A Historical Look at Hosiery – Part 2

Continuing our historical look at hosiery … did you know?

  • In the year 1609, William Lee traveled to France, seeking subsidies and a monopoly patent on his knitting machine from French King Henry IV. It was not granted, and Lee died penniless in Paris.
  • Even by 1696, stocking frames had to be smuggled out of England; the penalty at this time if caught doing so was a forty pound fine (a huge amount of money in those days) and any machines seized were confiscated.
  •  In America during the Revolutionary war, the need for stockings was greatly enhanced. Most of the army’s needs for stockings were seen to by citizens who hand wove and knit for the troops.
  • In 1818, two English framework knitters successfully smuggled an old hosiery frame out of England and established themselves in the United States.
  • The 1800s were a busy time in the evolution of hosiery production. The first circular knitting frame was available in England in 1816; and by 1838 the US had a steam power driven hosiery machine. 1839 saw a US patent for a power driven circular knitting machine, and latch needles were patented in the US in 1850. By 1860, hosiery production in the Unites States had dramatically increased.
  • Between 1860 and 1900, wool was replaced as the fibre of choice for hosiery, being blended with cotton, then eventually being virtually overtaken by cotton.

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  • By 1929, the vast majority of women’s stockings were made of silk.  Rayon was also eventually used as an alternative to the expensive silk.

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  • The circular knitting machine was invented in the 1930s. This would lead to the eventual invention of the seamless stocking. Until about 1950, stockings had seams; by 1950, however, seamless stockings appeared, to the relief of women everywhere.

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  • 1938 saw the invention of nylon by DuPont. Stockings would never be the same! Better fitting, and not as baggy at the knees or ankles, nylon stockings quickly replaced their silk counterparts and sold out very quickly. Manufacturers could not keep up with the demand, and the Japanese silk market actually collapsed.
  • During World War II, hosiery for women was a luxury. Nylon was needed for tent and parachute production for the military. The only people with any access to nylon stockings were American soldiers – who used this to their advantage when wooing English and Australian women.  The absence of nylon stockings resulted in a lot of women choosing to brown their legs and draw a seam with an eyebrow pencil; certain make-up companies marketed “liquid stockings” for that specific purpose. At the end of World War II, in 1945, New York department store Macy’s sold out of its stock of fifty thousand pairs of nylon stockings in just six hours.

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  • Spandex was invented in 1959, making stockings much more flattering and comfortable to wear.
  • Until the 1960s, stockings were held up by suspenders attached to a girdle, or by elasticized garters. But change was coming…

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Stay tuned for the 1960’s to the present day next time…