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About the History of Stockings - Pattern #202

About Stockings – Some History Notes

Update: I have recently found a website that provides information about a correct impression for 18th C stockings;

Outside of that, not very many books have been written about the history of stockings. The two best books I could find are the “History of Hosiery” by Milton Grass and “Socks and Stockings” by Jeremy Farrell.

The book “History of Hosiery” was written in 1955 by Milton Grass. It has been scanned and reprinted by Literary Licensing in 2011. This book has information about hosiery beginning with the earliest evidence of clothing to the year of its publication, 1955, with emphasis on leg coverings and stockings. It also covers the earliest invention of machine made knitted stockings, which surprisingly occurred in the year 1589 (or 1599), with the invention of the frame-work knitting machine by William Lee. This book would be a great addition to any clothing library. Here is the last paragraph:

“This then is the story of stockings, the last item in the wardrobe that man made. It has been a long road that was traveled since a farmer in the hills of Greece in the year 800 B.C., put on his “Piloy.” Gauls wore their “Fasciae” of purple hue in 100 B. C., and about the same time a Roman walked in his white linen “Tibialae” up the Capitoline Hill. Perhaps an Egyptian slave in the 5th century knit a pair of red woolen anklets, divided at the great toe, for her master. In the 8th century Charlemagne’s “leg-bindings” were of silk ornamented with jewels, and in the 12th century a French Knight lately returned from the Crusades wore highly colored silk “hoses-of-cloth.” The Venetian youth, in the 14th century walked from his gondola in “right-hose” embroidered with gold, silver and pearls, the right leg a different color from the left. “Upper-stocks” and “nether-stocks,” “trunk-hose,” “cut and sewn-stockings” of hand-loomed cotton, wool, silk or linen traveled the road through the Mediaeval centuries. In 1565 Queen Elizabeth was thanking Mistress Montague for her first hand-knit black-silk hose and in New Amsterdam in 1625 a Dutch wife’s “hosen” of blue worsted with magnificent red clocks showed from under her petticoats of linsey-woolsey.Then, after the beginning of the 17th century stockings knit on a frame were worn and at mid-20th century in the “Age of Synthetics” new machines dress the lady in sheer, wispy almost-cobwebs that make it seem as if she wears no stockings at all!”

“Socks and Stockings” by Jeremy Farrell

The following are excerpts from Socks and Stockings, one of the books in The Costume Accessories Series.The purpose is to whet your appetite for more information and hopefully encourage you to read these books to learn more than what I can show here.

Following are excerpts from Socks and Stockings by Jeremy Farrell from the chapters 1. 1600-70, 2. 1670-1750, 3.1750-1800:

“The origins of knitting, like many of the textile arts, are unknown and its spread uncharted. It now seems to have develop between AD 500 and 1200 from nalbinding … and to have spread outwards from Egypt by means of trade or conquest. By the thirteen century it was well established in Spain... By the middle of the fifteenth century knitting of a coarser kind was produced in England and France. … It has been assumed that the resulting fabric, thick and rather inelastic, would have been unsuitable for stockings and that, consequently knitted stockings were not worn until much later... Coarse stockings would not have been considered preferable to hose of fine woven material, and cloth (stockings) of various qualities continued to be worn by all classes well into the seventeenth century… From near contemporary accounts Henry Viii and his son Edward VI wore principally hose cut from cloth or silk, and only the occasional pair of knitted silk stockings imported at considerable expense from Spain…. Henry Viii is recorded as having ‘six pairs of black silk hose knit’. ... By the middle of the century records of knit hose are more plentiful…. Certainly by 1560 there was some fine English knitting. Elizabeth I’s first pair of silk stockings, given to her by Mistress Alice Montagu in that year, were English, not Spanish. …the queen like them so much that she declared ‘henceforth I will wear no more cloth stockings’….’from that time unto her death, the queene never wore any more cloath hose, but only silke stockings’…Mary, Queen of Scots went the scaffold in 1587 wearing a pair of blue worsted stockings clocked and edged at the tops with silver, over a pair of white jersey hose, held up with green silk garters.As it was February, wool rather than silk was presumably chosen for warmth, and the finer jersey ones were worn next to the skin. Elizabeth I had ‘garnsey knitt Hose wrought at the clockes with silk’ and, contradicting her reputations for extravagance, had new feet knitted for four pair of white worsted hose clocked with gold, silver and silk in 1597.”

