Nylon made its debut in hosiery in 1940 after Dr. Wallace Carothers developed the synthetic fiber while working at DuPont. Prior to this development, stockings were made of silk and required delicate care to keep them from running. They were also quite expensive. The promise of a durable stocking was exciting and women queued up in long lines to buy them. As World War II began, DuPont shifted nylon production into other uses like parachutes and tires, making nylon stockings even more precious. The term "nylons" became synonymous with "stockings" which then gave way to "pantyhose". The wearing of pantyhose declined beginning in the 1980s as bare legs and casual dress codes rose in popularity. Tights became a popular fashion choice in cooler months and are, for the most part, still made from nylon. Nylon has certainly improved quality of life as a material for mosquito netting, sutures, and rope; but it also has many drawbacks.
Hosiery (tights, panyhose, stockings, whatever you call them) is one of those things I can't really buy secondhand, along with lingerie and swimwear. But the materials used to make them are troubling and good options are not entirely easy to find. Most tights and pantyhose are made from upwards of 90 percent nylon. As a synthetic fiber made from petrochemicals, nylon is chemical and energy intensive to create, and its man made structure requires harmful dying techniques. Additionally, new research is revealing that large amounts of synthetic microfibers are ending up in our oceans. While it is long lasting and recyclable, most brands are not using recycled materials and are thus creating new nylon from petroleum which will never biodegrade. The brand No Nonsense does have a mail-in recycling program which, according to them, turns your old stockings into running tracks, park benches, and toys. Their goal is to reclaim five percent of the pantyhose they sell, though they accept all brands. It's something, but they are still creating new nylon and I'd like to start with a better material choices from the beginning.
Even if we begin with a natural fiber, like wool or cotton, there are still details to consider. Is it organic cotton? How are the sheep treated? If merino wool, are the sheep being subjected to mulesing? And most tights, even if they are made from wool or cotton, still contain small amounts of nylon or elastane/spandex, without which it would be difficult to keep them up. Some brands tout their use of bamboo as an eco-textile (actually, it's not). All of these considerations make it particularly difficult to find good options. My first recommendation would be to look at the makeup of materials. Not only is nylon harmful to the environment, but it doesn't breathe which makes you sweat and can promote the growth of bacteria. While most tights will contain a small amount of nylon or elastane, a high percentage of natural fibers is more breathable and hygienic. I would also recommend buying a thick and quality pair, so that they will last as long as possible. Be sure and hand wash your tights to keep them in good condition.
Below are some cotton and wool options from sustainable brands. I've done a lot of research and believe these to be better in terms of fiber choice and labor conditions. Not perfect, but better.
Click to be taken to the product.
The following list will take you to the websites and more general sections of tights and leggings.
- Fashion-conscience.com has some colorful options which are made in Germany from 93 percent organic cotton.
- PACT is a great go-to for all underthings, including tights. They carry both organic cotton and recycled nylon in several color options.
- Maggie's Organics stocks lightweight and warm tights made from organic cotton. They come in a few colors and up to size XXL. Maggie's is a great company that supports fair trade, worker cooperatives, and environmental sustainability.
- Rawganique carries Certified Organic Tights made by a family-owned and operated cooperative in Peru.
- JoSa Naturally carries organic cotton and new wool tights made in Germany.
- Faeries Dance carries a pair of GOTS certified organic cotton tights made under fair conditions.
- The UK's Ethical Superstore carries a pair of organic cotton tights (available for delivery only in the UK).
- UK site Greenfibres has organic cotton tights, including a warmer version for winter.
If you know of any other good tights, let me know in the comments!
This post contains affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you buy anything through the link (it doesn't change the amount you pay). I only include brands that I believe in, that I would use myself, or think might be of interest to you.
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