Stockings and thigh-highsStockings may or may not be as popular as pantyhose these days (depending on whom you ask), but as far as history and tradition are concerned, they definitely came before just about any other hosiery type. Thigh-highs are also known as nylons (a reference to the material they’re made of) or as hose – a much more traditional moniker.
These days, nylon stockings (as well as silk ones) are female fashion items, the primary aim of which is to cover and to beautify the leg. Of course, the fact that nylons keep legs warm and stimulate micro circulation is also important, but the aesthetic perspective seems to be the predominant promoter of these leg-wear pieces. Ever since pantyhose have entered the fashion scene, thigh-highs have been viewed through the lens of comparison, after all, pantyhose were meant to improve on and eventually to substitute thigh-highs in every lady’s wardrobe, a mission which they had initially almost fulfilled too. Nylons bounced back with a vengeance though and these days they compete head-on with pantyhose popularity-wise. When it comes to accentuating sensuality and femininity, most women will still opt for thigh highs over pantyhose.
One of the major drawbacks of thigh-highs (which pantyhose were specifically aimed to correct), is the fact that they won’t readily stay up on the wearer’s thighs. Several solutions have been devised to fasten the hosiery into place however all of them come with a certain level of physical discomfort for the wearer.
Suspenders or Garter Belts represent the traditional stocking hold-up solution. While garter belts are creations of fashion art in themselves, regardless of how beautiful they are they are quote cumbersome too, hence other attempts to come up with different solutions in the matter.
Stay-ups are extremely popular these days. They feature an elastic (and beautifully decorated) lace thigh-band, lined with a thin strip (or several) of silicone on the inside. The silicone band – when free of dust and oily impurities accumulated off the surface of the skin - is a highly clingy material, which will indeed fasten the hosiery in place the way they should be. The problem with stay ups though is that they come in one-size-fits-all, which often means that those who fall outside the average won’t be properly covered. Even stay-up nylons which fit perfectly can cut into the thigh of the wearer, thus wearing them for extended periods of time becomes a nuisance.
Garters (like the common white bridal ones) are also used to keep thigh-highs in place, however, they’re not popular at all these days, as a matter of fact, with the exception of bridal getups, they’re pretty much gone from store shelves as well as from the public fashion conscience.
When it comes to nylons, a bit of clarification is in order regarding terminology: in US English, stockings denote the two-piece, one for each leg ensemble, but in rare cases, the word ‘stockings’ is also substituted to tights. In Australian English, ‘stockings’ are sometimes synonymous with pantyhose as well. In the US, stockings are also known as nylons and thigh highs. While nylons can be any type of stockings and/or pantyhose, ‘thigh-highs’ only refers to the elastic (silicone) band stockings.
Styles and VariationsNylons – just like pantyhose – come in a wide variety of styles. Like everything that is meant to enhance female beauty and sensuality, nylons aim to fulfill a wide range of needs and tastes. Needless to say, most thigh-high designs are aimed at enhancing the curves and lines of the wearer’s legs, and to draw attention to the nylon-covered area of the wearer’s legs.
Although full-fashioned nylons (the kind one can see in old movies and documentaries) are a relic of the past as far as mainstream fashion is concerned, don’t you for a second believe that no one manufactures such hosiery these days. The modern hosiery industry is more than capable and willing to fulfill all sorts of needs and as long as there are people out there who like and buy full fashioned nylons, they’ll be made, more durable and sheerer than ever, and let’s face it, for many people, the word “stocking” still conjures up the classic image of full fashioned 1950s and 1960s style nylons before anything else. Besides fashion nostalgia, full fashioned nylons are greatly appreciated by stocking fetishists too.
Like pantyhose, nylons come in a wide range of DENs. Those with a weight of 15-20 DEN are considered sheers. Anything above that belongs to a territory unshackled by any kind of limitations, where the fantasy and creativity of the fashion designer are the only factors directing DEN, patterns and pretty much every other feature of the hosiery.
Cuban heel nylons are an immensely popular style too. Featuring a distinctly shaped, folded and sewn reinforcement at the sole and heel areas, Cuban heel nylons come with a sensual back-seam too, which runs all the way up the length of the garment.
Fishnets, fencenets, opaque and mock-seam nylons are also all parts of the mix too, but more on them in our dedicated stocking styles section.
History of StockingsNot surprisingly, the history of nylons reaches much further back in time than that of pantyhose. The commonly accepted inventor of thigh-highs and hosiery in general, is an English reverend, William Lee, who is widely credited with the invention of the first ever knitting machine which made the production of cotton, wool and most importantly silk hosiery possible. All this happened in and around 1589. Under a royal decree, the threat of the death penalty hung over everyone who attempted to export knitting machines and the machines themselves were declared a national treasure.
The technology saw gradual improvements and tweaks over time, but nothing revolutionary transpired till the 1930s when nylon and circular knitting machines were invented. If you’re a true hosiery and nylons maniac, you should therefore probably be thankful that you get to live in this golden age we’re seeing today.
During the 30s, Dupont – a US hosiery company based in Delaware, discovered nylon: a synthetic fiber which retained most of the physical proprieties of silk. Wallace Carothers was credited with the discovery, although according to experts, it was Julian Hill, one of Carothers’ men, who came up with the actual recipe.
The invention was patented in 1937, and for a while it was known as Polymer 6.6.
It took no fewer than 3 years for the newly patented product to make it into the mainstream. The first nylons hit store shelves in 1940, and they were an instant hit with the ladies. Around 72 thousand pairs of nylons were sold on the first day alone and sale volumes continued to soar through the year. Overall, around 64 million pairs were sold during the first year following the launch of nylon hosiery.
The Second World War did divert the production capabilities of hosiery mills towards war-related goals, but the shortage only made nylons more coveted among women than ever. US GIs exported hosiery to Europe, in the form of exquisite gifts to the women of the old continent.
During the hosiery shortage, women would draw lines along the back of their legs to simulate the look of full fashioned nylon thigh-highs. Nylons continued to be produced in their full fashioned form through the 40s and 50s, right until the circular knitting machine entered the picture.
Recently, as pantyhose entered a period of popularity-loss, nylons regained some of their luster. Now that pantyhose are yet again hitting mainstream fashion, nylons seem to tag along for the ride, no longer competing with the waist to toe nylons, but rather working in synergy towards a common goal. Indeed, every modern hosiery manufacturer out there produces pantyhose as well as stockings these days.