I’ve researched and written a lot about vintage nylon stockings over the years because the history of nylon stockings is quite fascinating to me. I’m sure most of you have heard about the scarcity of nylon during WWII — just months after the new invention hit store shelves on May 15, 1940. Even silk stockings, second choice to the preferred fit and feel of nylon, were in very short supply as silk was also used for the war effort and the war itself interfered with over-seas shipments.
The inability to get stockings fueled “Nylon Mania” and caused “Stocking Panic.” These terms are not flowery exaggerations. When shipments of stockings were announced, long lines and even mobs formed. It was so common place, jokes and cartoon strips about Nylon Mania abounded.
Women (and stocking-loving males) everywhere in the country were saying they’d kill for a pair of stockings; whether or not any of them actually did isn’t out of the realm of possibility… People weren’t always content to wait for stockings to arrive in stores, then form and wait in long lines to buy them. They formed mobs, sometimes attacking other shoppers; stockings (which retailed for about a dollar) sold for as much as $20 (that’s a month’s worth of payday loans back then) on the black market, which only incentivised robberies and other crimes. So commonplace was this mania, so connected to criminal activity, that in Chicago, police investigating a murder case used “Nylon Mania” to rule out robbery as motive simply because six pairs of nylon stockings ($120 worth of valuable property) had been left at the scene of the crime.
This is why you often hear jokes about guys getting “in” with a girl by bringing her stockings; like chocolates & cigarettes, stockings were such a luxury that they might buy you things that money might not!
Some of you may have been told by a relative, or otherwise heard about, how women during World War II had no stockings and so they ‘penciled in’ seams, using eyeliner or eyebrow pencil to draw lines up the backs of their legs to create the look of stockings. Here, 1942 Hollywood starlet Kay Bensel applied her faux stocking seams with a device “made from a screw driver handle, bicycle leg-clip, and an ordinary eyebrow pencil.”
But apparently this was not the only cosmetic approach to hiding one’s bare legs with Victory Hose. In a copy of The Professional Beautician (June, 1942), I found an ad which surprised me (I may surprise many of you with my finds, but many things continue to surprise me too!); an ad for beauty shop owners to stock Curley Colortone Cosmetic Stockings:
The vintage wholesale advertisement for professionals promises that each unit of Curley Colortone Cosmetic Stockings includes a jar of Colortone (in all popular shades) and a jar of Curley Foundation Creme (to give complete perfection) and clearly shows that salon product was also available. While not the graphic feast for public promotion this 1943 ad for Gaby Nu-Natural leg make-up is, I do have the Curley Colortone ad to thank for informing me about such vintage beauty products.
But don’t get too excited thinking these products were simply a matter of the war (or get overly upset thinking that companies dared to capitalize off of the war) because the January 1938 issue of Popular Science boasted “Cream Replaces Silk Stockings,” a new cosmetic “boon to the outdoor girl,” (who I suppose didn’t want to damage silk stockings with snags on twigs and other outdoorsy things). And in fact, the Smithsonian, showing us Leg Silque Liquid Stockings by the Langlors Company, says that such leg makeup had been available since the 1920s — but “it wasn’t until rationing was introduced during the World War II that the product became an essential commodity for many American women.” Heck, by then even Hollywood was impacted; unable to get stockings for the gams of their actresses and starlets, Hollywood created its own makeup stocking substitute.
This all brings us to another WWII joke:
Q: What’s a wife more afraid of finding on her man than lipstick on his collar?
A: Leg paint on his back.