Saturday 19 April 2014

Hose or stockings – what’s in a word?

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey 1546
Someone asked me the difference between hose and stockings. Ask me a simple question why don’t you? There are two problems here. The first is that English English and American English start to part company in the seventeenth century, just at the time when in England the term hose is changing, becoming old fashioned and dropping out of use. 

I remember being surprised by a song in the seventies which had a line in the chorus, “May your wife be plagued with ladders in her hose.” In England we had stockings, which you wore with suspenders, and tights which were in one piece. Then someone told me that in America tights are panty hose.
Back to the early modern period. Hose is the older word coming from the Anglo Saxon hosa, and appearing also in the other Germanic languages. In the middle ages hose was something that covered the whole leg and did not necessarily include the foot. It usually came as a pair but, because they came as separate legs not joined, they could be single, “The firste man that he mette with an hose on that one foot & none on that other.” (Caxton’s translation of Raoul Lefevre, The History of Jason, 1477).  By the end of the middle ages they are joined, as in the surviving Kloster Alpirsbach hose which date from c1490-c1530, a detail of the top part can be seen here

Here we come to the second problem. By the time we get into the sixteenth century the use of the word is evolving. As Maria Hayward (2007) says “it does not appear to have been used in a consistent manner.”  Looking at Hayward’s analysis of Henry’s wardrobe accounts the term hose is used almost exclusively at the beginning of his reign (1510-17) by the end of his reign (1538-45) you still have a lot of hose, but you also have a considerable number of base stocks, netherstocks and pairs of stocks. These stocks may be your stockings, indicating the move from hose that cover the whole leg, to hose that only cover the top part of the leg, and eventually become referred to as breeches, with stocks, netherstocks, stockings or socks covering the lower part of the leg.
The way this works can be seen in this description from 1536 which refers to a pair of hose, but the upper section is obviously make separately from the lower. “Item for making a paire of hoose, upper stocked with carnacion coloured satten, cutte and embroidered with golde and also lined with fine white clothe, with two paire of nether stockis, the one paire skarlette, and the other paire blacke carsye.” (1536) Looking more like the separation that can be seen in the 1546 portrait of Henry Howard.

For women of course hose never covered the whole leg. For both men and women hose, certainly in the upper levels of society, were made by hosiers, not by tailors. George Lovekyn, who was tailor to Edward IV, Richard III and Henry VII, made doublets, jackets and gowns, but no hose. (Sutton, 1981) His immediate successor, who had been his apprentice, was Stephen Jasper, he also did not make hose. However there are many references in Henry VIII’s wardrobe accounts to William Hosier, who did make hose. Likewise the queens had their own hosiers; Thomas Humbertson for Elizabeth of York, Thomas Hardy for Anne Boleyn, Robert Hardy for Anne of Cleves and Catherine Parr. (Hayward, 2007)

Stocking is a much more recent word, the first usage in the Oxford English Dictionary is in Stubbes Anatomy of Abuses of 1583, but it comes from the word stock in its sense of meaning to cover, as in from 1530 “A yerd of black to stock my master's hose.” A half way house from stock to stocking appears to be stockis. The Privy Purse Accounts of Henry VIII have in 1530   “Every one of them ij payer of hosen and ij payer of stockis.” However stockis is sometimes used instead of hose so in 1535 we have “A paire of upper stockis of purple veluette,..also..a newe paire of nether stockis.” The upper stocks/stockis/hose are what become known as breeches, and the netherstocks, nether stockis, hose, are what become stockings. 

So the terms are not exactly interchangeable, but require context to know what is meant. As late as 1647 someone writes of “all that was in the pockets of their Holliday hose.” On the grounds that stockings don’t have pockets, they must mean breeches.

Should we have a quick chorus of “Bring me my yellow hose again,” or hose colour as an indicator of marital status. 

Hayward, M., 2007. Dress at the court of King Henry VIII. Leeds: Maney.
OED Oxford English Dictionary online.
Sutton, A. F., 1981. George Lovekyn, tailor to three kings of England, 1470-1504. Costume, pp. 1-12.

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