Nothing compares to the feeling of fully fashioned stockings stretched over freshly shaved gams. If you’ve not had the pleasure, please read on!
Somehow efficiency beat out romance in the hosiery department. Lovely, sheer, soft seamed stockings fell out of production to make room for crumpled pantyhose mashed inside plastic eggs (or more recently, inside cardboard boxes akin to the mini milk cartons we were served in kindergarten). Because of this, there are entire generations of women who don’t know how to wear stockings!
Seriously, who was the marketing genius behind this?!
These next few posts will be devoted entirely to ladies hosiery (more specifically, fully fashioned stockings)…
The image of delightfully seamed stockings peeking from beneath a full skirt and frothing petty-coat conjures up ideas of the femme fatal masquerading as the girl next door… irresistible, no? It is sexy and mysterious without being vulgar.
But before we get into the do’s & don’ts of stockings, let us first learn what’s what. I’ve whipped up a little glossary of terms just for you.
*This glossary is by no means exhaustive. The world of ladies hosiery is a complicated one, indeed! This is just enough to get you started.
Let the education begin!
Dolly Marlowe’s Stocking Glossary, por vous!
Hosiery: A term referring to anything that is meant to cover the leg ie: stockings, pantyhose, tights, socks, and the like.
Pantyhose aka All the way ups: A one piece hosiery contraption that involves 2 sheer stockings attached to a panty and waistband. These should only be worn out of costume necessity and NOT as everyday wear!
Tights: Essentially the same construction as pantyhose with the major difference being a heavier denier and gauge, opaque, and available in a large variety of colors and patterns. These are acceptable for daily wear, usually in colder weather.
Stockings: Sheer hosiery meant to be worn individually and secured with garters. These little treats come in a bevy of styles and are a staple in my everyday wardrobe.
Holdups: Stockings that function without the use of garters (not much fun in that!). They hold-up on their-own by little silicone strips under the (usually lace) welt.
Fully Fashioned Stockings aka Flat Knit Stockings: My absolute, can not live without, if I were stranded on a deserted island what would I bring, favorite wardrobe item! Fully fashioned stockings (vintage or vintage reproduction) are produced on the original flat knit machines. The stockings were knitted flat, cut to size, and stitched up the back (yes, that seam does have a function). True FF stockings have a welt of doubled over fabric and a finishing or key hole. FF stockings have very limited stretch, so pay special attention to sizing.
Berkshire Knitting Mills, once the largest factory producing full-fashioned stockings in the world.
Mock seams: These stockings are the modern version of the FF stocking. They are produced on circular machines and then given a decorative seam. While they have all the benefits of technology: sheerness, durability, stretch to fit sizes, and more economical prices, they are not nearly as fun as their vintage counterparts! These work well for costuming and as a reliable back-up stocking. Most major lingerie dealers cary mock seamed stockings.
Welt: The top portion of the stocking made up of a heavier fiber where the garters are to be attached. In FF stockings, the fabric of the welt is doubled over and stitched with a finishing hole.
Under Welt or Shadow Welt: The area just below the welt made up of decorative stitching, logo, or design unique to the manufacturer or stocking style.
Finishing Hole or Key Hole: In FF stockings, this small opening is where the welt was folded over and secured. The finishing hole also gives the welt a little extra stretch for ease of movement and comfort. The finishing hole is the hallmark of the fully fashioned stocking.
Lace Top: Stockings with a lace top rather than a traditional welt. These are commonly offered in the hold-up style.
Denier: The unit of measure relating to the weight of the yarn. Now, depending on the type of fibers used (nylon, silk, lycra…), the denier tells you how sheer your stockings will be. Without getting too technical, lets just say the lower the number, the sheerer the stocking. A 15 denier is quite sheer & pretty much the standard. There is a formula of weight per unit length, but that information is hardly necessary for shopping!
Gauge: Another unit of measure given to us by our British friends. It relates to the fineness and amount of needles used in the knitting process. All you really need to know is that 51g & 60g are the most common gauges used. The 60g stockings are more refined, while the 51g were still quite smooth, but more moderately priced.
Cuban Heel: Quite possibly the most popular foot style in seamed stockings, the Cuban Heel is a rectangular reinforced heel.
Havana Heel: Similar to the Cuban Heel, but wider on the heel and more narrow on the foot making it a nice choice for d’Orsay heels.
French or Euro Heel: Less common in vintage stockings than the Cuban heel, the French heel (or Euro Heel) is a pointed reinforced heel.
Manhattan Heel or Deco Heel: A personal favorite of mine, the Manhattan Heel features a nifty little Art Deco detail over the heel.
Reinforced: Sections of the hosiery that have been strengthened by double knitting resulting in a darker or more opaque area, thus resulting in a design feature. Necessity is truly the mother of invention!
RHT: Reinforced Heel & Toe. This style came to popularity in the 1960s after the advent of circular knit machines… also marking the demise of the fully fashioned stocking. A sad day indeed!
Sandal Foot or Sandal Toe: Also known as a sheer toe. Pretty self explanatory.
Opera Length: A longer length stocking made for the taller gal or one with a heavier leg. These usually require shorter garter straps.
Boarding: When hosiery is still damp from the dying process, it is pulled over a leg-shaped form and pressed. This is what gives FF stockings their delightful presentation. I love the look so much that I board my stockings after washing!
Now that you’ve become acquainted with some terminology, let’s talk fit. There are 3 main kinds of fit out there: American, UK, and another that escapes my memory (for lack of use). For time purposes, I’ll demonstrate American sizing. Fear not my European friends, I’ve not abandoned you! Because stocking sizes are based on shoe sizes, the conversion process is the same as American to UK shoe sizing and vice versa. So, American sizing is as follows:
Shoe Size Stocking Size
5-6 8 1/2
6 1/2 9
7 9 1/2
7 1/2 10
8 10 1/2
8 1/2 – 9 11
9 1/2 11 1/2
10 – 10 1/2 12
There is another number one must be aware of when selecting FF stockings: Length. The length is the measurement in inches from the heel to the top of the welt. This is not how long the stocking will be when worn. You will likely loose 2 to 4 inches depending on the fullness of your leg. If you happen to be a shorter gal with curvy stems, I would suggest going up a size or two depending on your leg shape. If you are a leggy creature (lucky you), or if you enjoy a longer fit, then opera length is for you.
Now you’ve enough information to get out there & shop, but before you do, let me share a few of my favorite stores.
Where to Buy:
Secrets in Lace – This is where you will find Licensed Dita Von Teese & Bettie Paige Stockings.
What Katie Did – Modern made FF stockings on vintage machines and mock seam stockings as well.
If you’re into real vintage ebay & etsy are always great resources!
Stay tuned, soon I will delve into how to wear & care for your new stockings. Until then, enjoy!