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The History of Stockings

Hi everyone, Jailbird Pip here!

I have always had a huge love for history and the 1940s/50s were decades marked by iconic styles that we’re obsessed with here at Jailhouse Frock so it seems fitting to share some fun things about stockings and find out why they were a key element that contributed to the overall elegance of the era!

For some context about where stockings came from, we can jump all the way back to the 9th century! Hosiery then was made from bandages and animal intestines.... yuck!

1920s stockings

Skip forward to the 1600s, stockings became an item of luxury, thankfully made from imported silk rather than intestines! -A sign of opulent wealth.

A huge change occurred in the 20s! The hemlines slowly rose throughout the decade and central heating was not yet widespread, so women began wearing silk stockings to cover their exposed legs. (Before the 20s, stockings, if worn, were for warmth.)

1920s lady in yellow hosiery

During this decade we saw a rise in the range of colour and texture of stockings.

Many different skin tones and bright colours like this fabulous yellow pair!

Now, let’s skip forward to the 1940s where compared to the silk of years gone by, Nylon replaced the popular stocking material of choice!

Nylon was not only more affordable but also more durable. Despite being associated with practicality rather than elegance, women embraced nylon stockings as a symbol of resilience and femininity during the challenging years of WW2. The seam down the back of the stocking became an iconic detail, creating an alluring and sophisticated look.

However, as resources were rationed during the wartime, fashion adapted.

In November 1942, there was an official collection of silk and nylon hosiery.

Used silk stockings were made into Gun powder bags for the Navy and used Nylon stockings were melted down and re spun into nylon thread for parachute production.

ww2 donations- silk and nylon hosiery

As it was against the social norm for women to go out bare legged...*gasp*

Women who could not get their hands on nylons resorted to lotions and make up to give the illusion of stockings.

Eyeliner was carefully used to make a line up the back of the leg and even gravy powder mixed with water was spread across the legs...

1940s lady paints seams down her leg

I presume this would give you a warm glow... I’ll have to try it and let you know haha!

Another solution was to wear cotton socks

(worn folded over at the top of the ankle ) which makes me think of the ‘college girl’ fashion!

Many women also opted to wear trousers/swing pants and save their stockings for a special occasions.

1950s bobby socks

Stockings were a symbol of sophistication. The Cuban heel, a distinctive squared-off reinforcement at the back of the heel, became synonymous with glamour. You can pick up a pair of What Katie Did Cuban Heel Stockings from us here!

In the 1950s, Britain was emerging from the devastating effects from the war and women embraced stockings in a range of hues, from classic neutrals to bright reds, sultry blacks and playful pastels which added a touch of personality to their outfits. Although, neutrals were still the most common.

Hollywood icons like Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn further popularized stockings, contributing to their status as an indispensable accessory.

Whether paired with a pencil skirt or a full-circle dress with a flowing petticoat, stockings accentuated the length and curvature of the leg, enhancing the overall allure and grace of 1950s fashion.

The meticulous attention to detail in hosiery during this era remains an enduring inspiration for vintage enthusiasts (like me), capturing the timeless charm of mid-century style.

If you’re going for a 40s/50s look, seamed stockings are a must!

We have a gorgeous selection of 'What Katie Did’ stockings and tights at Jailhouse frock! See the full range here!

As stockings became more common place after the war and became less expensive, other forms of hosiery emerged .

Although tights weren’t a post war invention and appeared long before the 40s, 1959 brought the invention of tights containing lycra (a material that could stretch to seven times it’s original length without breaking).

This was revolutionary as nylon stockings didn’t stretch so had to be produced in different sizes!

It wasn’t until the rise of miniskirts in the mid-‘60s that tights started to really become popular.

Once models such as Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton put on their minis and added tights, young shoppers rushed to department stores to get their own pairs!

This popularity was partly because of the mini skirt hems, as it wouldn’t look proper for a garter belt to peek out underneath! By the 70s , tights sales had overtaken those of stockings!

So there you have it, a whistle-stop tour of the history of stockings! Why not pick yourself up a pair?


Jailbird Pip x

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