In the 1920s, the fashionable hemline for women rose enough to show the legs, and sheer hosiery that covered the legs was only available as stockings. They were first made of silk or rayon (then known as "artificial silk"), and after 1940 with nylon, which had been invented by DuPont in 1938. During the 1940s and 1950s, play and film producers were having stockings sewn to the briefs of their actresses and dancers, as testified to by actress-dancer Ann Miller. These garments were seen in popular motion pictures such as Daddy Long Legs.
In 1953, Allen Gant, Sr., of Glen Raven Knitting Mills developed a commercial equivalent to these hose that he named "Panti-Legs", but these were not brought to the open market until about 1959. During this time, Ernest G. Rice invented his own design for pantyhose (similar to those worn today), and in 1956 he submitted a patent titled "Combination Stockings and Panty". This design was adopted by other makers, and this caused disputes in American courts for many years before the patent was upheld some time after Rice's own death.
Up until this time, there was little reason for women outside show business to wear "panty hose". However, during the 1960s, improved textile manufacturing processes made them cheaper, spandex (or elastane) made them more comfortable, and the miniskirt made them a necessity to many women. In 1970, American sales of pantyhose exceeded stockings for the first time, and it has remained this way since then.
The popularity of pantyhose grew into a wardrobe staple throughout the 1970s and 1980s. From 1995 a steady decline began, levelling off in 2006 with American sales less than half of what they had once been. This decline has been attributed to bare legs in fashion, changes inworkplace dress code, and the increased popularity of trousers.
While sales of traditional styles did not recover, the 2000s saw the rise of other specific styles. Fishnet hose, patterns and colors, opaque tights, low-rise pantyhose, footless shapewear, and pantyhose for men all experienced increased sales.
Pantyhose generally have a standard construction: the top of the waist is a strong elastic; the part covering the hips and the buttocks (the panty area) is composed of a thicker material than for the legs. The gusset or crotch is a stronger material, sometimes made of porous cotton, but the legs of the pantyhose are made of the thinnest usable fabrics, and it has a consistent construction down to the wearer's toes. These can be reinforced to guard against wear and tear.
Most pantyhose are composed of nylon and a mixture of spandex, which provides the elasticity and form-fitting that is characteristic of modern pantyhose. The nylon fabric is somewhat prone to tearing ("running"), and it is common for very sheer hose to "run" soon after snagging on anything that is rough or sharp.
Variations in pantyhose construction exist, such as with fishnet pantyhose. Pantyhose may be composed of other materials such as silk, cotton, or wool.
Pantyhose are available in a wide range of popular styles. The sheerness of the garment, expressed as a numerical 'denier'/'dtex', ranges from three (extremely rare, very thin, barely visible) to 15 (standard sheer) up to 30 (semi opaque) until 100 (opaque). Examples of opaque tights showing mostly 40 denier opaque tights upwards. Control-top pantyhose, intended to boost a slimmer figure, has a reinforced panty. There may be visible panty lines when wearing high-cut skirts or shorts.
Sheer-to-waist pantyhose is sheer throughout, with the panty portion being the same thickness and color as the leg portion, and are designed for use with high-slit gowns, miniskirts, hot pants, or lingerie. Often sheer-to-waist pantyhose will be reinforced along and on either side of the seam in the middle of the panty.
Open-crotch pantyhose, sometimes known as crotchless pantyhose, do not have a gusset. Instead, an opening is in place for hygiene or sexual-fetishism activities.
Some pantyhose have single- or double-panel gussets incorporated into them. In single there are two seams instead of the usual one, with a single one on the opposite side; with double panel gussets, there are two seams on either side.
Health risks and benefits
Pantyhose present a number of health risks and some health benefits.
Because pantyhose are often tight thereby causing pressure on the opening of the urethra, and nylon is non-absorbent, they have been implicated as a contributing factor in urinary tract infections. Because of the risk of complications from UTIs, women who are prone to infections of the urinary tract, or who are pregnant, are often advised not to wear nylon pantyhose for long periods of time, only 100% cotton undergarments
Like nylon underwear and other synthetic materials, wearing nylon pantyhose for long periods of time may trap bacteria and increase the temperature in the genital area, and can be the proximate cause or a contributing factor in the development of vaginal yeast infections(candidiasis) in wearers. Women who have experienced a yeast infection are counseled to wear undergarments of cotton or other natural fibers, and to avoid wearing synthetic undergarments.
Bacterial vaginosis. Avoid clothing that can trap moisture: pantyhose (wear pantyhose with cotton crotch) or latex exercise clothing.
It is not unusual for people dressed in layers of synthetic clothing to suffer from heat exhaustion in warm environments or while exercising or working. Because thick pantyhose may raise the temperature of the body, the elderly, menopausal women, and other wearers who have difficulties regulating body temperature because of underlying issues such as thyroid malfunctions may find the garment unbearably warm.
The warm, moist environment created by nylon pantyhose is a predictive factor in the development of fungal infections of the skin of susceptible wearers, particularly in the feet, abdomen and genital areas. Preexisting fungal and allergic conditions, including eczema,athlete's foot, hives and rashes may be exacerbated by the wearing of pantyhose for long periods of time.
Preventing dryness. Because pantyhose are close to the skin, it is effective at trapping the natural oils and moisture of the skin. This is especially beneficial during colder months, when skin may dry out due to low humidity. However, this ability to retain moisture can be detrimental during the summer or in humid weather; sweat can be trapped in pantyhose, creating bad odors and chafing.
Warmth. Though usually made of thin fabric, pantyhose make the legs feel warm and lessen risk of frostbite, as they stimulate blood circulation in the skin, meaning that women do not have to sacrifice fashion for warmth when being outside for short times. This does not extend to longer periods in cold weather, however, as the same mechanisms increase risk for hypothermia.
Preventing varicose veins. Physician support that appropriate hosiery can help those who work on their feet, by preventing or helping varicose veins, and relieving pain in the back and legs by regulating blood circulation.
Pantyhose often prevent chafing between the wearer's feet and their shoes, or between the thighs when walking, thus helping the wearer avoid painful skin irritation such as blisters and heat rashes.
Improving appearance of skin. Many women wear pantyhose in order to reduce the appearance of stubble, blemishes, or pale legs. Because pantyhose comes in a large range of colors, most women can find one to match their skin tone or completely alter the color appearance of their legs in order to match an outfit. This allows women to wear short skirts and dresses without needing to shave, wax, tan or put on tanning spray.
Unlike cotton, nylon is not an absorbent material. As a result, perspiration is more likely to remain in contact with the feet, legs and genital area, thereby encouraging bacterial growth and associated odor. Some hosiery products contain silver to help to prevent odor and sweating of the feet, thus making the wearing of hosiery a more pleasant experience. Wearing natural fiber silk stockings and tights is another means of reducing perspiration.
Some people refuse to wear pantyhose for ethical or economic reasons. Pantyhose are prone to tearing or laddering. They usually cannot be recycled, and they are not biodegradable. Disposing of the item contributes to overuse of landfill. Burning pantyhose sometimes releases toxins into the atmosphere.
Pantyhose have been criticized for being flimsy. The nylon fabric of pantyhose is extremely prone to "runs". The wearer can cause a run in the hose by even such simple movements as catching the toenail of one's big toe in the fabric when the hose is put on, by catching it on a rough desk, car, and by numerous other risks. Some women apply clear nail polish or hair spray to their hose to prevent runs from growing.