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Sheer to waist pantyhose
From the very common on top to the very rare: Control top, sheer to waist and simple panty sections.

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.

Like stockings or knee highs, pantyhose are usually made of nylon, or of other fabrics blended with nylon. Pantyhose are designed to:

  • be attractive in appearance
  • ease the chafing between the foot and the footwear, or between the thighs
  • 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 such as 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 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 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.[1] 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.[2] 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".[3] 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.[4]

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.[5]

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 in workplace dress code, and the increased popularity of trousers.[6]

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.[7][8]


Fishnet pantyhose

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) up to 15 (standard sheer), 30 (semi opaque) and finally 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 section. The panty section may be visible 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[edit]

Pantyhose present a number of health risks and some health benefits.


  • 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.[medical citation needed] 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.[medical citation needed]


  • 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.
  • 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.
Example of a "run" or "ladder"


  • 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 environmental reasons. They usually cannot be recycled, and nylon pantyhose are not biodegradable. Disposing of the item contributes to overuse of landfill. Burning nylon pantyhose sometimes releases toxins into the atmosphere.
  • Pantyhose have been criticized for being flimsy because the thin knit fabric is prone to tearing or laddering (or "running".[6] The wearer can cause a run in the hose by catching a toenail 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[edit]

Main article: Pantyhose for men

While usually considered to be a women's garment, pantyhose can be worn by men for thermal protection and therapeutic relief. Race horse jockeys wear pantyhose under their uniforms so they glide freely over the legs and waist when the jockey's body moves at a rapid pace.[13] Some fishermen who surf fish from tropical beaches may wear pantyhose to protect from jellyfish, whose stingers cannot penetrate the mesh.[14][15] In the late 1990s several small manufacturers introduced pantyhose styles designed for men to cater to this niche market.[16]


See also[edit]



  1. ^ Osborne, Robert (Host) (August 20, 1997). Private Screenings: Ann Miller (Television production). Turner Classic Movies. 
  2. ^ Gant, Margaret Elizabeth (1979). The Raven's Story. Glen Raven. ISBN 0-9603138-0-X. 
  3. ^ US 2826760, Ernest G. Rice, "Combination Stockings and Panty", issued March 18, 1958 
  4. ^ Tights, Inc. v. Acme-McCrary Corporation, 541 F.2d 1047 (4th Cir. 1976).
  5. ^ Christensen, C. Roland (1982). Business Policy: Text and Cases. R.D. Irwin. p. 161. ISBN 0-256-02626-2. 
  6. ^ a b Petrecca, Laura (January 1, 2007). "Hope for sagging pantyhose sales?". USA Today. Archived from the original on November 2, 2012. "Pantyhose can feel like a tourniquet, and once a pair gets a snag, it usually has to be tossed. Going without discomfort costing from a few dollars to more than $40 a pair was a trend many women were happy to embrace." 
  7. ^ Wellington, Elizabeth (July 15, 2008). "Pantyhose, once a fashion must, is on its last legs". The Seattle Times. Archived from the original on October 18, 2012. Retrieved November 11, 2012. 
  8. ^ "Women's Hosiery — US — September 2002 - Introduction". 2002. Archived from the original on October 31, 2013. Retrieved June 6, 2010. 
  9. ^ "Common Urological Problems: Recurring Urinary Tract Infections". Stony Brook University. April 30, 2008. Archived from the original on February 8, 2013. Retrieved June 6, 2010. 
  10. ^ Nicolle, LE (Feb 2008). "Uncomplicated urinary tract infection in adults including uncomplicated pyelonephritis.". The Urologic clinics of North America 35 (1): 1–12, v. PMID 18061019. 
  11. ^ "Vaginal Yeast Infections". no date. Archived from the original on October 21, 2013. Retrieved June 6, 2010.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  12. ^ Sobel, JD (Jun 9, 2007). "Vulvovaginal candidosis.". Lancet 369 (9577): 1961–71. PMID 17560449. 
  13. ^ Armytage, Marcus (October 31, 2011). "Diary: Warwick racecourse stage remembrance day for gentleman George Mernagh". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on January 1, 2012. Retrieved October 31, 2013. "It is one of the curiosities of racing that, to a man, jockeys go out to ride wearing that most feminine of undergarments; ladies nylon tights." 
  14. ^ "Jellyfish — Bay Field Guide — Chesapeake Bay Program". no date. Archived from the original on August 14, 2013. Retrieved June 6, 2010.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  15. ^ "Jellyfish". no date. Archived from the original on May 14, 2013. Retrieved June 6, 2010.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  16. ^ Helliker, Kevin (February 19, 2002). "Kingsize, Not Queen: Some Men Have Taken To Wearing Pantyhose". The Wall Street Journal. 

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