U 15.2817-18: Even their wax model Raymonde I visited
daily to admire her cobweb hose and stick of rhubarb toe, as worn in Paris.
Bloom remembers his
adolescent daydream of being a ladies’ shoefitter in Manfield and Son on
Grafton Street. He admired the Parisian “cobweb hose” on their wax model
Cobweb hosiery did not, as we might have expected,
imply stockings decorated with a cobweb motif, or made in a wide, loose-knit
The noun “cobweb” had been applied to
“light, finely-woven or gauze-like material” (OED) since the early seventeenth century. The association is with
the light, sheer texture of cobweb:
What idle giddy-headed braines are under
those large and fine cob-web-veiles.
James Mabbe's translation
of Fernando de Rojas'
Act 1 p. 7
Thomas Carlyle fantasises about “cobweb
hose” in 1829:
This French virtuoso had found
that cobwebs were worth something, could even be woven into silk
stockings: whereupon, he exhibits a very handsome pair of
to the Academy, [and] is encouraged to proceed with
vol. 3 No. 5 p. 124
and the Nottingham Journal of 1846 compares
English “cobweb hose” with the delicate silk stockings of the Chinese:
The cobweb hose made in England are the scorn
of the Chinese, who knit silk hose of hard-spun silk, weighting from six to
eight ounces per pair, many of which will wear five years.
(1846), 5 September, p. 2
the early years of the twentieth century “cobweb hose” was being advertised in
the American and other newspapers. The sheer stockings were associated with the
Paris fashions, as Joyce intimates. His advertising phrase “as worn in Paris” is lifted
from the papers of the day:
D. Kellett has returned from London with a
great selection of the New Modes for Summer. These include the now very
fashionable Kimonas and Visites
and leading centres of Fashion.
15 May p. 3
Gold thread stocking… Stockings made entirely
of gold tissue,
as worn in Paris
would cost about £2 10s.
(1912), 15 August p. 5
might expect the French fashion papers to use the regular French term for
“cobweb” (toile d'araignée), but Monsieur
Bloch, of the New York firm of S. E. Bloch and Brother, importers, tells the
trade paper New Yorker
[N]ous voulons parler
du fin tissu ressemblant à une toile d'araignée, et qu'on désigne en France
sous le nom de «craquelé»
et en Amérique sous celui
Cited in: Moniteur des Soies
March p. 5
the days before nylon, everyday stockings (as opposed to silk stockings) were
often made of lisle cotton (originally manufactured in Lille, France). The
thinnest lisle stockings, as well as silk stockings, were typically referred to
by the trade as “cobweb hose”:
Lord & Taylor,
Broadway and 20th Street…
lisle thread. These are the
now so much in vogue.
(New York) (1903), 9 August p. 7
Imported Hosiery… 35c. for 50c. hosiery –
women’s very sheer plain black
Sampson Crawford Co Daily-Bulletin
(1905), 3 April p. 1
O’Neill-Adams Co… 50c. Imported
, 35c… Finest grade
Imported cobweb weight lisle thread for woman.
New York Times
(1908), 16 March p. 3
everyone approved of these Parisian trends. The film star Mary Pickford thought
cobweb hose a step too far:
Cob-Web Hose and
Decollette Are Scored by “Little Mary”; She Says Too Many Reforms […] “Cobweb
silk hosiery, short dresses, high-heeled shoes and low-necked waists [i.e.
blouses] should not be worn on the streets. The shipping district [of San
Francisco] in the afternoon is a disgrace.”
(1921), 23 March p. 2
Others shared her view:
I will not wear that
For in my heart there
is a frown!
I do not like my
For I am scarcely
clad in those.
New York Times
July p. 24
the high-street fashion industry did not always listen to film stars, and the
latest French fashions – including the sheerest of cobweb stockings - continued
to pour into the international markets:
Saks & Company
[…] Bring Paris to the Feet of New York with 51-Gauge Cobweb Hose at 7.50. The
sheerest of them all. France – that country which so perfectly understands the
importance of smartly clad ankles – has offered these gossamer affairs which,
by special arrangement, Saks & Company were able to procure for the
New York Times
(1923), 15 May p. 5
never remain the same, and a cooling blast began to strike the cobweb industry
in the mid 1920s:
The fashions of cobweb hosiery, or, as in
Paris and on the continent, and in a limited sense in America, the absence of
any hosiery at all, can only be described as a sketchy likeness to the kind of
stockings our mothers and grandmothers used to wear.
(1925), 14 June p. S3
“stick of rhubarb toe” may be Joyce’s descriptive invention. Similar
expressions have not yet been uncovered. But his memory of sheer cobweb
stockings in Manfield’s fits precisely with the timeline for these products and
their associated vocabulary.
Sometimes translated in English as “crackled”.