Nylon is a strong, durable and versatile material that has been shaping our world since its invention in 1938. Today, we celebrate National Nylon Stocking Day on May 15th to honor hosiery and the history of this resilient fabric, and all the ways it improves our lives.
The History of Nylons
Stockings, or Nylons as they are often labeled, did not exist until the twentieth century, but their roots can be traced back much farther than that. The ancient Greeks wore hosiery, and the Romans wore a short 'soccus' foot covering. Reverend William Lee invented the first knitting machine in 1589, and a hose was knitted from wool, silk, and cotton for use by the gentlemen of that time.
However, during this period, hosiery was only worn by men, with patterns varying over time, but this was not something that women engaged in. Women's legs were something you didn't flaunt around the house, with society going to such extent as covering table legs in polite society in case the shapely wooden table leg could divert men's attention to something else! Women's hose didn't become fashionable until Victorian traditions started to relax and hemlines began to grow.
Cotton, silk, or later, rayon, which was invented in the early nineteenth century, was still used to make hosiery. Silk was a costly fabric, and although rayon was a cheaper option, it was prone to bunching and unsightly sagging, making it less desirable. There was a need for a new option.
Nylon asserted a novelty no other substance could equal when it first reached the public consciousness in 1938. Its predecessor, rayon, was marketed as "artificial silk," a term that connoted both economy and imitation.
Nylon, on the other hand, was marketed by its maker, DuPont, as a unique material. Nylon ushered in a fashion revolution focused on comfort, ease, and disposability as the first commercially feasible synthetic fiber.
The allies clearly won World War II thanks to the resilience, elasticity, weight, and mildew resistance of Nylon. Behind the scenes, the discovery of Nylon fundamentally changed the chemical industry by demonstrating that the structure of polymers, like that of many other chemical products, could be anticipated and engineered.
Nylon has now become commonly popular, found in toothbrushes, carpet, guitar strings, surgical sutures, car parts, and, of course, hosiery.
A Fantastic Discovery
I. du Pont Company made the first entry into artificial fibers in 1920 when it paid $4 million for a 60 percent stake in Comptoir des Textiles Artificiels, a French rayon firm. The resulting company, known as the DuPont Fiber Company, ultimately became the DuPont Company's Rayon Department.
Despite the fact that rayon was successful and profitable, the company invested a significant amount of money into improving the brittle fiber's texture and performance—in 1934, the company spent $1 million on rayon research itself.
DuPont's years of investment, promotion, and innovation paid off when the new wonder fiber, nylon stockings, hit the market just a few months after the New York World Fair. Women flocked to buy them in massive numbers, not in the thousands, but in the millions!
On the first day of release in America, over 72,000 pairs of nylons were sold, with 64 million sold after a year. The allure of wrinkle-free, bunch-free, low-cost legwear proved immensely successful, putting a major dent in all previous types of hosiery production.
Two years later, the manufacturing of nylon stockings came to a halt as Nylon was enlisted in the war effort, being used in the manufacturing of parachutes and tents. Nylons were much more sought after during this period, and G.I.s often used them as a powerful weapon for wooing young ladies. When the war ended, the market for nylons skyrocketed once more.
Stockings Never Go Out of Fashion
By the 1920s women’s hosiery was worn more like knee high socks with garter belts. Naturally, as hemlines raised, so did length of the hosiery to thigh high length and an ultra-sexy status.
Nylon stockings were just the beginning of a fashion revolution that would soon follow. Synthetic fabrics, which were cheap and vibrant, promised an easy-care, wash-and-wear, disposable future. Underwear, socks, petticoats, synthetic fur coats, mock-wool sweater collections, and even men's drip-dry suits were all made of Nylon and other synthetic fabrics by the 1950s.
Synthetic fabrics had a major impact on women's fashion, as new Lycra girdles, which were more comfortable and lightweight than conventional rubber styles, cinched women's bodies into stunning hourglass figures that could then be framed by yards and yards of billowing synthetic material.
Nylons were prominent until the 1960s when Mary Quant's mini skirt became the must-have fashion accessory, and hemlines were lifted once more. Unfortunately, stockings could not be worn with a mini skirt without exposing the garter, prompting a shift to tights, which first appeared in the early 1960s and a decrease in stocking popularity among women.
Wearing closely fitting synthetic materials like pantyhose, which creates the ideal warm, moist conditions for fungal infections to thrive, was shown to be less than hygienic. As a result, many women opted for thigh highs, which allow feminine areas to “breathe.”
Thigh high stockings have seen a rise in popularity in recent years. They pair perfectly with boots, skirts, dresses and even under jeans.
The Downfall of Binding Tights
Nylon stockings were the gold standard in women's hosiery until 1959 when version 2.0 was introduced. However, by the 1980s, the glitz had worn off. Women seeking comfort and freedom started to go au-natural in the 1990s, leaving their legs bare on a regular basis or opting for thigh highs instead of binding tights or full-length hosiery.
The hosiery industry was dubbed "An Industry that Lost its Footing" by the New York Times in 2006. But with the resurgence of fun legwear styles in a variety of textures, prints and sizes, the hosiery industry is back with a vengeance.
According to Grandview Research, the global hosiery market size was valued at USD 33.6 billion in 2018 and is expected to expand at a CAGR of 4.0% from 2019 to 2025. The market growth is primarily attributed to growing importance of hosiery as a durable clothing, which reduces leg fatigue and provides excellent comfort characteristics to sports professionals. Not to mention, it adds a sexy touch to almost any dress or skirt!
The Demise of Pantyhose
Pantyhose, which combines panties and stockings, eliminated the need for bulky garter belts and allowed for the transition to higher hemlines. Synthetics had
made their way off the runways and into the consumer markets by the late 1960s, and it was there that they met their demise.
As a result of their overexposure, Nylon and polyester became out of date, and their gleaming luster began to look tacky. Consumers were turning to natural fibers, especially cotton and wool, in the aftermath of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962) and the rising environmental movement.
In 1965, synthetic fibers accounted for 63 percent of global textile production; by the early 1970s, that figure had fallen to 45 percent. While technological advancements improved the feel and performance of synthetic fibers in the 1990s, synthetic fibers would never again dominate the market as they had done in the 1950s and 1960s.
National Nylon Day
Every year on May 15th, National Nylon Stocking Day is observed. The National Nylon Stocking Day is observed to honor stockings and to raise awareness about the importance (and fun!) of nylon stockings.
It can be celebrated in a variety of ways. On this day, try a pair of Kixies thigh highs and share one with a friend! Wear your stockings with pride on that day to honor the long history of stockings.
The Bottom-Line of Stay-Ups
Nylon stocking thigh highs are here to stay. We might not notice it, but Nylon is present in our homes, workplaces, recreational activities, and modes of transportation in some way or another. The invention of Nylon ushered in a polymer revolution. Today, about 8 million pounds of Nylon are produced worldwide, accounting for around 12% of all synthetic fibers.
Kixies offers a wide variety of thigh high styles for every occasion. As you can see, there is no shortage of ways to wear these popular hosiery pieces! Whether you’re looking for everyday classics or sexy lingerie, we have what you need to pull an outfit together. Shop now and get free shipping in USA with your order over $50