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Pantyhose Throughout History

by LAURA MCGUIRE

Pantyhose are a type of close-fitting legwear which are predominantly worn by women. They are unique in the sense that they basically cover a woman’s entire body, all the way from her waist to her toes.

This is how they differ from a regular pair of stockings and also how they got their now-famous name. As you have probably deduced by now, the term is a combination of the word ‘panties’, for women’s underwear and ‘hosiery’, which is a general term for garments worn on the feet and legs.

Typically, women will wear pantyhose within a very formal or romantic context. You might wear them for a date, if you’ve got a job interview or an important work meeting. They’re synonymous with being both professional and attractive depending on the situation.

And there are also some health benefits too. For one thing, they can keep your legs warm during the winter, but they are also good for circulation as well as support for overworked leg muscles.

While people may know some of this already, most of us don’t know that pantyhose actually have a pretty interesting history. So let’s take a look now at where they came from and their impact and usage throughout history:

Origins

So if we consider hosiery as a term referring to foot and legwear as a whole, and as such encompassing socks too, the origins date back to long before people realize. Archaeologists have found socks in the tombs of Ancient Egyptians.

But the look that we would associate with pantyhose, which is the same look we associate with stockings, that only dates back to roughly around the 16th Century. The reason being that clothing used to have to be knitted all by hand, and long stockings were time-consuming.

It wasn’t until 1589 when Nottingham native William Lee invented the frame knitting machine that things began to change. While it wasn’t particularly successful at the very beginning due to lack of interest from Elizabeth I and then James I later on, it eventually took off after improvements were made.

Up to this point, silk stockings had been fashioned but due to the length of time it took to make them, they were only really worn by the upper class. High-ranking European noblemen would often be seen wearing them.

After Lee’s machine started to gain traction in Europe, they became more popular and more widely-worn and became especially common as a fashion choice for women. The idea being that it was modest for women not to bare their legs in public.

Once we got to the 1900s there were even more changes in both the perception and the usage of pantyhose:

20th Century

By the turn of the century, men in close-fitting legwear such as silk stocking was almost unheard of and it almost exclusively a part of women’s fashion, but it had started to become somewhat less to do with modesty.

Stockings were popular with ‘flappers’. Rebellious young American women of the 1920’s who wore short skirts, bobbed their hair, danced to Jazz music and ignored what society considered to be ‘acceptable’ at the time.

Stockings in this period came up to just above the knee and had to be secured with a garter belt. It was a significant change in terms of women’s fashion, but a curve ball was coming in the form of the Second World War.

Silk was something that America would generally import from Japan, and once tensions between those two countries, silk became more difficult to come by and though a company known as DuPont had invented an alternative in nylon, women were forced to donate all of their hosiery so that it could be repurposed as parachutes and airplane cords.

Though nylon would eventually make a return, it was at this time that women began to take even more control of their own fashion:

Rising Hemlines

During the time period when stockings had effectively been taken away from women, instead of sitting back and allowing this fashion choice to disappear, women instead decided to improvise. They would paint their legs, or wear tanner or liquid stockings to give the illusion of hosiery.

It wasn’t a particularly elegant solution, but it had the desired effect and in some ways this could be considered a part of the more female-guided beauty industry, which has since become massive, thriving and an excellent area to work in.

Once the war was over and nylon made it’s return, there were more changes on the horizon. Hemlines on women’s skirts and dresses started to get higher and higher as people became more open with their sexuality.

But with this, there was still a desire to retain some modesty and a lot of women wanted to still keep their legs primarily covered. This called for longer stockings, which was difficult to achieve with the necessity for garter belts.

That’s what led us to pantyhose in the 50s and 60s. An inventor called Allen Grant envisioned the design of tights combined with panties when his pregnant wife faced difficulties in staying comfortable while managing the girdle and garter.

Initially intended for comfort, it allowed for women’s hemlines to be as high as they wanted and so the popularity of pantyhose began to skyrocket. 

Today

Pantyhose has come a long way even since then. Nowadays, there are a wide range of different styles and designs and creativity has been a part of the pantyhose craze for a few decades now. And ensuring comfort alongside fashion is a priority now.

And if you’re looking for a low rise waist to ensure you’re as comfortable as possible, we’ve got you covered with that.  Even men have been getting in on the action, and we’ve seen a rise in them wearing pantyhose too.

Men’s pantyhose are referred to by the rather tongue-in-cheek name of ‘mantyhose’, and while this is a fun joke, it’s interesting how different it is to see men being able to benefit from the  comfort and style that comes with modern hosiery.

So it’s been a long and winding road to get to where we are today with pantyhose, but it’s also been a big part of the ever-changing world of women’s fashion. 

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