Hosiery made of sheer fabric has been worn by women for centuries. Too light to protect a woman from the cold and uncomfortably hot in the heat of summer, stockings are not a practical garment; they are merely an accessory to make the legs look silky and smooth. Nylon (see entry under 1930s—Fashion in volume 2), a yarn invented by the DuPont Company in 1937, revolutionized stockings for women. Nylon stockings shown at New York's 1939 World's Fair (see entry under 1900s—The Way We Lived in volume 1) created a stir, making stockings available in a sheer, strong, and affordable fabric. Nylon had the look of expensive silk stockings, which many women could not afford.
When the first nylons hit the shelves in New York City the following year, more than 4 million pairs were sold within a few hours. In 1940, 672 million pairs of stockings were manufactured. Sales remained strong until the beginning of World War II (1939–45), when all nylon production was converted to military uses. During the war years, women did not forget about nylon stockings. Some young women used eyebrow pencils to make lines down the back of their bare legs to simulate the look of seamed nylon stockings. With the end of the war, nylon stockings were again produced. Soon spandex, a stretchy material, was combined with nylon to make even more appealing stockings that clung to the legs.
British fashion-designer Mary Quant (1934–) revolutionized women's fashion in the 1960s with her miniskirt (see entry under 1960s—Fashion in volume 4). Miniskirts were so short that they revealed the garters used to hold up stockings. Women needed hosiery to cover up more of their legs. By 1965, the first pair of pantyhose greeted women who were fed up with trying to hide the snaps and clips used to hold up conventional stockings. Although hemlines have since changed many times, women have continued to prefer pantyhose over stockings held by garters or corsets. Women's sheer hosiery sales reached $2.3 billion in 1999, according to The Hosiery Association.
For More Information
Efron, Edith. "Legs Are Bare Because They Can't Be Sheer." New YorkTimes Magazine (June 24, 1945): p. 17.
Handley, Susannah. Nylon: The Story of a Fashion Revolution; A Celebration of Design from Art Silk to Nylon and Thinking Fibres. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.
The Hosiery Association.http://www.nahm.com (accessed February 1, 2002).