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The History of Nylon Stockings

Ever since the knitting machine was invented in 1589 by Reverend William Lee over 400 years ago stockings made from wool, silk and cotton have been on the scene. These early stockings were frequently referred to as hose, from which the term hosiery was derived, and were generally worn by men.

The stockings market was revolutionised in the 20th Century when it became socially acceptable for women to show their legs, and with the invention of nylon in the 1930's an affordable alternative to silk stockings became available.

In 1935 Julian Hill, working with a team led by Wallace Carothers, discovered that by pulling a heated rod from a mixture of coal tar, water and alcohol a strong, sheer filament formed that was silk-like in appearance.

Two years later the process was patented by DuPont, and in 1939 the new synthetic fibre - Nylon - was shown at the World Trade Fair in New York; The NY from New York, providing the first two letters of the name nylon.

The first nylon stockings appeared in New York stores on the 15th May 1940 and over 780,000 pairs were sold in the first day alone.

In the first year, 64 million pairs were sold in the US, and nylons soon became the generic name for all hosiery products containing nylon.


However once the USA joined World War II all production of nylon went into the war effort to make parachetes and nylon stockings became very hard to obtain and resulted in a thriving Black Market as stockings were a popular gift for ladies from the US soldiers as during this time women painted seams on the back of their legs instead so it appeared as if they were wearing stockings.

At the time that nylon was invented only stockings existed. These traditional stockings were known as "Fully Fashioned" in that they were fashioned to the shape of the leg as nylon did not stretch. For this reason they came in a large number of sizes. These traditional stockings were knitted flat and then the two sides were joined manually by hand with a fine seam up the back.

In the late 1950's yarn manufacturers discovered that they could add stretch to nylon by crimping it under heat, then in 1959 Du Pont invented Lycra which stretches up to seven times its original length without breaking and subsequently recovers its shape. This dramatically improved the fit and comfort of hosiery as well as its strength.


Films & Media also played a huge part in the popularity of stockings with Film Star Celebrities and Pin Up Models like Bettie Page showing off their delight for Nylons to an eager audiance of women who wanted to emulate their idols.

With the arrival of the mini skirt in the 60's an alternative to stockings was required and tights took over (within 2 years they had 70% market share). During the same period hosiery manufacturer's moved away from knitting flat and instead hosiery was knitted in a tube, as a result nylons with seams virtually disappeared and the stockings of today took over.

In recent years seamed stockings have regained a fashion foothold as have stockings in general, with wonderful new style & designs in abundance which is great news for all stocking lovers!

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