Friday, October 23, 2009

HOSE ME DOWN! A Stocking History - Part I

Men’s socks were originally made of two pieces of woven wool cut on the bias for flexibility.

Initially separate legs held up by garters, they began to be seamed up the center-back and became known as “hose” (or “hosen”): close-fitting leggings made of cloth worn by both men and women.

Up to the 15th century, women's hose came only to the knee, but men's extended to the thigh, or even waist, as you will read later in this series of blogs. Women's hose tended to be hidden by their clothing because upper class women didn’t allow their undergarments to be painted in the 1500’s, so most painting references we have of that period are of the working class.

By the 16th century, EVERYBODY wore hose except the poorest of the poor, who are depicted in paintings wearing rags around their feet or are even barefoot. 

It is chronicled in a British journal called “Wriothesley’s” that when Henry VIII’s marriage to Jane became public, he met 2 beautiful sisters who made him sigh and say he was "sorry that he had not seen them before he was married".

 One of the sisters was Anne Basset, who became lady-in-waiting to Henry’s wife Jane (and rumored to later become one of the King’s many mistresses). 

In 1536, Anne wrote to her mother Lady Honor Lisle "Madame, I would beseech you to send me …some pairs of hosen, and a little money for my devotions."

 Her mother replies: "I send you by the bearer money… hose-cloths, because the hosier here knoweth not the bigness of your leg." 

 Men’s hose, of course, were completely visible and were either tied to a doublet (a snug-fitting buttoned jacket) or to the points of white linen underpants (called “braies”) shaped like long, baggy diapers that over time became shorter.  

Early braies had a high waist that was rolled down over a drawstring waist. Hose were secured to the braies by points, which were cords or ties with metal tips which often attached to a belt within the braies (see illustration at right)

Before the 16th  century, the word “breeches” applied to both outer garments AND undergarments but by the late 16th century, hose separated into 2 garments: men’s stockings covering the lower half of the leg were called "netherstocks" or “nether hose” and what we now think of as pants became "upperstocks", known now as breeches or trunk hose (very short breeches just covering the trunk of the body with full-length hose was worn beneath them).

Below: Truck hose and doublet 

In 1564, Englishman William Rider accidentally saw a pair of knitted worsted (yarn spun from wool, combed to lay the fibers smooth & parallel) imported stockings at the home of an Italian merchant from Mantua. He borrowed them, copied them and presented the Earl of Pembroke the first worsted stockings ever made in England.

 The word “worsted” is said to be derived from the village of WORSTEAD in the English countryside of Norfolk, where Flemish weavers migrated to since the Conquest. Though worsted knit stockings were actually "invented" in Scotland in the 15th century, the art then moved to the continent before being “re-discovered” in England.

By the time Elizabeth I took the throne in 1558,  knitting by hand had become a widespread craft practiced by all social classes in England and cloth stockings disappeared as thousands of young women all over Europe took up spinning worsted yarn and knitting stockings. 

By the late 16th century, rather than made out of cloth, most hose were knit by hand in linen, cotton or wool.

 Around 1560, Queen Elizabeth’s “silk lady” Mistress Montegue presented her with black silk knit stockings and thus began the Queen’s known love of knitted silk stockings. Elizabeth wore white woven stockings underneath her silk ones to protect them from wear and perspiration.

The following conversation was recorded in Stowe’s Chronicle when the Queen asked where the gift of silk hose came from: 

Mistress Montague answered I made them very carefully of purpose only for your Majesty, and seeing these please you so well, I will presently get more in hand."

 "Do so," said the Queen, "for indeed I like silk stockings so well, because they are pleasant, fine and delicate, that henceforth I will wear no more cloth stockings." 

 Queen Elizabeth liked hose of sarsenet, a thin silk, and in her archived  records is a purchase from 1597 that reads "… seaven payre of newe silke hose of diverse colours".

 Men’s silk stockings were also popular and much more expensive than their wool counterparts.

Among the records for the Earl of Leicester is a purchase of  “ one pair of knit hose for your lordship: 53 shillings, 4 pence.”, as opposed to the much cheaper wool knit pair he ordered that cost  “Item, for 2 pair of knit hose for your lordship: 4 shillings, 8 pence.”

copyright © 2009 by helen uffner

TO BE CONTINUED.............


Elizabeth Willse said...

What an interesting view into fashion history! Great writing!

Breeches said...

Traditionally styled, zipper at closure, belt loops, French Fly Front and two front pockets. We top stitch the side seams, reinforce stress points and finish every seam perfectly.