Stockings History

stocking history    Before we delve into this subject, we need to make one thing clear: are we talking about stockings history in general or rather about nylon stockings’ history? The two are not the same. Unlike other hosiery types, stockings have been around for ages, quite literally: one may find it hard to believe that the first actual stockings were knitted over 400 years ago. The era of stockings was closely linked to the invention of the first knitting machine way back in 1589 by an English clergyman named William Lee.

The material Lee’s machine was capable of churning out using wool, cotton or silk as raw material, was so fine that it was suited for being used in stockings. The said knitting machine was cataloged a national treasure by the authorities of the time and exporting the knitting technology became equated to high treason.
With the exception of small tweaks here and there to optimize the knitting process and to make it more efficient, stockings knitting technology remained virtually unaltered through the years, right up till the 1930s when the lightning struck twice in the same spot for the industry.

The first truly revolutionary innovation came in the shape of the circular knitting machine. This machine was capable of creating stocking-legs out of one piece of material, without the need to sew a flat piece of material together at the back of the leg – a procedure which resulted in a visible seam. Nowadays, with the exception of companies focused on the making of technologically genuine full fashioned stockings, all hosiery makers use such circular knitting machinery.
The other massive innovation, one that pretty much outweighed everything else in hosiery terms was the invention of polymer 6.6, which later became known as nylon. These days, it is almost unfathomable that before the invention of nylon, all fine garments had to be made of silk, nature’s nylon basically, which is obviously much more cumbersome to work with and much more expensive to produce.
The DuPont company in Delaware was the corporate entity responsible for the creation of polymer 6.6 and Julian Hill, one of the researchers working for DuPont, was its actual ‘father’. Working under the supervision of Wallace Carothers, Hill discovered that a filament with the physical proprieties of silk could be obtained by pulling a fiber out of a heated concoction of coal tar, alcohol and water. Those interested in the exact chemical process involved in the creation of polymer 6.6 should take the time to explore our site deeper as we will feature an article on the subject.
stocking history stockings The bottom line: the invention Hill came up with was nylon, and DuPont decided to patent the discovery in 1937. The problem was though that 1937 was the year of Wallace Carothers’ death too, so in honor of his activity and creative genius, DuPont decided to credit the invention to him.
The actual introduction of nylon to the public came at the 1939 World Fair, when DuPont’s vice president, Charles Stine allegedly presented the new material to a number of women’s club members instead of a board of scientists.
It was then that apparently the name “nylon” was first thought of, reflecting the initials of the city of New York.
It took less than a year for DuPont’s nylon stockings to hit the store shelves. The exact day was May 15, 1940. According to some accounts, over 72,000 pairs of nylon stockings were sold that day, and the sheer brilliance of the innovation led to the almost instant collapse of the natural silk market. Full scale nylon production had already been in place by the end of 1939 though.
As the new nylon stockings became available in various department stores all over the nation, around 64 million pairs of stockings were bought up by customers in the first year alone.

Just as it became obvious that nylon stockings were indeed a massive hit, the Second World War struck and the production capabilities of nylon plants were put into the service of the military: parachutes and tents were made instead of stockings. The resulting hosiery shortage made nylons even more popular. A rare commodity, nylons soon became an instrument of trade and seduction as US military personnel took nylon hosiery to Britain in the shape of gifts for girlfriends there.
stocking history leg After the war, nylon plants were finally able to focus on satisfying the insatiable appetite that the market had developed for nylon hosiery. In 1945, hosiery sales became frequent and they never failed to attract huge crowds of women looking to get ‘hosed up’. Nylon stockings continued their dominance through the 50s all the way to the beginning of the 60s when pantyhose – based mostly on the same technology – drifted into the picture. For a couple of decades, pantyhose out-sold and out-muscled stockings in just about every way, starting with the late 90s though, stockings and suspender belts have sneaked back into style. During the 50s, the dominant stocking style was the full fashioned one. Although technologically obsolete, full fashioned stockings are still made today, out of style considerations and of course: nostalgia. Modern technology has made it possible for manufacturers to mimic the fully fashioned look without going through the traditional manufacturing steps.

Nowadays, pantyhose and stockings co-exist peacefully on the brochure pages and in the offers of pretty much every hosiery manufacturer out there.
Although some people seem to hate one in favor of the other, we here at do not consider it our business to take sides in this debate. We are simply glad that we are living in this golden age of hosiery, where technology has made it possible for such a massive selection and variety of styles to emerge and thrive.

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