From Velvet To Nylon: The History Of Tights

Welcome to your hosiery history lesson Hēdoïnes - this is the history of tights, laced with a little bit of myth exposing while we’re at it. Tights have become a true craft. From the incredible ladder-resistant technology used for our ladder-resistant tights collection to the innovative yarns keeping things soft and warm - tights were not always so fun to wear. There’s a lot of rigorous testing that’s gone into kicking gussets to the curb, and equal amounts into that all-important seamless tights 'please stay in place' factor.

It’s doubtful the 11th century pioneers even dreamt of tights that felt this good but here we are, giving you the history of how we got to tights that finally feel great.

Let’s talk tights.

11th Century - Your Great Great Great Uncle Wears Velvet Tights

There was a life before Hēdoïne ladder-resistant tights - and apart from it being full of flaws (that we’re having lots of fun fixing) it did lead to some much-needed empowerment for women. The beginning of tights however was actually man-made - for men. The likes of Henry VIII wore them mainly for warmth through the 11th century - but also as a symbol of luxury. That’s all on that, we’ll leave you with the vision of your great-great-great uncle in velvet tights.

The Roaring 20’s - Showing More Leg

A shift in the 1920s saw women starting to show more leg, and desiring to wear (you guessed it) tights. Starting in silk and wool, it wasn’t until the spring of 1940 that nylon hit the market with a bang. Department stores couldn’t keep up with the crowds and it’s safe to say - whether you call them stockings, hosiery, sheers, pantyhose or tights - a star was born.

History Of Hosiery(Photo credit: via Pinterest)

FACT
Nylon was marketed as “strong as steel, as fine as a spiderweb” during its use in parachutes, ropes, and airplane materials to support the war effort.

FANCY THAT
Nylon was rumoured to have been named a hybrid of New York and London. How romantic! Unfortunately, it’s not true. Nylon was indeed invented in NYC but the name (warning: letdown ahead) is just randomly chosen letters, ending in ‘on’ as most fabrics were. Apparently though, the chemist who created nylon did request it be called ‘No-Run’.

The Liquid 40’s - Women are Savvy Creatures

On May 16, 1940 four million pairs of Nylon tights officially hit the shelves of department stores on what was named “Nylon Day” - they sold out in two days. A year later, Nylon was discovered to be a super material in war efforts and needed for parachutes and bomber tyres, meaning nylon tights were officially on hold. Women actually had to hand in their Nylons in support of the war and alas, what came next in the history of tights, was liquid tights. Also named Stockingless Cream and Leg Art, the sensation went wide and allowed women to create the effect of the stockings that had fast become a fashion essential.

Women would go to salons to have their tights applied and were also taught how to apply the liquid, including a seam at the back which was often done with an eyebrow pencil. There was quite a lot of preparation involved in the process, our 1940s sisters had dedication.

History of hosiery(Photo credit: G. W. Hales on Getty Images)

We love this quote from Life Magazine, reported in 1943, on the problem-solving sensation that was liquid tights:

“While this year's leg cosmetics are less inclined to smudge, streak, spot in the rain, or come off on clothes, spare a thought for our poor sisters in the UK and occupied France. over there, wartime restrictions leave them very little alternatives and everything from tea to Bisto is being used by desperate girls for that important night out.”

FACT
British women also experimented during this time by staining their legs with tea. Yes love, tea! Apparently the English beverage only really took to younger legs…sounds about right.

The Swinging 60’s - Let’s Get Colourful

Through the 60s, our star continued to shine. There was a cultural revolution that led to women earning a freedom not yet explored - a time we Hēdoïnes would love to dip a leg back into, and fashion became more playful and well, much more leggy. It was the mini-skirt shockwave and a moment in time worth celebrating. Different trends in tights stretched through the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s including coloured nylons and lace, but sheer black tights and nude tights remained a strong staple. The symbolism of what tights meant for women was obvious but despite the demand, designs remained flawed. A product that had boldly climbed into the everyday closet of so many still sagged, itched, pinched and laddered. We’re smirking as we get to this next bit though because... we changed all that.

The 90s, Noughties and Beyond…

Among bike shorts and chain belts, the 90s saw sheer black 20 denier tights become the star of the show and especially the sitcom, best looked back on via Rachel and Monica in Friends - and we’re pretty happy to see it making a come-back! There’s also the discussion of the ladder and it’s time in the sun with the likes of Kate Moss and Courtney Love. But since we spend our days praising ladder-resistant technology, we might not go there!

History Of Hosiery(Photo credit: Peter Lindbergh)

The 2000s is where things get good, where tights have a chance to be better. Not just because of the advances in technology and the incredible 3D knitting machines now available but also because it’s here a real conscience has grown - one that has led to an explosion of exposing the dangers involved in making clothes. Seeing the effects full frontal of fast fashion in particular has changed the way consumers shop. This is not a trend we’re talking about now but a new and seriously vital reality. We are all in this together and we need to be mindful of how we consume.

Which leads us to our main material. It seems nylon has remained the common thread in this history lesson, and the well-known secret to incredible tights. It’s also the elephant in the room in regards to the sustainable nature of this material, or lack thereof. This is a huge focus for us at Hēdoïne, and history in the making is happening as we work with two incredibly sustainably minded producers in Italy and the UK. In terms of nylon versus other materials, we’re yet to find a material that rivals in quality, durability and softness. But we are working incredibly hard to be a part of the shift. We’re using recycled water to make our tights, and a whole lot less of it (like 99.8% less) and we’re focused on making fashion essentials that last. And soon - fashion essentials that can also be recycled once they have reached the end of their life cycle in your wardrobe (watch this space, recycling is coming) We would love for you to continue reading about our sustainability agenda here OR grab a cup of tea and see if the staining thing works?

Tights are not just a fashion essential in the history timeline, they are a symbol of change and empowerment - and we hope you get a rush of that whenever you wear our tights. Thank you for learning about the history of tights, and for being a part of Hēdoïne history. Tights time? Here are some links to our bestselling collections.

Shop Black Tights >
Shop Ladder Resistant Tights >
Shop Nude Tights >
Shop Seamless Tights >