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The Evolution of Hosiery

Carnival life means daring to bare. And we want you to embrace all of you, with fashion that celebrates your beauty, inside and out. Here at Carnivalista, we don’t think any carnival look is complete without amazing hosiery. From classic fishnets to sparkle studded stockings, your hosiery can help to set you apart from the crowd. But what’s the history of hosiery? And how did stockings and, later, tights come to be such a central part of fashion culture? 


The evolution of hosiery from an essential garment, to socially required outerwear, and occasional fashion rebel is a fascinating one, spanning centuries and the gender divide. Hosiery has moved through history alongside us, reflecting our beliefs, our passions, and our personal style. In fact, this often-overlooked part of our wardrobe can tell us a lot about who we are.  


Discover your passion for great tights and stockings with our brief history of hosiery, below.


In the Beginning  

The beginning of stockings or any form of leg and foot covering is a little murky. But we know that these often unnamed garments were an important part of dress for both men and women as far back as written records go. The earliest hard evidence of any type of leg covering comes from Ancient Egypt, with the discovery of a pair of carefully constructed stockings in a woman’s tomb. The garment is considered to be at least 2000 years old! It seems like we have been obsessed with hosiery for millennia!


The word itself, hosiery, comes from the Anglo Saxon, ‘hosen’ which quite simply means ‘covering’. In the 9th century, both men and women would bind their legs with readily available materials. These rudimentary leg coverings were often held in place with animal gut, which made for a practical if a somewhat smelly solution to the problem of exposed calves. The earliest hosiery was worn for warmth over beauty and was a necessity for harsh medieval life.


Men in Tights

Well, perhaps not quite men in tights. But certainly, men in hose. The early story of hosiery as a fashion, rather than a purely practical garment, is a male-dominated one. With stockings, often referred to as hose, being an essential part of proper male dress for centuries. This continued from the medieval period through to the early 19th century when trousers began to win out. These were often worn with a tunic or ‘upper hose’ (billowy shorts).


Traditional men’s hose were usually made from woven wool or silk and tied to another piece of clothing to secure in place. In the 15th and 16th centuries, it became incredibly fashionable for rich European noblemen to wear expensive and highly decorative hose. Some men even padded their stockings to create the shapely calf that the fashion of the time demanded. As we moved into the modern era, traditional hose began to slip away and were replaced by the more recognisable sock. 


A Royal Stocking Lover

Until the 16th century, there wasn’t much attention paid to women’s legwear. Their legs were covered by long dresses, and although many wore hose for comfort and warmth, they were not a fashion garment in the same way they were for men. But the Elizabethan era brought with it a revolution in knitting that transformed the construction of hosiery and earned significant attention from Elizabeth I herself. In 1598, the Reverend William Lee invented the first knitting machine. This transformed the speed and efficiency of hosiery production. He presented the first pair of pure silk stockings to the Queen in 1607 and she was so impressed that she wore silk stockings for the rest of her life.


A Fashion Staple

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, stockings or hose remained a key part of both male and female dress. Styles and designs changed with the decades, but stockings remained a key garment for respectable ladies and gentlemen everywhere. Bare legs remained taboo and the wealthy and elite displayed their status, in part, through the quality and quantity of their stocking collection.


The Rise of the Fashion Stocking


It wasn’t until hemlines began to rise at the turn of the 20th century that hosiery became a true fashion item for women. The freedom of female legs sparked a fashion revolution, as stockings came out from under dresses and into the limelight. The iconic dancing girls of the Moulin Rouge were taking to the stage in bold black stockings as far back as 1900, but it was the flappers of the 1920s that really brought fashion hosiery to the mainstream. With hemlines slashed to the knee, light-coloured stockings became a must-have accessory. Hosiery made from silk, cotton and new synthetic materials became a firm favourite with the bright young things.


Developments in manufacturing also helped to advance the popularity and practicality of fashion stockings. One big step forward was the invention of the garter belt in 1912. This meant that fussy and unreliable ties could be done away with, allowing women to move more freely, wear skirts that revealed just a little more leg and experiment with different styles and designs. The invention of synthetic materials like rayon also reduced the price of fashion stockings, allowing them to be manufactured quickly and in large amounts. Suddenly, young women had access to a wide variety of elaborate stocking designs they could only have dreamed of in the decades before.


