Pre 1920 - silk for the rich, cotton or lisle (wool) for everyone else, finishing just above the knee. In the 19th century stockings were held up by an elasticated garter around the leg. In the mid 1880s stockings and garters were often vividy coloured and embroidered to match an outfit but by 1888 black became the favourite for both day and evening wear. Suspenders became popular towards the end of the century: garters tended to cut off the circulation resulting in varicose veins.
Getting the look today - thin over the knee socks could be embellished and worn with ribboned garters or black opaque stockings could pass.
1920s and 1930s - silk for the rich, 'Art' silk, cotton or lisle for everyone else, finishing slightly higher on the leg as hemlines rose. The first stockings in 'Art' silk appeared in 1912. 'Art' silk was a cellolose by product of pulped trees and allowed working class girls to have glamorous stockings and lingerie. In 1924 'Art' silk was renamed Rayon. Although the first knitting machine had been invented in 1589 (by a clergyman no less) stockings were still very labour intensive to make with four or five pairs being made by a person per day, by 1925 the technology had developed and the speed increased to up to 150 pairs per day. With the price of stockings being affordable colours again became very fashionable. Shiny pink stockings rolled over garters were popular in the USA, whilst European girls went for laces with extravagent designs.
Getting the look today - stockings would have been thicker than those of today, so again, coloured opaques or nets would do. It is possible to find Rayon or silk fully fashioned stockings on Ebay or in vintage stores, but they are extremely hard to find (expect to pay over £20 per pair).
1940s - nylon fully fashioned stockings for American girls and very lucky Brits, rayon and silk for everyone else. Nylon fully fashioned stockings were made famous due to their scarcity during WWII, and their allure remains today. In fact, it's extremely doubtful that any English girl would have seen a pair of nylon stockings during WWII as they were only made for a few months in 1939 in America. A girl would be lucky to find any stockings at all in the 1940s as not only nylon, but also silk higher grade Rayon were all used to make parachutes and other war time items. It wasn't uncommon to paint the leg adding an eyeliner seam up the back when the look of stockings was required.
Getting the look today - vintage fully fashioned stockings are still relatively easy to find on Ebay (£5 upwards), in vintage shops and very occasionally in charity shops. If you want an authentic 1940s look forget the sheer, glamorous looking ones, and go for a crepe stretch knit or heavier denier. No fully fashioned stockings are still made in stretch nylon, or above 15 denier so you need to go vintage to look the part.
1950s - nylon fully fashioned stockings. Once the war was over British hosiery companies like Aristoc whirled into action finally making those nylon fully fashioned stockings all the girls craved. Unfortunately for the first few years they were all exported as England was just about bankrupt. By the early 1950s English girls finally got their hands on them!
Fully fashioned stockings are made flat with the amount of stitches varying to fit the leg (hence 'fully fashioned'), they're sewn up afterwards which is where the seam comes in. Seams were often in contrasting colours to the stocking leg with outline heel detailing used for special occassion nylons.
Getting the look today - there are 4 factories still making fully fashioned stockings in the world today. One in America, one in France and two in the UK. The two in the UK are Gio (who bought one of the old Aristoc Reading machines) and Eleganti. What Katie Did have a long standing relationship with Eleganti who make their stockings from non stretch nylon for a glamorous sheer look.
1960s - fully fashioned or rht seamfree stockings. RHT (reinforced heel and toe) stockings started being made in the USA in 1949. Made on a small circular knitting machine they, and their machinery, were significantly cheaper to produce than fully fashioned stockings. Early RHT stockings were notorious for their lack of fit and baggy ankles which means they didn't really take off until the early 1960s when the technology had improved.
Getting the look today - vintage RHT stockings can be picked up for peanuts on Ebay, in vintage shops and often in charity shops. What Katie Did carry a range of authentic 100% nylon rht stockings.
Once the miniskirt and tights arrived in the mid 1960s it really did look as if the days of the stocking were over. Throughout the 1970s stocking sales continued to drop as woman's lib too hold. However, in the mid 1980s there started to be a little bit of a turnaround and whilst sales of tights continue to slide, stockings are holding their ground.
Vintage Stocking Sizes
8.5 - to fit a UK foot size 3
9 - to fit a UK foot size 4
9.5 - to fit a UK foot size 5
10 - to fit a UK foot size 6
10.5 - to fit a UK foot size 7
11 - to fit a UK foot size 8