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Stockings Have the Run of the Rainbow


This season, women will have many chances to put their best leg forward--stockingwise, that is.

Brightest on the scene are textured, opaque tights, all in a dazzling rainbow of colors: reds, golds, greens, silvers and bright blues. Brand names high on the seasonal stockings--DKNY, Donna Karan and Hue--offer hosiery in micro matte.

Stockings have a lengthy and textured past. It's believed that although men wore stockings first in Rome in AD 100, women first rolled them on 500 years later, but long gowns obscured them. It wasn't until the 14th Century that evidence of women's stockings appeared in paintings and illustrated manuscripts.

Close-fitting coverings for the leg and foot were hand-knitted in raw silk, cotton or wool from the 15th Century to the end of the 19th Century, when sales were snagged by artificial silk stockings.

In the early 20th Century, stockings were seen in a sharp cornucopia of colors--green, vermilion, cornflower, slate--a fashion option that was replaced by basics--black and nude--until their return in the anything-goes '60s.

Fiber rayon was perfected in the flapper '20s, but silk and rayon stockings met their Waterloo in 1938 when the Du Pont chemical company experimented with a new "indestructible" yarn--nylon. The miracle yarn was displayed at the 1939 World's Fair and May 15, 1940, was the much-hyped "Nylon Day," the first day they were available in the stores. Thirty-six million pairs were sold in the first year.


During World War II, the government needed all nylon for military purposes and nylon stockings became hot contraband on the black market. It was patriotic to wear rayon again until it, in turn, became rationed, forcing women to ink on a back seam onto bare legs.

Most stockings worn today by women are made of nylon, or a nylon/spandex blend as with tummy control and leg support hosiery. Types of stockings include Peds (covering just the foot), anklets and knee highs (to be worn with pants), thigh highs (held up with garters or with built-in plastic elastic) and pantyhose (with cotton built into the crotch).

Sheerness ranges from ultra to opaque, and the toes can be reinforced or sandalfoot. Full-fashioned stockings are knitted to the shape of the foot and leg; stretch nylon is tubular and takes on the shape of the leg. Sizes run from short, average, tall and queen, based on height and weight.

Stockings were of the deep-seamed variety until 1960 when seamless stockings hit the market in every variety: crepe, tights, weaves and meshes (diamond, lace, lattice and the ever-popular fishnet). Also available were mad patterns, wild stripes, crochet and heavy rib knit, applique rose petals, feathers, faux jewels and the famous Mary Quant white tight patterned in a daisy logo.

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