The Right Tights
Virtual museum of hosiery from the UK
by Jacques Hughes
The history of tights
Up until the 18th Century tights were worn by men.
Women wore stockings held up by garters just above the knee.
At the start of the 20th Century women's silk stockings were held up by suspender belts.
In 1920 the first man made fibre Rayon was invented.
Nylon (polyamide) was invented in 1937 by Wallace Carruthers and nylon stockings first went on sale in 1939.
In 1957 Bear Brand started manufacturing nylon tights for use in the performing arts and for children, but the adult public were not interested in them. Making them in the 'fully fashioned' was costly - knitted in flat pieces and sewn together at the back of the leg. The invention of circular knitting enables the production of stockings without a back seam and reduced production costs.
Seam free stockings became more common in 1958.
Lycra was invented in 1959.
Mary Quant started producing tights in 1965. By 1967 the mini skirt became fashionable and so stockings and suspenders became less popular. There was a huge and sudden demand for tights. Some manufacturers simply sown stockings on to nylon panties! Tights were seen as a leg covering and most were produced in natural shades to give the appearance of suntanned legs.
1967 saw the introduction of one size stockings and hold-ups. "Pop-sox" or knee highs were first sold in 1968.
The 1970's saw the introduction of coloured and then patterned tights. Dior produced 101 different colours of unpatterened sheer tights. There were small dots, big dots, heart shapes and fake seams on sheer tights. In 1984 Lady Di was seen wearing tights with a bow motif on the ankle and a fashion craze followed.
The addition of Lycra to the yarn in 1972 made better fitting tights.
(tights before and after Lycra)
Later on by adding more Lycra to the panty manufacturers were able to make control-top and slimming-type tights.
By 1973 tights accounted for 75% of the hosiery market, and by 1983 over 90%. Then manufacturers started to market stockings as a more luxurious/sexy item and by 1989 stockings were 18% of hosiery sales.
American football player Joe Namath appears in a pantyhose advertisement in the early-1970s.
In the mid 1980s opaque tights became popular followed by leggings/footless tights. Originally opaques were popular for winter wear, with ribbed and woolen tights. Later velvet opaques, shiny opaques and then textured opaques were produced.
Ultra sheer tights 5 and 7 Denier were introduced in 1989.
In the 1990s coloured and patterned tights went out of fashion. Black opaque, black sheer and natural coloured sheers dominated the market. Glossy sheers became more popular in the later 1990s, with Pretty Polly marketing a Nylons range with nostalgic advertising.
Seam-free tights were developed in the mid-1990s, with both legs and the body knitted in one piece with no seams and then a hole was cut for the addition of the waist band. They remain at the expensive end of the market. But, in the mid 2000s most fishnet and lace tights started to be made that way.
By 2000 glossy sheers in natural shades (variations on "nude") are most fashionable. Tights with sandal toes became popular for summer wear, and in 2002 very sheer tights with no toes were introduced to be worn with open-toed sandals. The "wonder-bum" tights were a new variation on control top tights designed to lift and separate the buttocks.
But there has been a rediscovery of fishnets and the introduction of large mesh net tights for summer wear in 2001. 2003 saw the start of a retro-look with brightly coloured opaques, footless tights and lacy patterned tights making a comeback.
In the late 2000s footless tights reappeared followed by thicker leggings - a repeat of the 1980s fashion.