History of tights: the roaring 20s
Posted 14th August 2015
|Following the end of the Great War, things began to change in Britain, especially for women. As many proved they could work as hard as men during the conflict, they gained more freedom and became more daring with their clothing choices.
Gone were the restrictive corsets of 19th century England, and in came the loose-fitting and glamourous dresses now associated with 1920s fashion.
But one of the major steps forward in fashion was happening underneath these dresses, with the creation of new materials and the raising of hemlines.
Short skirts reveal all…almost
As women became more liberated, so did their legs. Dresses no longer went down to the floor but instead finished around the knee. This meant stockings became visible.
Out went warm and functional cotton tights and in came more glamourous legwear. Silk became very popular in a variety of colours and patterns, reflecting the vibrancy of the era.
Stockings would sometimes be rolled below the knee, creating a window of skin between stocking top and skirt bottom. It may not seem like much these days, but this was a scandal in the 20s!
To help women get their hands on these silk stockings, mail-order catalogues became common for most of the major department stores – style and fashion were no longer just for city dwellers.
‘Flapper girls’, young women who frequented nightclubs, would often wear their stockings rolled down as far as their calves or up high with gold and silver adornments on their garters that would peek out from under their skirts as they danced.
A ‘Rayon’ of Light
Before the war, tights and stockings had mainly been worn as a way to keep legs warm, but with the introduction of short dresses and new materials, stockings become a fashion accessory in their own right.
Rayon, dubbed ‘artificial silk’, became a popular material towards the end of the decade, filling the gap between expensive silk, dull cotton and the not-yet-introduced nylon.
This material was far cheaper to make than both silk and cotton and was originally used for men’s socks. But as fashions changed and the demand for stylish stockings spread across the country, it was introduced into women’s accessories.
The only problem was that, unlike its successor nylon, it didn’t stretch as much. This meant garters were often needed to keep them up. Those without garters often found the tights sagging or slipping.
Another major problem was how it reacted to getting wet. Rayon was very absorbent, making tights heavy and uncomfortable when caught in the rain. And to make things worse, rayon tights often shrank in the wash.
But, as the fibre was easy to dye, it meant women could start to match their tights to their dresses. Gone were the plain black tights and in came a rainbow of colours.
Fancy stockings are still as popular today and have been joined by the likes of fashion tights and hold ups.