A vintage outfit is not complete without a pair of seams running up the back of a lady’s legs. But what is the point of a seam? Where did it come from? And why is it a thing of the past?
So what is the difference between a seamed stocking and a fully-fashioned stocking?
A fully-fashioned stocking is a fascinating piece of engineering, and everyone should have the pleasure of sliding their legs into this fading piece of history, at least once (in my opinion). Fully-fashioned stockings are knitted into flat sheets of nylon called tissues. The seam exists for a practical reason, rather than being decorative. The flat sheet of nylon is cut to the shape of a leg, then folded in half and sewn to create a tube. The seam actually holds the stocking together, it is a straight line of stitching from the toe to the top of the welt.
Modern seamed stockings, that haven’t been made in the traditional manner can be identified in many ways. The easiest way to identify them is by looking at the seam, if it looks like it has been printed on or sewn unnecessarily, it is a decorative seam; they also often look quite messy and thick compared to the real deal. A real fully fashioned nylon will have a keyhole, compression stitching, a functional seam, and a reinforced foot and heel formed with additional layers of nylon. These features are discussed in more detail below.
If you have ever owned a pair of fully-fashioned stockings, you may have noticed that the leg is shaped like a real leg as they do not stretch like modern hosiery. This ensures that the stocking fits women’s shapely legs properly. This includes a shaped foot, a narrow ankle, a shaped calf tapering to a larger section for the thigh.
If you would like to see a comprehensive guide to how stockings are manufactured, please click here.
What does it all mean??
Welt – The welt is knitted first on the machines and is a double layer of nylon. This is where the suspender belt or girdles are clipped to, as the welt is more robust than the rest of the stocking.
Shadow welt – This is a single thickness of welt, it is a lighter transitional area between the darker welt and the single layer of nylon found in the rest of the stocking.
Keyhole – The keyhole is a decorative bi-product of the manufacturing process, do not clip your suspenders through this hole as it is not as robust as the welt! It is formed by folding the top of the stocking back on itself when forming the welt.
Seam – This keeps the stocking together, without it the stocking would just be a flat sheet of nylon.
Compression stitching – This is a row of needle marks equidistant each side of the seam and so formed during the seaming process.
Heel – The heel is designed to reinforce the sole of the foot and comes in many different designs.
Which leads me on nicely to heels! There are a few styles of heels, so here is a quick guide:
A mini history of nylon stockings
Previous to stockings being made of nylon, they were made of other materials such as, wool, cotton or silk. Some stockings in the 1920s were so shiny that ladies used to powder their legs to tone down the shine.
Nylon stockings were created in the 1940s by a company called Du Pont. It is reported that when nylon stockings were first introduced into the market, 4 million pairs were sold in one day! The demand for these new stockings even caused riots. During the war, Du Pont switched from making stockings to making war equipment such as parachutes, which meant that there was a shortage of nylon stockings; one pair of stockings could be sold for up to $20 on the black market and women resorted to drawing seams up the back of their legs with eyebrow pencils to emulate the look of a fully-fashioned stocking.
Fully-fashioned stockings come in both stretch and non-stretch versions. The non stretch came first, then stretchy versions such as Agilon became available. I massively favour non stretch every time though.
How the fully-fashioned stocking progressed to an RHT (Reinforced Heel and Toe)
An RHT stocking is made of nylon, just like fully-fashioned stockings but it has several major differences. The RHT has no keyhole, no fancy heel and most importantly, no seam, although it should be noted that seamed RHTs are available but the seam is decorative only.
Due to advanced in technology, RHTs were circular knitted on barrels which meant that there was no need for a seam to keep the stocking together. Many women preferred this modern seamless look and the popularity of the RHT overtook that of the fully-fashioned stocking in the 1960s.
Why you should wear fully-fashioned stockings
I would encourage you all to try out fully-fashioned stockings for two main reasons:
- They look and feel so nice, the nylon is so soft on the skin and makes the most amazing swishing noise (hence the name of my blog, ‘The Nylon Swish’). I often tell my partner that they feel like wearing kisses, I am totally in love with them. You genuinely cannot beat the look of a real seam up the back of your legs, with either a vintage look or a modern outfit.
- Nylon stocking manufacturers are generally very small and few of them remain. If the remaining stockings manufacturers are to stay in business, it is essential that they get business. Lets help keep this piece of history alive by wearing beautiful seams and reliving what our grandmothers and great-grandmothers wore on a daily basis. Long live nylon stockings!
If you would like to try some nylon stockings, please refer to ‘My Personal Recommendations‘ for a list of manufactures.