Tights have had a very long and varied history. They were originally worn by men centuries ago to be a practical garment for horseback riding, but they were a far cry from the hosiery we know today. In fact, the modern version of tights or pantyhose weren’t developed until much more recently.
In the early 1900s it became more acceptable for women to show their legs in public, and hosiery became more of a necessity. But the only version of hosiery readily available to women was stockings that were usually made of silk and, later, rayon. Nylon wasn’t invented until the mid ’30s, and it wasn’t until the 1940s that nylon stockings were readily available on the market.
But, modern-day tights still hadn’t been invented. Early versions were developed in the 1940s and ’50s to help film and theatre productions, where stockings were sewn into the briefs of actresses and dancers. These were coined “Panti-legs”, but it wasn’t until 1953 that a commercial equivalent was developed by Allen Grant Sr., and it was even longer before they were available to buy. In 1956 Ernest G Rice produced tights made from a superior method, and it was this design that has been adopted ever since. And so, the modern-day tights and pantyhose were provisionally born.
But still, these tights weren’t like the ones we know today. Made of nylon, an un-stretching material, tights and stockings had to be made in a huge number of sizes to fit the legs of different women. They weren’t comfortable or especially practical, and because methods hadn’t developed they were stitched with seams up the back of the leg. It wasn’t until Lycra was developed by DuPont in 1959 that tights became more elastic, stretchy and comfortable to wear.
Thanks to the fashions of the 1960s and ’70s, more specifically miniskirts, tights became more of a fashion statement rather than a necessity. Sales rapidly took off and they soon overtook the popularity of stockings. It was also during this time that technology developed enough to produce seamless versions, and their design has pretty much stayed the same ever since.
Since then, tights have developed rapidly in terms of the types available and the functions they can perform. From body toning control-top, support stockings and sheer-toe versions to those with added moisturizers, creams and fat-burning properties, tights have come a long way.
And the age-old problem of tearing holes in tights could even be a thing of the past. There’s the potential of tights being developed that can stay ladder-free, made from a newly developed material that can repair itself when the edges are brought back together. As you can see, hosiery has come a long way, and it’s undoubtedly going further!