Hosiery History

Figure 1.--

The history of stockings dates back to pre-history, although hosiery is generally associated with the rise of civilization and established agrarian society. Modern hoisery is associated with woven or knitted garments, but early man used animal skins as primitive hose. The first knitted socks have been found in Egypt. A first cloth was just wrapped around the legs and held tight by garters or bindings. Actual woven hose appeared in Europe about the 11th century and were the predecessor of modern hosiery. For most of history there were no differences between the hosiery worn by adulys and children, except thar adulys were more likely to wear hose as children often went barefoot. Only in the 19th century did destinctive children's hosiery styles appear.


Socks and stockings were worn even in pre-history. Most experts believe that the first Stone Age socks were made of animal skins, which were tied around their ankles. The earliest cloth hose were probably created by farmers or warriors who wrapped pieces of cloth around their legs for protection, holding them in place by garter-like bindings of cloth or leather.

Ancient history


By the 8th century BC, Greek poet Hesiod wrote of piloi, socks made from matted animal hairs. Often this soft footwear was worn by actors of comic plays.


The Romans began by wrapping their feet in long strips of leather or woven fabric. These looked rather like World War I puttees. By the 2nd century AD they were wearing udones, which were sewn from woven fabric and pulled over the foot.


In ancient North Indian culture the whole equipment of long stockings plus garters plus garterbelts was worn on the surface and not hidden under a skirt or dress or pants. They were beautifully decorated with precious stones and embroidery, and everybody was invited to admire them. You can see this ancient fashion on the temples of Khajuraho in North India.


The Copts may have been the first to wear knitted hose. It was in Egyptian Coptic tombs of the 3rd-6th centuries AD that the first real knitted socks were discovered.

Middle Ages

Close fitting coverings for the foot and leg hosiery, stockings, or leggings) began simply as a binding or wrapping of the legs in order to provide protection. In Europe during the Middle Ages, people tied coarse cloth or skins around their legs, holding them up at the knees by the use of garters. The predecassor of modern hosiery appeared in 11th century Europe. By the 11th century, when breeches were shortened to the knee, the lower leg was covered by a fitted cloth known as chausses or hose (probably derived from the Old English hosa). These were normally made of dyed woolen cloth, cut to the shape of the leg, and sewn together with a back seem. They were then tied to the breech belt. Chaussens look much like modern tights. Illustrated manuscripts and paintings ofvthe 11th and 12th centuries suggest that early chausses were not well fitted. Illustrations show them wrinkled and cross garterned when worn below knee-length tunics and drawers. It was predominantly the men who wore long stockings and garters. Europeans by the 13th century were wearing much better fitting chaussens. They were longer and bias cut and give a much better fit. The effect is a more elegant look under shorter tunics. Tunics rose further in the 14th and 15th centuries. Hosiery than had to be made longer. By the 15th cetury, hosiery was being made to entendcto the waist, becoming one-piece tights. Some hose replaced shoes by having a light leather sole sewn to the foot of the hosiery. Wooden pattens were worn out of doors. In some cases, loose sock hise would be worn over the hose for protection. Women gartered their hose at the knee as they generally wore long dresses covering their legs.

Spanish Influence

The quality of Spanish fabrics and the flair of Spanish design has long played leading role in the history of socks. Queen Elizabeth I refused William Lee the first patent for his knitting machine because she didn't like the feel of the stockings it produced. She was used to fine silk stockings imported from Spain. His machine, she complained, made wool stockings that were far too coarse for the royal ankles. European fashion during the 16th and 17th centuries was also influenced greatly by Spain. Flush with the gold and other wealth plundered from the New World, Spanish cloth of the time featured beautiful fabrics adorned with embroidery and fine jewels. Men's socks were typically made of knitted silk and embroidered with the emblems of clocks. Socks play a visible role in one of Spain's most enduring customs: the bullfight. Along with the famous red cape used to tease the bull, the bullfighter sports bright pink socks!


American boys with knee breeches commonly wore long stockings in the 18th century. White was the most common color. German immigrants brought knitting frames to America in the early 18th century beginning the domestic production of hosiery. After the appearance of skeleton suits in the late 19th century, short socks became morte common and contuinued so in the early 18th century when most boys wore long pants. Industrial production of hosiery began in the 19th century using the inexpensive being produced on expanding southern plantations. American boys in the late 19th century as the kneepants fashion became a convenbtion for boys commonly wore long sdtockings, except for the very youngest boys. Striped long stockins were fashionable in the 1860s and 70s, but solid colored stockings were increasingly common by the 1880s, especially black stockings. We have developed some inforation on the early 20th century. After the turn of the 20th century three-quarter socks became more common for boys. Long stockings were worn during the winter and for dress occassions. Dark stockings were the most common, but girls and younger boys also wore white long stockings. Baden Powell's Boy Scouts helped to popularize kneesocks in the 1910s. After World War I, black long stockings brecame less common and tan colors became the standard. Kneesocks and ankle socks gradually replaced long stockings, although they did not disappear until the 1940s.


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Created: May 23, 1998
Last updated: 4:54 PM 5/24/2005