Lycra - The Most Revolutionary Discovery for Tights, Pantyhose and Hold-Ups

Today, the Lycra® in our pantyhose, tights, stockings and hold-ups is a given. Without it, control tops would never have been invented, our pantyhose and tights would be forever sagging, bagging, wrinkling and laddering and hold-ups would just be impossible.

 For the previous 400 years before we were blessed with Lycra, ladies’ stockings were made from silk, cotton or wool. These were then held up by hefty, metal (or heavy fabric) garters which were uncomfortable and sometimes painful. Noticing the discomfort of his wife in her stockings and garters in 1890, Mr. Alf Breese decided to come up with a more comfortable design. He eventually came to the idea of attaching suspenders to a corset. This did make wearing stockings far more easy and comfortable but still not perfect. In evolving this idea, twenty years later in 1912, the suspenders belt was invented. The suspender belt was absolutely revolutionary for women’s fashion and comfort. Women now no longer suffered the constraint of whalebone and canvas but were still able to wear their stockings.

 Always developing and experimenting, scientist in London and New York had a huge breakthrough with the invention of nylons (hence NY-LON). After a few trials and tests, nylons were released into stores across the US and were an overnight sensation. On the first day of release, over 780,000 pairs were sold. However, nylons were actually far from perfect. They would wrinkle around the ankle and they were very delicate and easily damaged. As a way to try and fix this, in the late 1950s, yarn manufacturers thought they could make their fortune by adding stretch to nylon by crimping it under high heat. Unfortunately, the effect was little as nylon has a low melting temperature and the nylon didn’t revert back to its original shape after being stretched (today, however, this is no longer an issue for nylons.)

 Despite their popularity, unfortunately, when the the Second World War broke out, nylon was taken away from women and used for parachutes, ropes and machine parts instead. This meant that nylons were rationed which caused riots when stores sold out. As a result, women started to draw the notorious nylon seams up the back of their legs to give the impression that they were wearing them. However, fortunately for the ladies of the time, in the 1958, one of the original nylon manufacturers, DuPont, produced another large breakthrough which was the invention of our beloved Lycra. Lycra came in as having a more complex chemical structure than nylon. Made from crystalline polyurethane and flexible polyethylene glycol, this means that it can stretch up to seven times its original length and bounce back whilst all the while, still being firm. This new fiber was a game changer and completely revolutionized the hosiery market.

 In the 1867, hold-ups were brought to the market, completely getting rid of suspender belts and the annoying bulges they created under clothing. Made with Lycra or the new, improved nylon, women were now able to wander around without the sweaty and uncomfortable wrap around their waist and hold-ups quickly became a huge hit. However, coming into the sixties, one-piece tights as we know them today took the stage. This encouraged shorter hemlines and the birth of the mini skirt. These tights rivaled hold-ups due to their fashion practicality and easiness.

 Today, pantyhose and tights have been manufactured to be as easy and useful for women as possible. In Britain, they are worn nearly everyday by school girls and regularly in the office as well as on the weekends. Hold-ups are less popular for everyday wear but great for those who don’t enjoy having something tight around their waists or as a bedroom accessory. Either way, Lycra has made life for pantyhose, tight and hold-up wearers much easier and has pushed the nylon range to become more advanced in its production also.

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