Fashion: The history of... Hosiery - Life before Lycra

Susannah Conway
Saturday 10 October 1998 23:02 BST

WHILE TIGHTS are a relatively recent phenomenon, hosiery itself has been with us for centuries. The word hosiery is derived from the Anglo- Saxon word hosen, meaning covering. As far back as the 9th century, legs were covered with bandages of material, often held in place with strands of gut.

In the 15th century, early tights were crudely constructed from woven stockings joined together with a cod-piece, sometimes soled on the feet with leather. The 16th-century saw hand-knitted stockings from Spain coming to England.

By the 18th century, women started wearing stockings too, - prior to this it was mostly men who wore them. The upper classes would wear white or coloured stockings, whilst the lower classes would wear black. But by the 1800s, men were moving away from stockings and breeches into trousers and the industrial production of stockings from around 1860 made them more available.

The introduction of synthetic yarns in the Twenties revolutionised the industry, making hosiery sheerer than cotton and cheaper then silk. Early fish-nets appeared in the Thirties and in 1938 Dupont introduced the first nylon stockings. By 1949, seamed nylons were all the rage in the UK.

Tights came about in the Fifties, introduced by Aristoc, the longest established brand in the UK. They were formed by sewing nylon legs onto a pair of crepe nylon briefs. Tights really came into their own in the Sixties, worn under mini-skirts created by designers such as Mary Quant.

In 1968 Pretty Polly developed one-piece tights and they became more of a fashion item than ever before. In the early Eighties, patterned tights appeared on the market and Lycra started being incorporated into hosiery in 1985. The new Lycra 3D process, where Lycra is knitted into every stitch, not just every third, was introduced in 1994 and now makes hosiery super smooth with a perfect fit.

The future of tights is looking back to the past, with the launch of Wolford's first range of tights designed for men.

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