Truth(s) in Vintage Stocking Sizing, Part One

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So you love vintage stockings, & you cruise the auction listings ~ before you bid or buy, here's some info to make sure they'll fit.

Steve, of Stocking Showcase, gives us some tips:

Most of us have purchased or thought of purchasing vintage stockings. The one question that keeps us from placing that very first order is ‘Will they fit me?’. In my experience as owner of Stocking Showcase, a good number of first time buyers will buy a range of sizes in the hopes one or more may fit. I want to alleviate those jitters and put to rest some misconceptions about vintage stocking sizing that simply won’t die.

First, let’s talk about the various types of garter style stockings that were made beginning in 1945. We can remember two distinct styles from either memory or seeing in our favorite 50’s movie: Seamed and RHT.

The seamed, or “Full Fashioned” stocking has the famous ‘keyhole at the top and rear of the stocking with a seam traveling the length of the stocking. Many of us remember how difficult it was to keep that seam straight!

The RHT style is also called ‘reinforced heel and toe’ and has no seam. The darkened heel and toe areas provide the images that drives men crazy and has made them even more popular in today’s society. We will leave the reasons why for another interview.

There were also ‘knee high’ styles with the elastic banding around the top to support them without garters. There were no ‘full length’ vintage stockings made with elastic tops to hold them up; this was a later invention (post pantyhose era). A simple way to tell if it was vintage or modern: if it has silicone, it wasn’t vintage.

Vintage stockings (post WWII) were woven from 100% nylon. Woven on the original Reading Knitting Machine, the earliest styles were woven in what we call a ‘flat knit’ (or plain knit) weave. The legs had a soft-as-silk feel to them and the characteristic shine when worn on the leg. In the 1960’s (miniskirts and acid rock... remember?), the mesh (or non run) weave was introduced. These have a matte appearance. Previous to these, there were a very small quantity of ‘stretch’ vintage stockings in production. These have fallen out of favor and we won’t discuss these when discussing measurements.

Before we jump into sizing methods, I would like to take one more trip down memory lane. The year in 1945. Envision what the typical female wore in that day. Let’s take this one step further: what did every female wear on her legs in that day? And here is the clincher: was it optional? (sorry, dress down Fridays is a totally modern concept!). No! Let’s think about this. Every gal from 18 to 80, in every city, in every town (and yes, on every Sunday!) HAD to wear nylons!! What did the manufacturer’s of nylon stockings do? They did what they had to do... they cranked out millions and millions of pairs. We all know the nylons were delicate and unless you were careful, you could only expect a few wearings from one pair.

This spawned a ‘gold rush’ of sorts for mills to open and compete in the marketplace. My point in mentioning this piece of history is that the number of mills was staggering! We know from the inventory they passed on to us, that, during the peak production years, the name brands of stockings numbered easily in the hundreds. In my opinion, this also created a faction in who created a high quality and a lesser quality product. It is not inconceivable that many mills had not adhered to a universal method of sizing and labeling their product in these early production runs.

As time passed, a consolidation phase occurred. The suppliers of the nylon fiber for the mills had dwindled. Fewer manufacturers, fewer mills, more rigorous controls in place with the remaining brands. The point here is, to say that there were ‘no standards’ in sizing is really stretching the truth. ‘SOME variations probably did exist.

Sizing:

When you say “What size should I be wearing”, I ask the basic first question: “What shoe size are you?"

The authentic vintage stocking will have virtually no stretch to it. If you try to force ‘too large’ a foot into the stocking, it will break apart and most likely ladder and be ruined. If you try to match your foot to a much larger stocking (foot), you will be ‘swimming’ in it! The ankle will have those wrinkles and the nylon will not fit the proportions of the leg and foot properly. True ‘full fashioned’ stockings have that characteristic ‘curvy’ outline at the calf (as well as the flared upper leg) that has been heat treated to ‘take on’ the proportions of the average leg for a truer fit.

