Before the 1920s, women’s stockings, if worn, were worn for warmth. In the 1920s, as hemlines of women’s dresses rose, women began to wear stockings to cover the exposed legs. These stockings were sheer, first made of silk or rayon (then known as “artificial silk”), and after 1940 of nylon. The first pantyhose made an appearance in the 1940s and 1950s, when film and theatre productions had stockings sewn to the briefs of actresses and dancers, according to actress-dancer Ann Miller and seen in popular films such as Daddy Long Legs. Today, stockings are commonly made using knitted wool, silk, cotton or nylon. The introduction of pantyhose in 1959 provided a convenient alternative to stockings, and the use of stockings declined dramatically. In 1970, U.S. sales of stockings exceeded stockings for the first time, and have remained this way ever since. Beginning in 1987, sales of the stocking with a suspender belt started a slight decline due to the newly invented hold-ups, but still remain the most sold kind of hosiery.
Historically, even though the word sock is at least as ancient in origin, what men normally wore were often referred to as stockings, probably especially when referring to longer hose at times when they were the fashion for men. The word stock used to refer to the bottom “stump” part of the body, and by analogy the word was used to refer to the one-piece covering of the lower trunk and limbs of the 15th century—essentially tights consisting of the upper-stocks (later to be worn separately as knee breeches) and nether-stocks (later to be worn separately as stockings).
Before the 1590s, stockings were made of woven cloth. The first knitting machines were for making stockings. The stockings themselves were made of cotton, linen, wool or silk. Polished cotton called lisle was common, as were those made in the town of Balbriggan.
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