Flappers and Fishnets

The exact date or origin for fishnet hosiery is up for debate, but they certainly came to prominence in the jazz age of the 1920s. Not only did fishnets look great, they also offered a practical advantage for flappers over other pre-nylon stockings. They stayed firmly in place, making them the perfect partner for new and expressive dances like the Charleston and the Lindy Hop. It was around this time that fishnets got their reputation as a rebel of the fashion world. This was hosiery that made a statement. Hosiery that told the previously repressed Victorian generation that the world was changing.


Fishnet hosiery and clothing would see surges in popularity again and again over the decades to follow. But whether they adorned the legs of a 1950s pinup girl or a 1980s punk, they always carried a similar message. Fishnets were worn by women who weren’t afraid to break the rules.   


The Nylon Revolution   

The story of modern hosiery starts with the invention of nylon by chemical company, DuPont in the 1930s. Soft, flexible, and incredibly elastic it allowed for the development of stockings that clung to the leg unlike anything else that had come before it. The first nylon stockings were introduced to the world in 1939 at the World’s Fair in New York and caused an immediate stir. By the time they were released to the public the next year, they were a huge hit, with four million pairs sold in the first four days. World War II caused an unexpected fashion storm when the nylon used to make stockings was suddenly diverted to make parachutes. Women were so devastated by the loss of their beloved ‘nylons’ that they painted their legs and added drawn on seams to create the illusion of stockings, even when they were nowhere to be found. Mile-long queues and rioting was reported after shops reintroduced this must-have hosiery!


As the post-war world moved into the 50s, seamed nylon stockings remained a vital part of a woman’s fashion armour. They were worn by women everywhere from the most glamorous of film stars like Marilyn Monroe and Kathrine Hepburn to the girl next door. But another hosiery revolution was just around the corner. The development of tights (or pantyhose) in 1959, gave women a whole new level of freedom. They could finally do away with cumbersome garter belts and achieve smoother, sleeker silhouettes that offered greater flexibility. The introduction of tights allowed hemlines to get shorter and fashion to get even more daring. The development of the iconic miniskirt of the 1960s would have been impossible without the invention of tights. Still, the nylon stocking didn’t give up its top spot easily. It was well into the 1970s before tights overtook stockings in popularity.


Hosiery Today

So, where does this long and exciting history of hosiery leave us? What does hosiery mean to us today? For most of us, the history of hosiery and, in particular, the fashion bravery of the pioneering women who have come before has left us with a huge amount of choice. We can choose to go completely bare, dress up in colourful and decorative hosiery or step into sleek black stocking. We can choose hosiery that reflects our fashion personality and matches our favourite looks. There are no rules. No barriers. No limits. Wear the hosiery you love and wear it with pride.


For the Love of Vintage

A recent hosiery trend is a return to a love of vintage styles. The garter belt is back and it’s back with attitude. The pinup look of the 1950s is hugely influential and it’s having an impact on the hosiery we are wearing right now. For women who love all things 40s and 50s, there are a whole range of vintage-inspired, colourful designs out there. So, why not get a little fancy with your hosiery collection? This trend is a great excuse to explore your inner Marilyn or Dita.


Carnival Hosiery

Carnival fashion and culture is more popular than ever before, with a whole new generation of women embracing the heritage and colour of the iconic carnival. This means that carnival fashion has evolved too, with some amazing looks on display at carnivals around the world. Women are finding inspiration in high fashion and developing unique artisan costumes and accessories, many of which they are making themselves. Right now, hosiery is a must-have accessory to any carnival look with fishnets being the most popular choice for adding a little decadence to your costume. But fishnet hosiery is not a singular look and the variety of carnival fishnets available offers a range of ways to express your fabulousness. From close-knit, barely-there, flesh-toned fishnets to bold black and white designs, get creative with your fishnet hosiery at carnival.


Are you ready to embrace your legs in all their loveliness? Don’t step out without exploring our gorgeous hosiery collection. Keep it subtle in our barely there Naked collection. Or shine bright in our Diamond and Sparkle ranges. All available in a wide range of skin tones, so you can find your perfect match whatever your shade.


Come get your carnival on today with Carnivalista!.

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