For American women in World War II, a shortage of stockings was a minor inconvenience, but it affected daily life. Before the war, no
well-dressed woman was seen in public without hose, and silk stockings were a
necessary part of every woman’s wardrobe.
IntroducedNylon was invented by DuPont in 1938, and
nylon stockings were demonstrated at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. When they
came on the market nationwide on May 15, 1940, over 750,000 pairs were sold on the first
day. They sold for $1.25 a pair, the same price as silk, but their shrink-proof,
moth-proof nature made them very popular.
Japan was the sole
supplier of silk to the US, and deteriorating trade relations in 1941 cut off
the supply. Silk was used for parachutes and was the best material for powder
bags for naval guns. When the guns were fired, the silk completely disintegrated
without leaving any damaging residue. To protect this precious resource, the
Office of Production Management (OPM) seized the nation’s supply of raw silk on
August 2, 1941. This set off such a shopping frenzy for silk stockings that most
retailers set a purchase limit of two or three pairs. The price of nylon
stockings subsequently rose to $10 a pair or more.
also needed for parachutes, and was produced from chemicals vital to the war effort. In addition, nylon was used to make rope stronger and to supplement
rubber (which was also short) in tire production. As a result, the War
Production Board (formerly the OPM) commandeered DuPont’s stock of nylon on
February 11, 1942. From then on, DuPont’s production of nylon went to war
Used stockings were also valuable. Used silk
stockings were made into powder bags for the Navy, and used nylon stockings were
melted down and re-spun into nylon thread for parachute production.
On November 15, 1942, the War Production Board launched an official collection program for silk and nylon hosiery. When stockings developed holes or runs, women were encouraged to turn them in at
the hosiery department of their local store.
Women treated their
remaining stockings with great care, often reserving them for special occasions.
Rayon or cotton stockings were worn, but not fondly, as they tended to sag
around the knees. The rising popularity of slacks helped, but most women
resorted to bare legs, sometimes with ankle socks for more casual wear. To
simulate the look of nylons, some women used leg makeup from cosmetics companies such
as Max Factor. These “liquid stockings” were reported to last up to three days
if the woman didn’t bathe. If possible, a “seam” was painted down the back of
the leg with an eyebrow pencil by a friend or family member. This leg makeup was
endangered when a lady crossed her legs or when it rained.
Labels: nylons, stocking shortage, stockings, World War II