“A few of the many portraits of Elizabeth I show her shoes but never more than an unrevealing glimpse of stocking. Women’s stockings, though hardly ever seen under the long, full skirts, could be very elaborate. In 1562 Eleanora of Toledo, … was buried in Florence wearing crimson silk stockings with turnover tops patterned with lattice, and legs with vertical stripes of double moss stitch and double garter stitch. They were made probably in Italy or Spain. Elizabeth I was presented in the same year with ‘two pair of silk hose knytt’ as a New Year gift by Robert Robotham, Yeoman of the Wardrobe of Robes.…by 1588 they were considerably more colourful and elaborate. Roger Montagu supplied her with five pair of knitted stockings, carnation pink and other colors ‘wrought at the clockes with Venice gold and silver’ and a pair of knitted silk hose ‘thinside wrought with carnation ingraine sleeve silke like unto plush’…In 1597 Robert Morland supplied the Queen with seven new pairs of silk stockings of different colours ‘the clockes richle wrought with gold silver and silke”.”

Under the heading “Men’s stockings”…in 1583 Philip Stuffs unleased a diatribe on expensive, patterned stocking in his Anotomie of Abuses: “Then they have nether stockes to these gay hosen, not of cloth (though never so fine) for that is thought too base, but of jarnsey, worsted, crewel, silke, thread and such like, or else, at the least of the finest yarn that can be got; and so curiously knit with open seame down the leg, with quirkes and clocks about the ankles, and sometime (hapli)” interlaced about the ancles with gold or silver thread as is wonderful to behold.And to such impudent insolency and shameful outrage it is now growne, that everyone almost, though otherwise very poor, having scarce forty shillings wages by the year, will not stick to have two or three pair of these silk nether stocks, or else of the finest yarn that may be got, though the price of them be a royal, or twenty shillings, or more, as commonly it is; for how can they be lesse, when as the very knitting of them is worth a noble or a royal, and some much more? The time hath been when one might have clothed all his body well, from top to toe, for less than a pair of the nether stocks will cost.”

Following are excerpts from the same book from the Chapter 4. 1800-1860:

…The muslin gown, which had developed from the chemise a la reine, worn by Queen Marie Antoinette …in the 1780s, was now a general fashion, at once democratic as muslin was readily available, and classical, harking back to the golden ages of Greece and Rome, …Beneath the muslin little else was worn…”The only sign of modesty in the present dress of the ladies is the pink dye in their stockings, which makes their legs appear to blush for the total absence of petticoats’ (1803)…Cook’s … Warehouse advertised stockings in stout cotton at 1s 6d a pair, in black or coloured worsted at 1s 3d, and in black or white silk at 6s 6d in 1811 and 1812. These silk stockings were probably either quite plain or with triangular openwork clocks surrounded by hand embroidery. Some have a pattern in the net work and they might be the ‘silk stockings with lace clocks, richly brocaded’ worn with kid slippers for morning dress in 1812. Wide based, triangular clocks are noticeable in the caricatures of the period. The embroidery could be in the color of the stocking or in a colour, pink, blue or green, on white. Black stockings were always embroidered in black.”

“From 1827 elegantes wore shoes and stockings to match: ethereal blue silk stockings and blue kid slippers with a ‘blush taffety’ carriage dress, for instance, or white silk stockings and white shoes embroidered with gold to match the embroidery on a gold lame or tulle dress. Stockings with gold embroidery, this time lozenges on the instep, reappeared in 1829. Other stockings had coloured embroidery but, in general, plain or openwork white or pale coloured silk was preferred for evening. …Also in 1829 there was a welter of eccentric stocking fashions: flesh coloured silk woven with coloured flowers, or painted with butterflies and bluebirds, which silk with a harlequin, Punchinello or devil climbing up a pine tree (at a masked ball), or brocaded over with Kashmiri flowers.Some stocking imitated the knee high boot or were fringed above the ankle in imitation of the white silk half-boot fashionable for dancing. Alternate stripes of plain and openwork were popular with printed cotton or silk dresses.”

1830s – “Two pairs of openwork stockings in the J R Allen Collection … have the A..A of the Allen, Solly & Allen partnership of 1832-5, and are decorated with openwork on the insteps, one pair with a three point zigzag top and leaves and springs embroidered in white in the openwork, the other with a central stem, openwork leaves, and delicate embroidery of oak foliage, acorns, and roses in coloured silks. … Openwork stockings were worn by all classes.”

1840s – “By this time, the early 1840s, the skirt hem had reached the ground for most day and evening dresses. Skirts had been at their shortest in the late 1820s and early 1820s and, inevitable, had come in for much criticism. … the return of the long skirt in 1840 ... had serious consequences for the hosiery industry…. A comparatively large number of hand knitted stockings survive from the 1840s onwards; often of rather thick cotton, in plain or fancy knitting, with a short band of ribbing at the top.”

