stockings

The very first stockings emerged in prehistoric times and long before the first pants.  Although they were not as much stockings as wrappings.  They were made from skins wrapped around the legs and fastened to a leather belt.  On top, everything was covered with what we would call now a skirt.  Yes, yes, in pre-pant times, skirts were worn by everyone irrespective of gender and age.

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The first knitted stockings (more precisely, socks) emerged approximately in the 5th century BCE.  Examples were discovered in ancient Egyptian tombs.  The big toe in those socks-stockings was laced separately.  That’s because the ancient Egyptians wore shoes akin to modern sandals.

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In Europe, up to the 13th century, stockings were not knitted, but were sewn from thin woollen, cotton, and silk fabrics.  Those sewn stockings resembled separate trouser legs which were tightened to the belt.  They were primarily worn by men.  At least in a knight’s wardrobe, those great-great-grandmothers of modern tights were definitely present.  The fabric protected the legs from the touch of cold metal armour.  There also existed a more refined version of knights’ stockings in which hard soles were attached to the trouser legs.

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In Europe, Spaniards were the first who learned to knit stockings.  In the Renaissance era, it was very fashionable to wear stockings of different colours: one red, for example, and the other blue.  Such fashion was called mi-parti.  Among the nobility, stockings were worn in accordance with the colours of the family’s crest.  The most valuable were knitted wool stockings, and they were suitable even as a gift for royalty.  They say that once the King of England, Henry VIII, received a gift of blue Spanish stockings.  His wife (which one is not known – he had 6 of them) begged him to let her wear them, but the King ignored his wife’s tears, and paraded himself in those fashionable and expensive stockings.

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The daughter of Henry VIII – the Queen of England and Ireland, Elizabeth I – was a real fan of stockings.  She wore silk stockings, and actively integrated them into ladies’ fashion.  It was at the time of Elizabeth, in 1589, when the first stocking-knitting machine was invented.  It was invented by a vicar’s son, William Lee.  Although Elizabeth refused to grant a patent to him because his machine knitted rough woollen stockings which were not suitable for aristocratic legs, at the same time, on pain of death, Elizabeth banned the export of William Lee’s knitting machines, and the technology of stocking production which allowed England to enjoy a monopoly in stockings for a long time.

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In Russia, the first stockings emerged during the reign of Peter I.  By contrast with the stubbornness of Henry VIII, the Russian Czar gifted the first pair of stockings to his wife, Elizabeth I, thereby helping the emergence of the fashion for ladies’ stockings in Russia.

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It wouldn’t be difficult to guess that the fashion for lace and net stockings came from France.  In the 19th century, ladies’ skirts were getting shorter and shorter – if before that ladies’ stockings (and ladies’ feet) were hidden under big skirts, the shorter skirts allowed ladies feet and ankles and a bit above (and stockings too) to be admired.  Lace stockings were knitted from thin cotton yarn treated with special chemicals and lightly singed.  This yarn for thin knitwear products was known as fil d’écosse.  A bit later stockings were developed made from Persian yarn fil de perse.  They were much thinner and silkier.  This Persian yarn was a lot more expensive than fil d’écosse.  Only very rich ladies could afford stockings made from that yarn.  At the end of the 19th century, the French chemist and engineer Hilaire de Chardonnet invented viscose, and there followed an era of smooth, silky, and relatively translucent stockings, which were affordable for women of any social standing.  But the real revolution in stocking fashion happened in the 20th century, when Nylon was invented.

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One day in the research laboratory of the Du Pont Corporation proved the cause of an unexpected celebration.  The boss got ill and did not turn up at work.  At the time, his team was researching a particular polymer, and for many months had been trying to convert it from liquid to solid without any success.  That day, one of the young researchers, either trying to kill some time, or for the sake of entertainment, stuck into a bucket of liquid polymer a glass stick, and pulled from it quite a long thread of a gluey substance.  His co-researchers immediately joined in the amusement, and even set up a competition to find who would pull out the longest thread.  When the entire laboratory was covered with a polymer web, the researchers realized this was the solution to the conundrum over which they had struggled.  This is how in 1938 the very first synthetic thread, Nylon, was invented.

 

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The first nylon stockings appeared in American shops on October 24, 1939.  They were  a resounding success.  Of course they were “strong as steel, but thin as gossamer”.  This is how the ads of those times described nylon stockings.  But the real nylon boom started a little bit later – in May 1940.  It is said that during the course of a few weeks 4 million pairs were sold.  The invention of nylon stockings is regarded as one of the major events in the world of fashion and clothes production in the 20th century.

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During World War II, nylon became a strategic material as parachutes were made from nylon.  The fashionistas of those times were left with no nylon stockings.  But the solution was found immediately.  Ladies started painting stockings on their legs!  The market was filled with special paints which stayed on the skin even during the rain.  Women usually drew the “seam” at the back of the leg for their friends, but it was possible to get professional help in any shoe shop.

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The first seamless tights were invented after the Second World War in the 1950s.  The seam has become a relic of the past.  But recently, a side seam returned to the world of fashion, together with stockings.  The return of this seductive ladies’ fashion accessory is attributed to the French designer Chantelle Thomas, who is also the creatrice of a romantic collection of lingerie.

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