From stockings and suspenders to all-in-one tights, hosiery has taken many shapes over the years. However, hosiery is far from just a pair of tights; it has a rich history. The evolution of hosiery and its staying power prove that tights, stockings and hosiery are essentials for every wardrobe.

Who invented hosiery?

Hosiery dates back to the 9th century and was made from bandages and animal intestines. Thankfully, the materials have evolved over the years to include nylon, silk rayon, bamboo, and polyester.

Stockings were usually handmade and knitted. However, in the 15th century, everything changed: the loom was invented. Suddenly, creating stockings and hosiery had gone from being a labour-intensive job to wider scale production with workers able to produce articles of clothing in larger quantities and batches.

Who first wore stockings and hosiery?

These advancements were first invented by Reverend William Lee, who created the first knitting machine in 1598. As a clergy member, he had the opportunity to give a pair of silk tights to both Elizabeth I and James I - who were not particularly impressed! As they were made from imported silk, stockings became an item of luxury in the 1600s and a sign of opulent wealth.

Ancient Egyptians wore early forms of stockings, with archaeologists even discovering a pair of stockings in an Egyptian tomb. Centuries later, stockings and hosiery were originally worn by men riding horseback due to their flexibility and ability to preserve heat, which made them far more comfortable. Nobility usually wore hosiery made with softer materials such as silk or wool.


La Belle Epoque

In the 1400s, men primarily wore hosiery consisting of stockings attached to a codpiece and leather patches on the soles of the feet. The 16th century ushered in intricately hand-crafted stockings from Spain imported to the UK. By the 18th century, upper-class women began wearing white or bold-coloured stockings. The working classes almost always wore black stockings.

As machinery advanced, so did hosiery. In 1803, the first pair of tights were created and intended to replace petticoats. Society viewed tights as vulgar because it meant one could wear a shorter skirt. However, the warmth they provided, ease of application and simpleness to manufacture en mass saw tights become a staple for every woman's wardrobe.


The Edwardians

It may be a surprise that women's hosiery was often colourful and boasted intricate embellishments during the 1910s. Popular hosiery styles depended on where you lived, and trends were as varied as they are today.

Many British women matched stockings with a hat or belt, while chic French women preferred their hosiery to complement their shoes. In the US, women wore black or brown hosiery but often embroidered patterns such as polka dots, floral motifs, and beautiful lace-like lines.

The Edwardians wore their hosiery in stocking form, exclusively held up with a garter belt, hose supports, and corset. It would take another few decades to invent stretchier tights and stockings.

1920s & '30s:

WWI & The Flappers

As hemlines rose, tights and stockings became incredibly popular as a fashion statement in the '20s and '30s. Women wore tights for warmth and style because their legs were visible.

The introduction of synthetic yarns in the '20s revolutionised the industry, making hosiery sheerer than cotton and cheaper than silk. Tights were often made from silk, wool, cotton or synthetic rayon during this decade, and it wasn't unusual for women to powder their nude-coloured tights to make them appear more natural with less sheen. The legendary luxury hosiery brand, Cervin Paris, began producing stockings and hosiery in 1920 with great international success.

By the early '30s, fish nets appeared, and in 1938, Dupont introduced the first nylon stockings. This innovation was a game changer for women worldwide as it was becoming harder to get silk from abroad due to the world war.

1940s & '50s:

WWII & The Golden Age

In 1940, Dupont's nylon stockings became the hosiery du jour for women worldwide as they finally hit mainstream stores. With the second world war emerging, nylon production was focused heavily on the war effort in creating parachutes and tents for soldiers.

Hosiery became increasingly hard to maintain, and the 'Blitz spirit' attitude told communities everywhere to 'make do and mend' in the face of war. Not wanting to seem vulgar for going bare-legged, some women even resorted to drawing a line down the back of their leg with gravy to imitate the seam of a stocking. By the time the war finished, seamed nylons were all the rage in the UK again by 1949.

A new type of hosiery emerged in the fifties thanks to Aristoc, the UK's longest-established hosiery brand. They created tights by sewing nylon stocking legs onto nylon briefs. In the 1950s, Wolford created a stretchy new material called Lycra. These innovations soon became incorporated into tights.

1960s & '70s:

Mods & Flower Power

The 1960s saw one-piece tights become a necessity thanks to the rise of the mini skirt. Invented by Mary Quant, the mini skirt was the epitome of swinging '60s style, and legs were on show as hemlines went above the knee. Garter belts were too bulky and cumbersome.

After decades of being told that tights were for men, that they were a sign of vulgarity, and then being demanded to wear hosiery as a form of modesty, in the 1960s and '70s, women were finally able to choose between stockings, tights, and bare legs.

All-in-one tights burst onto the scene in 1968. Women wore black and nude tights and vibrant colours in the 1960s. Then as the '70s dawned and flower power hit, bold psychedelic patterns began to emerge on hosiery.

1980s & '90s:

The Boomers & Grunge

The 1980s saw women forgo tights slightly in favour of leggings. However, tights with hints of glitter and lace patterns were still incredibly popular. In the early Eighties, patterned tights became more commonplace in mainstream shops. Brands started using Lycra in hosiery for more stretch towards 1985. By 1994, the Lycra 3D process ensured that the material could be knitted into each stick of tights for a more comfortable fit.

The 1990s saw the emergence of the grunge movement, and with that, riot grrl icons such as Courtney Love and Sleater Kinney began pairing tights with slip dresses and shorts. Often these tights would be ripped and show significant wear and tear. Fishnets, lace, and black tights were all the rage throughout the two decades.

2000s & 2010s:

The Internet Age & Y2K

As the millennium dawned and the internet era exploded, tights were suddenly all over social media. It wasn’t uncommon to see bold, bright tights in a scenester's MySpace photo or to get packs of lace-inspired tights for a night out at the latest indie gig.

Vintage clothing became popular during the 2010s, with many fashion lovers preferring to go back to basic techniques. Brands like GIO Stockings rose in popularity in this movement as the British-made hosiery is made using authentic knitting machines that were restored to their original factory settings.

Tights were worn under ripped jeans, short skirts, jean shorts, and short dresses as a fashion accessory rather than for warmth. Shapewear also began to be incorporated into tights, with Spanx becoming a notable name uttered on the red carpet of every Hollywood awards show.

2020s and beyond...

Sustainable hosiery

The future of tights is looking back to the past, with the launch of Wolford's first range of tights designed for men and other brands like Falke following suit. Fashion is becoming more focused on unisex garments, and everyone now embraces tights. Tights are worn by male and female athletes, performers, dancers, drag artists, burlesque artists, office workers, air hostesses, and students heading out on the town.

As we become more open-minded and fashion-conscious in the 2020s and beyond, eco-friendly clothing is becoming increasingly important. Sarah Borghi, Wolford, Billi London, and more have all recently moved towards using recycled materials to create sustainable tights and hosiery.