Time Period: 1880-1900

Category: Accessories, Hosiery

Accession Number: 1987.12.64

Donor: Mr. & Mrs. David Scott Moulton


This particular pair of stockings, donated by the Moulton family, contains thin, alternating black and white stripes that vertically descend lengthwise. They are tight stockings that stretch up to the knee. The stockings were knitted with what appears to be silk, giving them a very delicate and elegant look and feel. Bold stripes suggest that the stocking were worn somewhere around the late eighteen hundreds or early nineteen hundreds when this style was popular.


Stockings have been around for hundreds of years. Their timeless style and versatility allows them to remain popular through the ups and downs of the ever changing fashion industry. Stockings can be dated back to the early sixteenth century, and some believe a variation of the "stocking" was present even before this time period. Stockings present in the early sixteenth century were constructed mostly of knitted wool and were worn by the kings and queens of Europe until these rulers were introduced to silk stockings. King Henry VIII, his son Edward VI, and Queen Elizabeth all wore woolen stockings until receiving silk stockings from Spain. Silk stockings were extremely stylish as well an extremely expensive. Because of this, silk stockings became a symbol of wealth and for those who were not of royalty, silk stockings were often reserved only for special occasions.[1]
During the early 18th century 'fitted stockings,' or stockings that are made for one specific person and do not rely on stretch for support, were very popular. The knitting of stockings also became a very important source of income or way to save money for many families. Some individuals would sell the stockings that they had knit while others would knit for personal use to avoid the investment of paying for new stockings. The practice of knitting stockings became widely popular due to the ease at which the task could be performed. As stated in an article entitled Knitting Stockings published by Boston Weekly Magazine, "It is so easily practiced, that a child of five years old, or an old woman of a hundred, may work at it."[2]

The world of stockings was revolutionized in 1589 when William Lee created the world's first stocking frame knitting machine. It is rumored that Lee invented the machine because he was tired of his lover being constantly preoccupied by her knitting. After inventing the machine, Lee showed his invention to Queen Elizabeth hoping she would be of some assistance. Queen Elizabeth, seeing no need for the stocking frame, turned down Lee's creation. Lee then began working under Henry IV of France and people began to understand the full potential of the stocking frame knitting machine. The invention allowed for materials such as wool and eventually silk to be mass produced as hosiery. The stocking frame was used for about two centuries. The machine revolutionized the development of hosiery and was also very influential during the industrial revolution.[3] Eventually a more high tech knitting machine emerged in the late 1800's that allowed garments to be made faster and constructed all in one piece. Today, this machine is referred to as the circular knitting machine. The circular knitting machine also made it possible to construct flat or ribbed hosiery. In 1935 Du Pont discovered nylon, the first man made synthetic fiber, and the development of stockings changed forever. "Nylon is the generic name for all synthetic fiber-forming polymeric amides having a protienlike chemical structure, derivable from coal, air, and water or other substances and characterized by extreme toughness and strength."[4] Nylon became an extremely popular fiber used in the knitting of stockings. Its durable quality and flexible aspects make it the perfect material for stockings. The high twist nylon yarn that is used also makes the stockings more resistant to abrasion. Nylon became so popular in the industry that the term "nylons" is often commonly used as a synonym for stockings.[5] After World War II nylon became the primary material used to construct stockings. "Silk was ultimately replaced by nylon after the war. But it was not without challenges from other man made fibers such as Rayon, Bamberg, and Vilene."[6] Nylon stockings were created in a way that is referred to as "fully fashioned" meaning that, "they were shaped to fit like modern sweaters. By decreasing the number of stitches as the stocking was knit towards the ankle, a garment was created that was 'knit to fit.'"[7] Originally, stockings were used primarily for warmth. As the variety of different stocking styles and patterns grew in the clothing industry, stockings became more and more relevant as a fashion statement. Both men and woman wore stockings up until the end of the 18th century when men began moving away from the trend and traditional stockings became more feminine. Today, men often wear socks, a shorter, slightly different variation of stockings, while women wear a combination of both socks and traditional stockings.

Other Styles:

Stockings and tights have always been in a constant battle for the spotlight. As style shifts, so does the popularity of each of these garments. Typically, the general pattern of popularity can be related back to the common skirt hem line of each time period. During periods where hem lines are longer, stockings are viewed to be a more prominent garment. Shorter hem lines and clothing articles such as the "mini skirt," however, have contributed greatly to the popularity of tights.[8]

Comparative Images

early 1900s prostitute wearing striped stockings

stocking frame knitting machine

contemporary circular knitting machine

Additional Images:

normal view of stocking stripes

horizontal view of stocking stripes

inside view of stocking knit

split in the seam of one of the stockings

top of stockings


Hannah Severin, TMD 224H

Last updated:

May 9, 2013

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  1. ^ "Knitting and Weaving of Stockings," Saturday Magazine (June 29, 1822): 586-588, accessed February 28, 2013.
  2. ^ "Knitting Stockings," Boston Weekly Magazine (July 26, 1817), accessed March 31, 2013.
  3. ^ "Knitting and Weaving of Stockings"
  4. ^ "DuPont Announces Nylon," The Du Pont Magazine 12 (1938), accessed April 17, 2013.
  5. ^ G.P. Hoff, "Nylon as a Textile Fiber," Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry (December 1940), accessed April 14, 2013.
  6. ^ "History of Hosiery"
  7. ^ "History of Hosiery," accessed April 17, 2013.
  8. ^ "History of Hosiery"