Pantyhose (called tights in the United Kingdom and a few other countries) are sheer, close-fitting legwear, covering the wearer's body from the waist to the feet. Mostly considered to be a woman's and girl's garment, pantyhose appeared in the 1960s, and they provided a convenient alternative to stockings. People of both sexes often find pantyhose to be comfortable for wearing during frigid weather or while horseback riding.
- be attractive in appearance
- ease the chafing between the foot and the footwear, or between the thighs
- keep the legs and feet warm
- hide physical imperfections such as blemishes, bruises, scars, hair, or varicose veins
Besides being worn as fashion, in Western society pantyhose are sometimes worn by women when formal dress is required. For example, the dress code of some companies and schools require pantyhose or fashion tights to be worn when skirts or shorts are worn or as part of a uniform.
The term "pantyhose" originated in the United States to refer to the combination of panties (an American English term) with sheer nylon hosiery. In British English, these garments are called "tights", a term that refers to all such garments regardless of whether they are sheer lingerie or sturdy outerwear.
In American English the term "tights" refers to pantyhose made from thicker material, or alternatively to opaque legwear typically made of a stretchy material like spandex. Opaque tights are worn by both sexes for athletic activities or as utility clothing, and can also be referred to as "leggings", a term that also includes other garments.
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 Du Pont 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 ever since then.
The popularity of pantyhose grew into a wardrobe staple throughout the 1970s and 1980s. From 1995 a steady decline began, leveling 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 in workplace 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 also 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 also 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 tight (thereby causing pressure on the opening of the urethra), and 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 pantyhose.
- Like nylon underwear and other synthetic materials, pantyhose trap bacteria and increase the temperature in the genital area, and so they can be the proximate cause or a contributing factor in the development of 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.
- The occurrence of bacterial vaginosis has also been linked to the wearing of pantyhose, among other causes. Bacterial vaginosis can result in complications for pregnant women and has been associated with an increase in the development of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) following surgical procedures such as a hysterectomy.
- 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 pantyhose 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 also 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 are exacerbated by the wearing of pantyhose.
There are also some health benefits associated with pantyhose. In cold weather, pantyhose can help keep the wearer's legs and feet warm. In low-humidity conditions, they can help prevent the legs from becoming too dry. Support 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 also help 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.
- 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.
- For people who are either very large or very thin, pantyhose can be extremely uncomfortable and unflattering. The feel of pantyhose on large-sized women has been compared to the feeling of wearing a sausage casing, and pantyhose have been criticized for having a tendency to sag at the ankles, be too short to reach the waist, or roll down from the waist after a few hours of wear.
- Some people refuse to wear pantyhose for ethical or economic reasons. Though they can cost anywhere from $5  to $250 per pair, pantyhose are prone to tearing or laddering, especially after multiple wears. 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.
Men and pantyhose
While usually considered to be a women's garment, pantyhose are now frequently worn by men for thermal protection and therapeutic relief. Race horse jockeys also wear pantyhose under their uniforms so they glide freely over the legs and waist when the jockey's body moves at a rapid pace. Some fishermen who surf fish from tropical beaches may also wear pantyhose to protect from jellyfish, whose stingers cannot penetrate the mesh. In the late 1990s several small manufacturers introduced pantyhose styles designed for men to cater to this niche market. The growth in the male pantyhose market (sometimes termed, "mantyhose", a term coined by the media coverage of this emerging trend), has been chronicled in a number of popular blogs that have arisen as men have become more open in their wearing of this once only feminine garment.
A man in Mantyhose.
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- "Kingsize, Not Queen: Some Men Have Taken To Wearing Pantyhose --- Mainstay for Cross-Dressers Is Boon to Athletes and Guys On Their Feet All Day Long". The Wall Street Journal.
- The Nylon Gene: History of Men in Pantyhose, http://www.nylongene.com/p/history-of-men-in-pantyhose.html
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