Denison women had a leg up on hosiery in early 1900s


I know that most women today rarely wear some form of hosiery on their legs, but there was a time that no self-respecting female would be seen outside her house without her nylons on.

There was a day when Denison women had a leg up (pardon the pun) on buying her stockings since the Gate City Hosiery Mill was established in Denison around 1900. The Mill that was a branch of the Gate City Hosiery Mills of Atlanta, Ga., was built of red sandstone and was located at the northwest corner of West Owings Street and South Chandler Avenue.

There is no doubt that the fairer sex was happy when fibers used in hosiery changed from woolen to cotton during the late 1800s. While the Denison Mill probably came in with the 20th century, it didn’t last long here. The 1907 Denison City Directory does not list the mill and it is believed to have gone out of business.

However, Nicholas Marsico’s Denison Mattress Factory was located at 1001-1017 West Owings. That could have been the same location.

Frank Robinson wrote in his book, “Industrial Denison,” that the Gate City Hosiery Company was the first knitting mill built in the state in early 1900. He said when he had been in business for only a few months, the mill’s daily output of 300 dozen hose was already sold for a year in advance.

The 1901 Denison City Directory lists the business as follows: “Gate City Hosiery Mills. W.A. Tibbs, president; C.A. DePuy, vice president; Hiram Brooks, treasurer; and Frank J. DePuy, secretary. Manufacturers of cotton hosiery. Office and mill at NW corner of West Owings Street and South Chandler Avenue.”

Before the 1920s, women’s stockings (the name women preferred to call their nylon hosiery, if worn), were for warmth. During those years, women’s dress hemlines rose from ankle length to mid calf, exposing more of women’s legs. In about 1939, DuPont Chemical Co. introduced nylon hosiery and women went wild for them.

During the late 1940s my dad owned a drug store in Denison, and I worked there during my high school days. When he could get them, he would stock nylon hose in the store. These generally were the type that required a garter belt. They had a reinforced heel and toe and a seam up the back. Keeping that seam straight while they were being worn was a full-time job. When he got a shipment, they disappeared almost overnight.

It is printed that in the United States up to 4 million pair was purchased in one day. They were cheap, durable except for the pesky “runs” when they were snagged, and sheer compared to the cotton and silk hosiery.

Then World War II came along in 1941 and first silk, then nylon were commandeered by the federal government, specifically the War Production Board, to supply defense needs. Almost overnight stockings made of any material became hard to find and nylon became important to the war effort because it was used to make airplane parachutes, airplane cords and nylon rope causing a mass shortage of nylon for hosiery. At the end of the war, DuPont returned to making nylon stockings.

As much as women disliked the seam in their shear stockings, they loved the black ones with designs woven into them. None of these stockings stayed in place by themselves though. A garter belt or suspender belt was one common way that was worn around the waist like a belt with suspenders that clipped to the top of the stockings to hold them in place. Garters were the least common means of support. They slipped over the top of the stockings to hold them clamped to the leg and were downright uncomfortable. If you did much walking, they tended to slip down. The only thing that garters were, and still are, good for is for being thrown by the bridegroom to his groomsmen at weddings or for holding long sleeves of shirts up to keep them out of the way while working.

In about 1987 along came a new invention, the pantyhose. Sales were slow to catch on, but in a few years they became the preferred type of stocking. Pantyhose did away with garter belts and garters, which gave a smoother line under form-fitting clothes and, if they fit correctly, were much more comfortable.

Thank goodness women today don’t have to wear woolen stockings, or even cotton ones, unless they want to. Nylon pantyhose are generally preferred to the ones that had to have supports to stay up. Even knee-highs and thigh-highs are available, but it seems to me that the majority of the women prefer to go without stockings at all unless it is for some really special occasion.

We may not have been involved in the nylon business here in Denison, but it’s pretty certain that the cotton variety manufactured here was a popular item in its day.

Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at d.hunt_903@yahoo.com.