Before the invention of tights—a single garment covering the legs from waist to toes—in the 1950s, both women and men wore knitted socks that extended above the knee, called stockings. Originally, stockings were integral to menswear, since women’s dresses modestly concealed the legs, while men’s clothing revealed them in what was considered a display of masculinity. The shift away from the exposure of legs in men’s fashion during the 19th century helped contribute to the association of stockings with women.
The 20th-century history of women’s hosiery entwines savvy marketing campaigns with technological innovations such as synthetic materials and advances in knitting machine capabilities. The practice of attaching stockings to underpants to create tights was pioneered in the 1950s by a handful of American textile companies. North Carolina mill Glen Raven emerged as the most influential. Owner Allen Gant Sr. began experimenting with this when he witnessed his pregnant wife struggling to put on her garter-belted stockings. By 1959, the company had created and patented its first pair of tights, called PantiLegs.
With the shortening of hemlines that began when the miniskirt was first introduced in 1958, tights quickly became a must-have item. Glen Raven seized the opportunity to position its product alongside these shorter skirt lengths. The company advertised its tights as a liberating garment for women in campaigns that set the stage for the marketing of hosiery for decades. At this time, however, the sizing and shades of their garments were limited to women within a relatively narrow range of body shapes and skin colors.
Additional text from Fashion as Design online course, Coursera, 2017