Whether it’s the leg-lengthening look you love or their retro vibe, there’s no denying that they’re a hosiery classic. The original sheer hosiery style, no less.
Sheer stockings became popular in the 1920s, but it wasn’t until the 40's that seamless options were also offered, and it would be two decades more before seam-free finally replaced seamed as the public’s favourite.
But even today, seamed hosiery holds a strong appeal. Visually, it’s just more interesting. From elegant heel detailing to backseams that can be sewn in a contrasting colour, even a basic pair is never plain.
However, not all seamed hosiery is the same. Some of those variations are purely aesthetic, while others involve differences in actual construction. For those who are new to seamed hosiery, here’s a guide to the different seam and heel types you’ll come across:
The original seamed stockings were knitted flat and then sewn together up the back, hence creating the ‘backseam’. These are known as fully-fashioned stockings, and a small number of brands still manufacture their stockings this way today. They’re recognisable from the ‘finishing loop’ near the top, a necessary design feature of stockings sewn this way. You can learn more about fully-fashioned stockings here.
It’s much more common nowadays to find seamed hosiery that has a non-functional seam, i.e. one that’s not actually holding the garment together. Instead, it’s sewn or printed onto circular-knit (seamless) stockings just for aesthetics. It’s a much cheaper method of making seamed stockings, hence the final product tends to be more affordable.
Mock seams mean you can have a seam without any ankle detailing, if you prefer. They also allow people who prefer to wear tights or hold-ups to still get a seamed look, and they give stocking-wearers the option of wearing stretch hosiery (since fully-fashioned stockings are all non-stretch).
Traditionally, hosiery has been knitted with a reinforced section below the foot and at the heel, where the fabric would wear down the quickest. Manufacturers experimented with different ways of transitioning from this area to the sheerer leg, which all became fashion statements in their own right.
When sheer, seamed stockings first took off, Cuban heels were the most common. The heel follows a narrow, straight-ish line that ends bluntly, creating a tall rectangle shape.
Havana heels are similar to Cuban, except wider. Think of Cuban heels as the subtle and elegant option, and Havana heels as the bolder, more striking one.
Point heels, of course, taper off into a point. They’re also often called French heels. Whether that’s because this style was especially popular with Parisian socialites or because the shape resembles the Eiffel tower, I don’t know!
For those after something a bit more decorative, the Manhattan heel has a tall rectangle topped with a little point, and is outlined to really draw attention to the shape. Also known as an Empire heel, it’s so named because it resembles the art deco Empire State building and other parts of Manhattan’s skyline.
Other heel styles
Naturally, in the 1950s when seamed stockings were an essential wardrobe item, people had a much greater choice. If you research vintage stocking heels, you’ll uncover some truly beautiful, intricate designs such as butterflies and flowers that sadly just aren’t manufactured as fully-fashioned stockings anymore. However, some modern hosiery designs have just-for-fashion heel decorations that can be quite detailed.
RHTs or reinforced heel and toe stockings are, as the name suggests, woven more densely at the heel and toe. This contrasts with fully-fashioned stockings which are reinforced all the way along the sole of the foot.
They’re often seamless and the reinforced ‘heel’ on these stockings is just that – the actual heel area, not something that continues up the back of the leg above the shoe line. So this hosiery style offers you added durability where you need it most, but with a simpler, more minimalist look overall.
What are your favourite stocking heels? And do you prefer modern mock seams or authentic fully-fashioned?
by Estelle Puleston
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