The costume and advertising collections are two of my favourites at the museum so you can imagine my excitement when I discovered an object in our off site store that combined both of my passions!
We believe that this wonderfully retro Plaza stocking display once belonged to the Craghead Co-op. We collected the contents of the Co-op 31 years ago, and as we are now emptying our off site store we are slowly finding all the interesting pieces that made the store come to life. Plaza was a popular stocking brand from the 1930s right through to the end of the 1950s. Plaza adverts featured in magazines such as Good Housekeeping (below and left, 1947,Image from kronstaat21.tumblr.com) and British Vogue (below and right, 1953, Image from vintagescans.com).
Its popularity must have waned though as it is no longer a hosiery company and there is very limited information out there. Do you remember the Plaza brand? Any information you have would be really fascinating and helpful.
Stockings have long been an integral part of ladies fashion. Black stockings were once even worn to go swimming! They haven’t always just been a garment worn by women there was a time when they were worn just as much by men. Men wore them with knee britches (a short trouser) the stockings finished just above the knee and were tied with a ribbon. As the fashion for longer britches developed, the male stocking slowly evolved into the sock, a much more socially accepted item of clothing for men in the 21st Century!
Up until the early 20th century stockings were made from either wool, silk or cotton. The changing style of the stocking has been determined by ladies fashions, skirt length being a significant factor. As skirt lengths began to shorten stockings became regarded less as an under garment and considered more as a fashion accessory.
Plaza stockings were sold in the 1930s 40s and 50s, at this time the stockings were described as fully fashioned. This simply means they were knitted flat and tailored to fit the ladies leg. They had a seam running up the back of the stocking. Unlike today however, this seam wasn’t merely decorative it was an integral part of the construction, holding the stocking together.
Plaza Stocking Holder from the Cragside Co-op
Fully fashioned stockings were made from a range of materials but at this time they were mostly made from silk or an artificial silk called Rayon. The introduction of synthetic materials such as nylon heralded a new beginning for stockings, and paved the way for the stockings and tights that we wear today.
Stocking Display at Fenwicks department store in Newcastle – 1950s.
Nylon stockings were first introduced to the British just as the Second World War began. Nylon and silk were both allocated to the war effort though and making parachutes rather than stockings became a priority. By 1941 clothes rationing came into effect and stockings became a sought after black market item! Would you have bought stockings illegally?
‘Make Do and Mend’ was the ethos, but due to the fragile nature of silk stockings and the regularity in which they were worn, a couple of pairs of stockings were not likely to last the entirety of the war. Women therefore had to be inventive, and inventive they certainly were!
As it was considered socially unacceptable to appear in public wearing a skirt without stockings, women began to use gravy browning to stain their legs and eye liner to mimic the seam of the stocking! This gave the illusion that they were wearing fully fashioned nylon or silk stockings. The illusion however was sadly laid bare as soon as it rained!
Image from glamourdaze.com
By the mid 1950s nylons were readily available to buy again, rationing was lifted and advertising was in full force. A new and exciting world of stockings was ready to be worn. This new world included the wonder that is the seam free stocking!
The stocking has undergone quite a journey, from underwear to fashion accessory; along the way charting social and political change. None of this however would have been possible without the invention of the knitting machine in the 1500s by a man named William Lee. Without this man we would not have had the iconic fashion garment that is the Fully Fashioned Stocking!