The correct way begins like this:

1. Relate your shoe size to a stocking size with a “sizing chart”. For example, a size 8 shoe will indicate a size 10 stocking. Most sizing tables will break down the shoe into narrow or wide widths. A wider shoe means going one-half size larger in stocking size. Keep in mind, these tables are only ‘guesses’ as to what ‘should’ fit. The final determination is how they look and feel on you.

2. Determine the stocking length. Although not included in the sizing table, if you are taller than usual, try a size ‘Long’ or ‘Extra Long’ length stocking for a better look and fit. The opposite is true if you are shorter; try a size ‘Short’.

IT’S IN THE NAME:

We have an extensive inventory of vintage stockings at Stocking Showcase. After each purchase, we go through a thorough inspecting and grading system of every pair. I sort out any stockings with defects and remove them from the good inventory. I measure and record sizes of most of the remaining inventory. In the past few years, I have personally measured between 10,000 and 20,000 pairs of every name brand and style stocking. Why? Here are a few secrets I will share with you.

Name brand DOES make a big difference. The top name brands were ALWAYS consistent in the dimensions (ie sizing) and hardly ever varied. A few name brands NEVER varied (Hanes for example). The more I measured, the more I learned. Many products were good quality but somehow were in the wrong box. (A size 11 stocking in a box that read ‘size 9’). Many products were simply ‘repackaged’. The generic cello packages contained wrong size nylons, some had three legs, many had one leg longer than the other and so on. A person who re-packaged these ‘lower cost’ nylons never took the time to verify what size was going into the package or was simply was bored or underpaid (you get the idea). I never trust the contents of most generic cello packages. This experience yielded a wealth of information.

Which brings us to the point of all this: “How to measure a vintage stocking”.

MEASURING:

I keep on seeing the phrase: “I measured the foot and it was 10 inches, so these must be a size 10 stocking” WRONG! Let’s put this mistake to bed once and for all.

By placing one stocking leg on a flat surface and pulling it ‘taught’, two precise measurements are made: one from the ‘toe-to-heel’ and ‘bottom-of-heel-to-top-of-welt’.

Keep in mind I said ‘taught’ not ‘stretched’. We only want to put enough tension on the nylon to remove wrinkles and folds and extend the fibers from their ‘relaxed’ mode. It is also helpful to have a table with the dimensions in inches taped down. If you try it with a tape measure, you need four hands! Keep in mind, we are measuring UNWORN vintage stockings.

What about the foot measurements? Normally, the foot is measured FIRST, then the length. The true stocking size is ALWAYS determined by the foot measurement.

A measurement is made from the ‘tip of the toe’ to ‘end of the heel’ (the ‘heel’ being that dark reinforcement at the heel of the stocking). The correct way (industry standard) is from ‘tip-of-toe-to-mid heel’. However, most people simply measure the total length (to ‘end of heel’) and I will use this way of measuring for simplicity.

In general, if the ‘tip-of-toe to end-of-heel’ is 10 ¾ inches, it is a size 10 stocking. Why? Because the measurement to the ‘mid heel’ works out to be 10 inches (ie size 10 stocking). So what I am saying is to subtract from ½ to ¾ an inch from the measurement to obtain the true stocking size.

In smaller sizes (8 ½, 9 and 9 ½) the difference is mostly one half inch (size 9 stocking will measure 9 ½ inches). For larger stockings (it is a larger heel reinforcement), so the difference is ¾ inches (size 10 ½ is 11 ¼ inches, size 11 is 11 ¾ inches and so on).

One last word on brand names. There is one manufacturer, Araline by Alberts, whose nylons consistently measure an extra half inch in the foot and a full inch longer in length! I can sympathize with their motives: the stocking tends to fit better, have less stress in the foot (less runs) and runs longer which usually looks better. I mention this fact in the honest and accurate descriptions of the products on our website.

After years of measuring and thousands of pairs later, here are vintage stocking sizing tables I formulated.

(99% of vintage stockings will measure up this way.)

Someone once said “Knowledge is power”. Well, you now have “THE POWER” to measure vintage stockings!

© Steve

Vintage and Modern Stockings, Pantyhose and Garter Belts

 

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