A Fateful Trip
In 1953, Allen Gant and his wife Ethel Boone Gant took a trip to New York City to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. On the train home, Ethel told her husband that she wouldn’t be coming on any more trips with him for a while – she was pregnant, and managing her stockings and garter belt over her growing belly was becoming too difficult and uncomfortable to tolerate. At the time, women were expected to wear hosiery whenever they went out and wearing either a girdle or garter belt was the only way to hold up stockings. Going bare-legged was not an option, which left women like Ethel either stuck at home or extremely uncomfortable.
Helping a Pregnant Wife
Allen was running a textile company called Glen Raven Mills at the time and was inspired to help solve his wife’s problem. He asked what she thought of a pair of panties attached to stockings and encouraged her to try stitching some together. After making the prototype, Ethel tried on her creation and loved it so much that she immediately encouraged her husband to figure out how to mass produce the new hosiery. With the help of his colleagues Arthur Rogers, J. O. Austin, and Irvin Combs, Allen created the first commercial pantyhose. The product hit department store shelves in 1959 and was later named “Panti-Legs.”
The Influence of the Mini Skirt
While the comfort and convenience of pantyhose was certainly a draw, the new undergarment didn’t truly take off until the mini skirt became popular in the 1960s. After models like Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton began wearing them, it quickly became a trend. These new mini skirts were short enough that stockings would show past a woman’s hemline. Because pantyhose neatly sidestepped this problem, they began flying off the shelves. Around the same time, new materials like spandex combined with novel sewing techniques brought the price of production down dramatically, so manufacturers were able to offer pantyhose in a larger range of sizes.
In 1970, the iconic L’eggs pantyhose and their small, egg-shaped packages debuted in stores all across America. They were immediately popular, and for the rest of the 1970s and throughout the 1980s, pantyhose continued to be a wardrobe staple for women. Sales continued to increase as more and more women joined the workforce. Pantyhose manufacturers began putting out new colors, textures, and sizes.
Shifting Away from Formal Fashion
As work culture became less formal in the 1990s, the popularity of pantyhose began to decline. Women’s fashion needs began to shift, and pantyhose sales decreased while sales for tights and women’s trouser socks increased. However, although sales have declined considerably in recent years, pantyhose are still very much here to stay. In 2008 alone, there were over 1.4 billion pairs of pantyhose sold! In fact, pantyhose are still considered a necessity for women in more conservative work environments, and plenty of women simply prefer the more traditional option.