It’s May 15th and we are excited to announce that it is National Nylon Stocking Day! Yes, it’s a real holiday and there’s a very interesting story behind it, involving things like war, leg makeup, gravy, and riots. On this day in fashion history in 1940 DuPont began selling nylon stockings to the public and they were an immediate success. Women loved them so much that when four million pairs hit departments stores at around $1 per pair, they sold out within four days. No other product has had such immediate and wide spread acceptance in history. The new nylon stockings had more stretch, were more durable, and easier to clean than the silk version women had been wearing. The course of true love however, never did run smoothly.
A little more back story first. Women had to keep their legs covered to be ‘decent’ in public and the hemlines of the 1920’s were rather short for the time. Silk was a major import to the US in the 1920’s and 30’s. Nylon changed all this when it was invented in 1939. Legend has it that the name “nylon” originated from “nuron” which came from “no run” spelled backwards. The original back-seamed nylon stockings were fully-fashioned. A fully-fashioned stocking is leg-shaped, allowing for a better fit across the curves of a leg when the fabric has no spandex. These were held up with a garter belt too. Today’s knee highs and thigh highs contain spandex, so they are tube shapes and do not have to have the seam up the back. They often have silicone printed inside the top band to help them stay up, garter-free. The back seams of modern day hosiery are for the vintage fashion look only. (It’s also helpful to know that full pantyhose, underpants and stocking all in one garment, were not invented until 1959.)
The United States entered World War II after Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941. Nylon was strictly rationed because it was used to make things like parachutes, cords, ropes, fuel tanks, netting and more. That meant nylon stocking production was put on hold. Some patriotic women even donated their stockings to the war effort to be recycled. Women were told to mend and make do at this time. However, sheer nylon stockings do not mend easily when they get a run, and stocking with runs should not be worn in public either. Women first raided their kitchens and used things like gravy, cocoa, and tea to paint or stain their legs to make it look like they had stockings on. Make-up companies then invented leg make-up or ‘liquid stockings’ as they were called. Eyeliner was used to draw a back seam up the back of the leg. Salons began offering leg painting services and things like leg makeup bars popped up in department stores. The stocking shortage did help increase the popularity of pants. These were happily worn by younger women working land and factory jobs.
Fast forward to 1945. After the war was over, nylon fiber usage was redirected back into stockings. Dupont forecasted that they would make 360 million pairs of stockings in the next year, but grossly underestimated. When one department store in Pittsburg announced they had 13,000 pairs of nylon stockings to sell, 40,000 women showed up, waiting in mile long lines to get their hands on just one pair. Fights broke out and nylon riots ensued. This particular sale was one of the worst disturbances that occurred. There were also line ups of 30,000 women in New York, department store displays and shelves destroyed, and a newspaper headline that read “Women Risk Life and Limb in Bitter Battle for Nylons”.
How to celebrate this holiday
Wear nylon tights, pantyhose, or ‘stockings’ and use #NylonStockingDay or #NationalNylonStockingDay to post your favorite pair on social media.