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The history of tights.

Written by Johanna Juelsson

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Posted on February 02 2022

Over the decades, tights have become an indispensable fashion accessory for women. Thanks to a variation of styles they are also a way for women to revolutionize, to feminize, to impose themselves, and to gain confidence.  

Early days

Before the 18th century, pantyhose were mainly worn by men. They were called "Hose" and were made from wool or silk and like two separate long socks. Popular with the nobility, but not very functional as they had to be layered to keep warm and as they were not elastic or supportive they had to be kept up by garters. 

In the early 1800s, thanks to industrial production, machine-knitted stockings increased the availability of pantyhose and women also started to wear them, however typically hidden under clothing. Men had by then moved on to wear pants and socks instead. 

 


King Charles IX of France wearing hosiery in 1566.

 

20th century saw a hosiery boom

By the 1920's, hosiery was popular to cover exposed legs. The typical stocking would come up to just above the knee and be secured by a garter. 

Previously a garment hidden under dresses, fishnet and embellished stockings was now flaunted by women as a statement of style and freedom.  

 

  The introduction of synthetic yarn such as nylon made tights more transparent and cheaper than silk tights. Nylon was created in 1935, but it was not until 1939 that it was used to produce nylon stockings for women by American company DuPont, with up to 4 million pairs being purchased in one day. Nylon stockings were cheap, durable, and sheer compared to their cotton and silk equivalent. 

 


 

  World War II increased demand for nylon. All nylon stockings were taken off the market and desperate women all over sought out creative alternatives. Women began to paint seams on the back of their legs or use self-tanners and "liquid stockings" to create the illusion that they were wearing hosiery.  

  The 50s and 60s

The tights as we know them today appeared in the 50s when elastane was invented and trademarked Lycra, by DuPont. Elastane was a revolution, a synthetic elastic fiber, stronger and more durable than conventional elastic thread and it could withstand high temperatures. Thanks to these desirable qualities, fashion would never be the same again.

 

Mary Quant, creator of the mini skirt.

 

  Hosiery became a fashion accessory bringing glamour to both movie stars and housewives. Thanks to designers such as Mary Quant, the creator of the mini skirt (which was described as "scandalous") and model icon Twiggy, the combination mini skirt and tights were a gesture of freedom in the 60s. Colourful, or abstract florals was the pattern of the decade, hence the 60s often being referred to as the Flower power era.  

The model icon, Twiggy Lanson.
 

Psychedelic and abstract patterns made an entrance in the 70s. And so did disco and lurex. Whether it be gold silver or any bright and noticeable colour, or pattern. Even today, lurex is a great fabric for adding a unique glitter and shine to your tights and it's remained very popular with people looking to join in the nightlife.

The seventies are also are marked by the punk movement, initiated by the designer Vivienne Westwood and the music group Sex Pilots. On the contrary to shiny tights, she made ripped tights fashionable.  

Diane von Fürstenberg, fashion designer, in the former discotheque studio 54 in the 70 (left) and Nancy Spungen, the most famous punk groupie whose death remains an unsolved mystery (right).

 

  Psychedelic and abstract patterns made an entrance in the 70s. And so did disco and lurex. Whether it be gold silver or any bright and noticeable colour, or pattern. Even today, lurex is a great fabric for adding a unique glitter and shine to your tights and it's remained very popular with people looking to join in the nightlife.


The seventies are also are marked by the punk movement, initiated by the designer Vivienne Westwood and the music group Sex Pilots. On the contrary to shiny tights, she made ripped tights fashionable.

  Big hair, ruffled dresses and colourful tights symbolize the 80s era. The aerobics trend saw the updated Lycra fiber flourish and we wore it on smooth leggings in fluorescent colours.  

Olivia Newton John (right).

 

In the 90s the colour craze had calmed down and black tights were back in fashion, followed by natural toned tights being back in vogue at the end of the decade.   

Today, tights remain an accessory worn mostly by women. The wide range of tights, whether in terms of material, color, or patterns, allow women to express their style with this versatile accessory.  

Swedish Stockings view on traditional hosiery

8 billion tights that are produced, worn once, and thrown away every year. The textile industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world, landfills everywhere are full of poorly made and cheap non-biodegradable textiles-and it’s getting worse. Swedish Stockings want to be in the forefront of change when it comes to sustainable production.   

At Swedish Stockings, we use a waste product from the nylon industry in order to avoid excessive waste by using leftovers from other industries and thus reduce the amount of waste in nature that will probably never or very slowly decompose. We want to change the pantyhose industry and we are starting by making our entire collection without raw materials and without new resources! 

Read more about our mission and production here.

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