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Hold-ups or stay-ups (in the USA also referred to as thigh highs) are stockings with a band of elastic sewn to the top, designed to hold the stockings up when worn, without the need for a garter belt or garters. High quality thigh highs have one or more silicone bands holding the stocking in place. Most thigh highs have an elastic band sewn to the top that is backed with silicone on its inner surface. This ensures the hold ups stay in position because of the elastic and the friction of the silicone against the skin. The silicone can become ineffective by contact with body lotions, oils and talcum powder, as they all reduce the friction of the silicone. High quality thigh highs are built so that the elastic band exerts just the right pressure on a woman's thigh, avoiding any uncomfortable tightness or unflattering muffin-top effect.
"Hold-ups" is a term given by “Pretty Polly” to self-supporting stockings. They never registered this term and it is now recognised to mean stockings with an elasticated band at the top that enables them to stay up without the need for a suspender/garter belt. Sometimes thigh highs are preferred to pantyhose for hygiene reasons, because they reduce excessive microbial growth around the groin from humidity and warmth. They are sometimes chosen because of the classic popular "stocking top" line, and there are no suspender bumps to be seen through a skirt or dress.
The thickness of thigh-highs is measured in Denier, the same measurement unit used for different varieties of feminine stockings.
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With the invention of nylon, thigh high stockings took center stage in women's fashion. While high-end consumers never lost their fascination with silk thigh highs, their nylon counterparts were so ubiquitous that they ended up baptizing the entire stocking family. In popular use, stockings were referred to as 'nylons' in the '40s. It was in the 60's that thigh highs retreated towards a more marginal place in women's fashion. It is accepted that the popularity of the mini-skirt was an important factor in this. As the skirt was growing shorter-and-shorter, revealing the top-line of the stockings silently was relegated to the realm of the osé. Pantyhose gained in popularity.
Modern stockings, pantyhose, and thigh highs are made by either two methods: flat knitting or the use of circular machines. Following the original hosiery manufacturing techniques of the 30s - 50s, flat knitting is one of the methods used—one that was used before the invention of the circular machine. After the fabric has been produced, each thigh high is individually seamed. The top of the seam has a 'finishing loop', a small hole that every seamed thigh high has as a result of the machinist turning the welt—the thigh high top—inside out, in order to finish off. Once sewn, the thigh highs are 'boarded'. This is a process where each thigh high is stretched over a flat metal leg form and 'set' with steam. The knit tightens, creases are eliminated and the leg is correctly shaped. Because the process is time consuming, seamed thigh highs are never cheap. Couple this with the fact that around a third of production—especially during the production of sheer stockings—is discarded during quality control.
Thigh highs are now most often produced on circular machines that eliminate the need for back seams by knitting tubes that are then 'set' to the shape of the leg. While the first circular machines produced sheer stockings with a reinforced heel pocket, modern machines have eliminated this, offering a better fit regardless of the wearer's shoe size. The addition of lycra to the stocking yarn is possibly the biggest break-through in hosiery manufacturing, the result being thigh highs that combine elasticity with the ability to cling perfectly to the leg.