Mechanical Production

It was the development of the first knitting frame, by Reverend William Lee in Nottingham in 1589, that heralded an era of mechanical production that, along with Marc Isambard Brunel's circular-knitting machine (developed in 1816), was to transform the stocking from practical covering to erotic emblem. Lee's knitting frame took production out of the home, improved and standardized quality, and stimulated a demand for stockings that were an extension of the fashionable consumer's wardrobe.

The introduction of rayon in 1884, a cellulose-fiber material invented in France, changed production in a radical way. Rayon dominated the market for substitute silk stockings, facilitating widespread availability at an affordable price, until the invention of nylon, a more realistic alternative patented by DuPont in 1937. The first nylons were introduced in the United States in May 1940; four million pairs were sold in the first four days.

By the 1960s, the fully-fashioned, "one-size-fits-all" stocking began to outpace the flat-cut, classic seamed stocking, propelled by the introduction in 1958 of stretch Lycra. In addition, Lycra almost completely dispensed with the suspender belt as "roll-ons," early versions of tights, were developed. A British company, Bear Brand, first experimented with tights; by the arrival of the miniskirt in the early 1960s, tights were popular and widely available. Only the introduction of the "hold-up," a stocking with elasticized tops, breathed some life into the stocking market in the mid-1980s.

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