Every costume design job is an opportunity to do more research, but there are some things that are just part of your general knowledge. For example, when I was hired to costume a college production of Brighton Beach Memoirs, which takes place in 1937, I automatically put the adult female characters in seamed stockings.
I was surprised recently when I came across this image from 1930:
I simply hadn’t come across this information before, so I checked another source: the Sears, Roebuck catalogs. There they were:
And another source….
There are some typos in the original text, as you can see, but corrected, it says, “I made a new discovery a few days ago — stockings needn’t have seams in order to fit. You may remember the old seamless stockings … which went into Grecian drapery at the ankles after their first contact with soap and water. The new Guildmode hose is knitted in a special way so that it fits just as snugly as a full fashioned stocking. It is dull [matte] and very sheer.”
“Full-fashioned” meant stockings which were shaped like the outline of a leg, curving in at the ankle, and gradually curving out over the calf area.
A short history: Knitted stockings have been around for hundreds of years. The simple knitted tube naturally stretched — somewhat — to the shape of the leg, but a seam up the back permitted a closer fit. As stockings became more sheer (and more visible under short skirts) in the Nineteen Twenties, women became aware of the way the vertical seam up the back created a slenderizing line on their legs.
“Notice how they follow the natural shadows of the ankle — to give you slenderness and grace.”
Skirt hems went down and then up again in the Nineteen Thirties, but seamed stockings were so much a part of normal dress that women couldn’t give up that seam line even when silk or nylon stockings became unavailable during World War II.
But, back to the Thirties:
At the first dress rehearsal of Brighton Beach Memoirs, the director knelt down beside my chair and whispered, “Are those seams on their stockings?” He was clearly delighted. I whispered back, “Well, stockings with seams are too expensive for our budget,** so I taught the actresses to do it the 1940s’ way: we drew ‘seams’ up the backs of their hose with an eyebrow pencil.” (The lines didn’t come out completely when we washed their sheer tights, so they just had to retrace the previous line for the next performance.)
At first, I thought the director was impressed by the seamed stockings because I was much more detail-oriented than my predecessor. Later I realized that anyone who was a teen-aged boy in the 1950s probably feels a certain nostalgia for seamed stockings, which, along with high heels and garter belts, were often seen on pin-up girls.
This 1950s’ stocking ad, shared by Sally Edelstein at Envisioning the American Dream, shows the sex appeal of seamed stockings.
Being allowed to wear high heels (or even kitten heels,) and sheer stockings held up by a garter belt was a rite of passage for girls of my generation. (I think that my first heels and stockings were required for a school field trip to the ballet [or opera?] circa 1958, when I was in 8th or 9th grade.)
At thirteen, I was finally old enough to ask, “Are my seams straight?”
To return to my costume design for Brighton Beach Memoirs, would this new (to me) information about the existence of seamless stockings*** in 1930 have made any difference? No, because the characters in the play are struggling financially, and because they are not fashionable women. They would have worn inexpensive stockings — probably cotton, rayon, or “service weight.”
I settled for using sheer tights with added seams because at the time of the production that was the most affordable option. Also, in college productions, most of the actors are younger than the characters they play. The two “mothers” were actually about twenty years old, and the teenaged daughters were also played by twenty year old actresses. Putting the mothers in seamed stockings and the daughters in bobby socks helped to establish an age difference.
More of my own “Garter Belt and Seamed Stockings” Memoirs to come….
** Some very good costume shop supervisors have told me that a seam can be added to inexpensive modern hosiery with an overlock sewing machine, but I haven’t tried it myself.
*** If you need a research topic, note that some of the images make reference to seamless stockings earlier than 1930.
8 responses to “Seamless Stockings in 1930”
Now, this really is surprising! Thank you for sharing the pictures and information!
My Goodness! Considering how much a dollar was worth in those days, a dollar or 1.79 a pair was quite pricey! No wonder they mended their stockings!
I remember wearing my first nylons to school in eighth grade. Mom always bought the cheapos because we managed to catch them on just about everything. In the 1970s someone invented pantyhose that were individual legs, with a “half panty”, that went around the other side of your body and held it up. That way, supposedly, if you got a run in one you could just substitute a new leg and not have to buy a whole pair. An excellent idea, but it didn’t last.
I am a huge fan. Such an interesting blog. Thank you.
Oooo ! Now I have questions. How long ago did men wear hose, not stockings ? Did little boys wear hose with knickers ? When women painted a fake seam on their legs during WWII (my Mom did), did they use a special waterproof lotion ? I wore hose with seams in 1960, and didn’t know there were seamless hose then. Thanks !
From my reading, many women painted on the “seam” during WW2 using eyebrow pencil. I have even seen an article from the old Queen magazine of the time talking about dabbing gravy browning (of all things) on your legs to make it look as if you were wearing stockings, along with drawing the straight seam up the back with the eyebrow pencil.
From what I’ve read, just about everyone back in the day wore “hosen” knitted of fine wool, cotton or linen, boys and girls, men and women, right back to the middle ages. They were hand-knitted or woven and sewn up the back (those seams again), and held up by garters or tied onto “points” in the case of men’s clothes.
One of the history links I gave leads to a long article about hose and stockings for men — although there are always vocabulary problems …. The Glamourdaze blog is a commercial site but has excellent info, including 2 posts about 1940s leg makeup. I linked to photos from them but do search for “glamourdaze 1940s stockings makeup” . I,too, discovered seamless stockings after suffering with blisters on my soles around 1960.
Sewing a fake seam on seamless stockings totally works, although it really works best on those not stretchy ones from the late 50’s/early 60’s. The way the are packaged made a very crisp fold down the middle and all you have to do is follow along. It’s too difficult to get the seam straight and make the seam stretch on modern spandex/lycra stockings.
I’d like to say that this made me fall into a research rabbit hole on whether Edwardian stockings had seams, but so far I’m still stuck at “yes, except the ones (hand?) knitted in the round, probably”.