Garters & Stockings: What's the Story?

Stockings and garters have been around for a really long time—seriously. Stockings, originally in older times being referenced as any type of hosiery that covers the legs and feet, are now specifically regarded as hosiery that comes up to the mid-thigh on each leg, which require garters to keep them in place.

The oldest known finding of “stockings” or rather, socks, were found in a landfill in the Egyptian city of Antinooupolis between 1913 and 1914 by papyrologist (papyrus scientist) John de Monins Johnson. A pair of presumably children’s socks were intricately woven together with seven hues of wool yarn and dyed with plant-based substances.

Another pair of early stockings was an unusually vibrant red and extremely large and narrow—like a size 23 shoe. Interestingly enough, all of the socks found from this excavation had a separation between the big toe and the rest of the toes, presumably for wearing sandals in the hot, dry weather of Egypt. The socks date back to between 250 CE and 420 CE, making them seriously old.

That’s right: socks as we know them today, or “stockings” are at least 1,600 years old. Now, the absolutely earliest known form of stockings were the animal skins wrapped around the legs to keep warm and protect the feet during the Stone Age. So, basically, yeah, stockings are pretty old.

Originally, stockings and garters were not gender-specific, and both men and women wore them. Yes, “men in tights” was really a thing. It started in the 1300s, when men started wearing what was called hose, or the German plural, hosen, which were worn with doublets that supported the hosiery with ties.

As far as garters and stockings together go, the wedding garter tradition has been around since the Dark Ages. Brides would toss their garters to their wedding guests, symbolizing their deflowering during their wedding night to consummate their marriages. It was considered good luck to bring back a piece of one of the bride’s garments.

The earliest form of garters had no stretch and were tied just below the knee to hold up hosiery. Later on, there were some garters that were made with coiled metal springs to increase the flexibility of the material, as elastic had not been invented yet.

Garters and stockings in combination with each other were typically reserved for brides-to-be for centuries, until around 1560, when Queen Elizabeth I wore knitted silk stockings for the first time, which required garters to keep them in place, as they had no elastic banding. Queen Elizabeth I was so enthralled by these luxurious garments, and she decided right then that that would be the only hosiery she would wear for the rest of her life. Kind of extreme, but who can blame her? Since then, until the late 1960s, garters were an absolute necessity when wearing stockings.

Into the 18th and 19th centuries women wore stockings and garters for the purposes of modesty, warmth, and protection. While ladies’ dresses were kept long, their stockings were kept short, only coming up to below the knee. (Keep those ankles covered!) There were some stockings with more playful patterns, with stripes or diamonds, but most were very simple and unassuming.

In the 19th century, men turned away from stockings and breeches, and the hosiery style slowly transitioned to being viewed as a strictly female feature. Yep, now it’s just a girl thing!

In 1860, the industrialization of stockings made them widely available to women everywhere. By the late 19th century, elastic had found its way into garters, which were attached to corsets or to garter belts tied around the waist. This new material being used revolutionized the world of hosiery and lingerie! Although, the old style of garters was still worn by some women.

In the 1920s, hemlines climbed all the way up to the knee, which called for longer stockings and banded garters (with a newer, more stable form of elastic) that were higher on the leg. Can’t have anyone seeing those knees, can we?

Garters and stockings, being more visible, became much more decorative and ornate. Garters were adorned with embellishments, embroidery, and lots of ribbon, and stockings were plaid, lacey, striped, or ruffled. Women were very expressive through their hosiery.

The garters were typically attached to either a corset or a girdle, but some young women hated wearing those garments, so they had to get creative. So, young women would “roll” their stockings down, and, using a ribbon or elastic garter, they would secure their hosiery. This was not an easy feat to master, but you do what you have to do to avoid wearing a restrictive garment designed by Man to keep us in our place.

Okay, that was a little much; let’s move onto something… interesting. In the 1920s, “shameless” flappers would show their knees deliberately (Oh my!) and even add a bit of rouge there so that you would surely notice their bare knees. There was even a brief fad where flappers would paint their boyfriend or favorite movie star on their knee. I admit, I laughed out loud when I found that one out.

In 1935, nylon was developed by scientists led by Wallace Hume Brothers for the chemical company Dupont. This was revolutionary, as nylon was the first synthetic, manmade fiber. The material was briefly in its beginnings used to make toothbrush bristles, but was later used to manufacture hosiery, as it was cheaper than silk.

Two more advantages are that nylon stockings didn’t wrinkle at the ankle, and the material created a lovely sheen that accentuated the legs. The first pairs of nylon stockings were black, since scientists had not yet figured out how to get the fiber to take to dye, and there was also the hurdle that nylon distorted when exposed to heat.

So, what did scientists do? Why, they stretched the newly sewn stockings over leg-shaped forms, of course! The result was silky, smooth, and form-fitting stockings that never needed ironing. Plus, with all of the political tensions between Japan and the United States that sparked a nationwide boycott on all Japanese products, including silk stockings, it just made sense to swap out the silk for nylon.

Nylon stockings from Dupont first made their debut in Wilmington, Delaware (where Dupont is headquartered) on October 24th, 1939. In just 3 hours, four thousand pairs were sold, and on May 16th, 1940, officially known as “Nylon Day”, 4 million pairs of brown, nylon stockings were sold out in just two days throughout the United States. Women loved those nylon beauties!

During World War II in the 1940s, Dupont had to stop production of all nylon products, because the material was needed to make parachutes, airplane cords, and ropes. Nylon stockings became a forbidden commodity and became available on the black market. That’s right, nylon stockings at one point were a part of illegal trade!

For those who couldn’t get their hands on those lovely nylon stockings, drawing a seam up the back of the legs to simulate hosiery was very popular for women. There were also many women who darkened their legs with makeup for the same objective. The motto was (of course) “Make do and mend,” and that’s exactly what women did… with some of them going to the black market from time to time.

Allen E. Grant has been credited with his invention of the “Panti-legs” (later called pantyhose) in 1953. This new invention was sheer, with two legs connected by a gusset and waistband. Originally, pantyhose was made with nylon, as all nylon hosiery used to be referred to then as “pantyhose”. Now, “pantyhose” refers to the hosiery style rather than the type of material, although pantyhose is sheerer and thinner than tights, which differentiates those two styles. When pantyhose was first released, it was expensive, and not available to the general public, so there were still many women who wore the old style of hosiery.

Although some women had adopted pantyhose into their hosiery collection, for a short period during the 1950s and ‘60s a sort of romanticization of stockings with garters on women occurred. The style was seen as glamorous and luxurious, worn by celebrities. Women who wore this style were adored, and drawings of pin-up girls donning thigh-high stockings with garters by Harry Ekman were highly popularized.

Late into the 1960s, however, as tights and pantyhose became more widely available and less expensive, women swapped out stockings and garters with the new style of hosiery. Besides the new hosiery style becoming more obtainable for the average woman, more women were entering the workforce during the ‘60s, which required more practical, more versatile hosiery. By the end of the decade, those irksome stockings and garters became a thing of the past.

Today, stockings with garters are viewed as a sexy, sensual style worn for the bedroom. You have to admit, there’s something about wearing them that just makes you feel so feminine and powerful. All genders seem to love the way they look! Although extremely uncomfortable and extremely impractical, you can’t help but feel like a goddess when you wear them, especially for your partner (or for yourself). I say, treat yourself to some lovely stockings and delectable garters, and discover your inner goddess!