceeded stockings for the first time, and has remained this way ever since. Beginning in 1987, sales of pantyhose started a slight decline due to the newly invented hold-ups, but still remain the most sold kind of hosiery.
Benefits and drawbacks
Stockings are still sometimes preferred to pantyhose for a number of reasons. These may include the perception that stockings, and the associated use of garters, lace, high fashion, appliqué and the exposure of the thigh, are more aesthetically pleasing, or sexually attractive and alluring than pantyhose.
Both nylon stockings and pantyhose in being sheer share the advantage of being quick-drying compared to pants. Spare pairs are also easy to carry if they are ruined. If laddered they can be replaced 'one at a time' which provides a cost advantage over tights.
However, stockings do have a drawback in colder weather, because more skin is exposed to the cold compared to pantyhose. Also, pantyhose do not require garters and garter belts, and do not need to be adjusted as much, whilst also leaving a smoother line under form-fitting clothing.
Stockings can be held up in one of three ways:
- A garter belt (AmE), or suspender belt or suspenders (BrE), is the most common way of holding up stockings. It is a piece of underwear worn around the waist like a belt but under clothing which has "suspenders" or "stays" that clip to the tops of the stockings.
- "Stay-ups" are the second most common means of support. The inside of the top of the stockings has a band (typically silicone) of elastic or highly tractive material that resists slipping down the thigh. However, there is no consistent sizing for differences in thigh circumference, resulting in some stockings either falling down or being too tight, leaving red marks and possibly aggravating varicose veins.
- A garter is the least common means of support. It is slipped over the top of the stocking to hold the stocking by essentially clamping it to the leg. These are the garters typically worn by a bride at her wedding. They have similar disadvantages to "stay-ups".
In modern usage, stocking specifically refers to the form of hosiery configured as two pieces, one for each leg (except for American and Australian English, where the term can also be a synonym pantyhose). The terms hold-ups and thigh highs refer to stockings that stay up through the use of built-in elastic, while the word stockings is the general term or refers to the kind of stockings that need a suspender belt (garter belt, in American English), and are quite distinct from tights or pantyhose (American English).
Other terms used with stockings include:
- Cuban heel: A stocking with a heel made with folded over and sewn reinforcement.
- Demi-toe: Stockings which have a reinforced toe with half the coverage on top as on the bottom. This results in a reinforcement that covers only the tip of the toes as opposed to the whole toe. These can be with or without a reinforced heel.
- Denier: The lower the denier number the sheerer the garment. Stockings knitted with a higher denier tend to be less sheer but more durable.
- Fishnet: Knitted stockings with a very wide open knit resembling a fish net.
- Fencenet: Similar to fishnet, but with a much wider pattern. These are sometimes worn over another pair of stockings or pantyhose, such as matte or opaque, with a contrasting colour. Sometimes referred to as whalenets.
- Full Fashioned: Fully fashioned stockings are knitted flat, the material is then cut and the two sides are then united by a seam up the back. Fully fashioned stockings were the most popular style until the 1960s.
- Hold-ups (British English) or Stay-ups: Stockings that are held up by sewn-in elasticated bands (quite often a wide lace top band). In the US they are referred to as thigh-highs.
- Knee highs: Stockings that terminate at or just barely below the knee. Also known as half-stockings, trouser socks, or socks.
- Matte: Stockings which have a dull or non-lustre finish.
- Mock seam: A false seam sewn into the back of a seamless stocking.
- Nude heel: Stockings without reinforcement in the heel area.
- Opaque: Stockings made of yarn which give them a heavier appearance (usually 40 denier or greater).
- Point heel: in a Fully Fashioned stocking it is a heel in which the reinforced part ends in a triangle shape.
- RHT: Abbreviation of reinforced heel and toe.
- Open-toed: Stockings that stop at the base of the toe with a piece that goes between the first and second toes to hold them down. They can be worn with some open-toed shoes, especially to show off pedicured toes.
- Sandalfoot: Stockings with a nude toe, meaning no heavier yarn in the toe than is in the leg. They are intended to be worn with sandal or open-toe shoes.
- Seamed: Stockings manufactured in the old Full-Fashioned manner with a seam running up the back of the leg. In the past they were manufactured by cutting the fabric and then sewing it together. Today, thanks to Pio Chiaruttini who patented this new technique, stockings are generally fully knitted and a fake or mock seam is added up the back for a particular fashion look. Some brands also produce seamed hold-ups.
- Seamless: Stockings knit in one operation on circular machines (one continuous operation) so that no seaming is required up the back.
- Sheers: Stockings generally of a 15 to 20 denier.
- Stocking Feet: Shoeless feet covered by stockings or socks.
- Suspender belt (British English) or Garter belt (American English): a belt with straps to keep stockings (not hold-ups) on place: usually they have 4 straps, but may have also 6 or 8.
- Ultra sheer: A fine denier fiber which gives the ultimate in sheerness. Usually 10 denier.
- Welt: A fabric knitted separately and machine-sewn to the top of a stocking. Knit in a heavier denier yarn and folded double to give strength for supporter fastening.
- "History of Socks and Stockings". History Undressed. Retrieved 2016-03-08.
- Oxford English Dictionary, quotations
- Elizabethan England by Kathy Elgin ISBN 978-0-8160-5946-1
- Handley, Susannah (1999). Nylon: The Story of a Fashion Revolution. Johns Hopkins Univ. Press. p. 48. ISBN 0-8018-6325-2.
- Robert Osborne (Host) (1997-08-20). Private Screenings: Ann Miller (Television production). Turner Classic Movies.
- Christensen, C. Roland (1982). Business Policy: Text and Cases. R.D. Irwin. p. 161. ISBN 0-256-02626-2.
- Cox, Caroline (2000). Lingerie: a lexicon of style. Scriptum Editions. ISBN 1-902686-08-X.
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