Cloth coverings for the legs. Origin 1583, from Old English stocka> leg covering, stock; and stocu> sleeve; and stocc> log, trunk. The latter relation is probably due to the fanciful resemblence of legs to tree trunks. Related to hose (dated 1100, from German hosa), hosiery (dated 1780), and sock (Latin soccus dated 900). These are just a few terms for the dozens of leg covering types woven or knitted of cloth, silk, wool, and cotton to provide both warmth and modesty. The styles, lengths, materials, weaves, etc. would change over the centuries, usually in response to garment fashion. Interestingly, it is men who most advanced the hose! Unlike women up until some 100 years ago, a man’s leg was in full view and needed to be covered by something both moveable and fashionable. Leggings of all types were held up by lacings and belts, early loose-style trousers/breeches actually offshoots of the hose themselves. Developments in weaving implements, like pointed-needles, allowed for closer fit stockings.
A large stride forward was reached in 1589 when English clergyman William Lee invented the knitting machine. Now the true ‘tight’ stockings could be woven, the ability to form-fit to the entire lower body far better than previous. Think Shakespeare and those fashionable Elizabethan tights! For more detailed Hosiery History, click the link.
Garter is a band of (now) elasticized material or a suspender strap to hold a sock/stocking up. Origin 1300, French gartier> band above or below the knee. It was actually in 1820 that Englishman Thomas Hancock founded the British rubber industry and patented elastic fasteners for gloves, suspenders, stockings, and shoes. Prior to that marvelous invention, loose hose were kept up by different inventions and methods (straps, ties, or even folding over the tops of boots) including cloth garters tied over the upper edge. The need to prevent the various leg coverings from falling down is so basic and ancient that there is no historical notation of when a ‘garter’ was actually invented. Presumably clever, desperate folks would have utilized assorted materials to tie around the top edge of a stocking long before the item may have been given a specific name and design. Over time they became a fashionable item all their own, sewn with pretty lace, ribbons, and even small bells.
A couple interesting asides:
1) The practice of tossing the wedding garter is considered by most sources to be the oldest surviving wedding ritual. No one really knows for sure when the idea originated and the purposes of the custom varied. During the Dark Ages it was traditional for guests to accompany the bride and groom to their conjugal bed, the groom then throwing the garter out the door as an indication that he was attending to the necessary task of consummation! Other superstitions believed that keeping a part of the bride’s wedding garment brought good luck. It seems that willingly parting with a separate item was wiser that allowing remnants of her actual gown to be torn from her body! Yikes!
2) The British Most Noble Order of the Garter is the oldest and noblest order of knighthood in England, dating from 1348 and still the premiere honorable Order to this day. The history of this Order is steeped in legend and mystery, but the garter is the symbol, with the agreement that the intimate and supportive nature of a garter (remember, worn by men as well) was a key factor. The Order of the Garter is a fabulous, inclusive website for more reading.
The garter belt, that sexy item women loathe and adore at the same time, came about in the early 1920s as a way to make stocking wear simplier and more convenient. Slipping a narrow (and pretty) belt on was far easier than a fully elastizied girdle/corsets, those rapidly going out of style in the age of the Flapper!
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