As the fall season begins, many women across the United States and the world are getting ready for “tights season,” the moment when the cooler weather means it’s time to pair skirts or dresses with a little extra warmth on the legs. Some may be looking forward to the fall fashion opportunities, and some dreading sagging knees or the necessity of dabbing clear nail polish on runs. But when tights first became a wardrobe staple, they signified something that went far beyond a simple change of season: freedom.
History books credit Allen E. Gant with creating pantyhose — or “Panti-legs” — in 1959. The idea came to him while on an overnight train to North Carolina with his pregnant wife, Ethel Boone Gant, when the two of them were returning home from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Ethel told her husband this would be the last trip she would be going on before the baby came, since managing the combination of thigh-high stockings, girdle and garter that women were expected to wear out was becoming too uncomfortable. When they came home, Gant was inspired and asked his wife to stitch a pair of stockings onto panties and try them on. She didn’t hate them, so Gant took the prototype to the clothing mill where he worked and found a practical way to knit pantyhose on hosiery machines with non-stretch yarn.
The process was one of trial and error. “At first, they’d come up to your chin,” seamer Margaret Minor told the Asheville Citizen-Times in 1989. “You could get your whole body in it — that’s how stretchy it was. They they learned to put some control into them so they would fit at your waist.” The pantyhose also felt like an odd gimmick, since hose had previously always stopped at the thigh. “It was quite funny to try them on and look down at yourself and see hose coming to your waist,” Minor said. “It was kind of a funny sight at first.”
But while the new pantyhose were convenient, it wasn’t until the rise of miniskirts in the mid-’60s that tights started to really become popular. Once models such as Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton put on their minis and added tights, young shoppers rushed to department stores to get their own pairs. Part of the reason for that was because of the minis’ short hems, as it wouldn’t look proper for a garter belt to peek out from under a short mini.