Chapter 5 – 1860s to 1920s

1860s “She might, of course have been taking literally fashion’s dictum that stockings had to match the dress in colour. The Empress Eugenie, the elegant wife of the Emperor Napoleon III of France, had started this particular trend in the early 1860s. According to the fashion magazines, which were springing up to cater for a middle and even working class clientele, the march had to be exact. ‘Nothing can be more revolting to taste and unpleasant to the eyes than different shades of color placed in close proximity and not matching well together…the most striking contrast of colour would look infinitely better than those would-be similar and ill-matched tints’. This was applicable to stockings for, during the 1860s, the skirt was looped up onto the artificial crinoline for walking. This fashion, too, was attributed to the Empress Eugenie at the coastal resort of Trouville. The artificial crinoline replaced heavy, bulky, starched petticoats from 1856 to 1866.Made of watch-spring steel, its buoyance was a gift to cartoonists and hosiers, as the swing of it could reveal the stockings to a startling extent. Stockings banded in black and a colour to match the petticoat were particularly popular. “

“Colors varied considerably in this period. In the early 1860s they were sharp and bright; magenta and solferino, the new aniline dyes, developed from coal-tar and named after battles in the Italian war of unification were particularly popular. Crinoline petticoats in these colours matching stocking banded in black were seen, also scarlet with scarlet. Other bright colours – blues, green, mauves – followed.”

1870s “Even after the crinoline had metamorphosed into the bustle at the end of the decade, and drapery and trains had displaced short skirts, stockings still had to match the dress.Blue spun silk stockings spotted with white were worn with a ‘peasant’s blue’ cambric dress with large white spots during summers in the early 1870s. White stockings were no longer fashionable unless, of course, the dress was white.In 1875 some stockings matched the slippers, for indoor wear: ‘Slippers of pearl grey rep, embroidered with rosebuds, with grey stocking, also embroidered with the same’. Cassell’s Family Magazine commented in 1878 ‘The suit of dittoes that men affected in day gone by was never carried out so thoroughly as is observable in ladies’ summer fashions’. The bonnet or hat, the boots or shoes, and the parasol were to be made of the same material as the dress with gloves, stockings and handbag to match. But such a fashion was costly, and therein lay its exclusiveness.”

“Light shades of these colours (blues, greens, mauves) were fashionable in the early 1870s being replaced in 1873 by colours that were ‘more sickly than ever; we have consumptive green, fainting grey and dead turquoise’ and a serpent green ‘I can only liken to pea-green soup’. ‘Miserable tints of drab, brown, black, enlivened only by white or filleul, making their wearers look like lichened boles of trees’ were succeeded by rainbow colours in August 1877.”

1880s “From 1880 both shoes and stockings matched the dress: ‘White shoes and stockings are worn with white dresses in the evening; black shoes with black; bronze shoes with brown dresses; otherwise the colour of both the shoes and stockings match the dress!’If this was impossible then for most of the 1880s and 1890s shoes and stockings alone had to match, black with black, bronze or brown with bronze (in the 1880s) or tan with tan or brown from 1888.Exceptionally in 1884 black stockings were worn with black dresses and scarlet leather shoes.”

1890s “In the early 1890s the rule abated: stockings could match the dress exactly or recall the color of trimming or accessory; “Thus with a dress of dark navy-blue with a red pattern, the stockings are identically alike; with a coffee-colored dress, trimmed with blue, they are coffee-colored, embroidered with blue silk spots, and so on”.But with an evening dress of mauve crepe, mauve silk stockings with on openwork pattern, embroidered in violet were worn.By 1895 stockings had to match the dress again, and the fashion even extended to golfing and cycling costume.Up to World War I the rule remained more in less in force. The couturiere Lucile described approvingly an all brown dance frock of satin with a chiffon overtunic, and shoes, stockings and hat ribbons to match in June 1914.”

“In every decade to 1900 one colour continually reappears: red. As scarlet in the early 1860s, as red in 1878 on parasols, bonnets, sashes, stockings and neutral coloured costumes, as dark red in 1879, as ruby, strawberry, and brick reds in 1883, as jerseys and stockings, particularly with white in 1887 and 1888, as stockings decorated with swallows in a887 or with morocco shoes in 1897, and triumphantly, as scarlet stockings with red shoes in 1899. “

1900 – “By 1900 black stockings were so common that nineteen out of every twenty pairs made were black. … Black stockings were plain or adorned in various ways; with embroidered black or coloured clocks in 1877 and 1882, or with embroidered fronts in the early 1880s, spotted to match the dress in 1885, ribbed in the late 1880s, embroidered to match the dress in 1899, vertically striped with red, white or gold in 1890, or open worked for 1893. …From the late 1890s black stockings were often embroidered with coloured silk flowers up the fronts to upper calf level, or with little posies on the instep in 1907…. Black hose were even worn for swimming….”

These are just a smattering of the information in the Socks and Stockings book, along with lots of illustrations. The book ends with the chapters 1920-1960 and 1960-1990 and is well worth the attention of anyone interested in socks and stockings. The book “The History of Hosiery” is even more detailed, scholarly, and annotated, though it’s focus is more on the manufacture than fashion. I was very impressed with both books and they are a great addition to any library.

For a link to the stockings pattern download:

For a link to the stockings printed pattern:

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