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Nylon Stocking Day (May 15, 1940)

Now a standard piece of the woman’s business world, nylons (or pantyhose, or tights) were at one time a new and revolutionary invention that twitterpated the United States. Gone were the days of silk, cotton, and wool stockings—the standards for nearly 400 years. In their stead were the days of a new material—nylon—and all the clear nail polish to go with it!

When I was a little girl, I dreamed for the day when I could be like my big sister and don nylons for school. After I wore my first pair, I realized very quickly, they were not really my thing. By the time I was a senior in high school, I was convinced that the person who invented nylons was a demon-possessed man from the days of medieval torture.

I was, in fact, only partially correct. The inventor was a man, but not from the medieval days of torture. In fact, nylon was only invented in the early part of the 20th century. Julian Hill along with Wallace Carothers discovered that if one “pulled a heated rod from a mixture of coal tar, water, and alcohol, a strong, sheer filament formed that was silk like in appearance.”1

That discovery in 1935, laid the foundations for more research and in 1939, DuPont introduced nylon at the World’s Fair in New York. On May 15, 1940, the first nylon stockings appeared in stores in New York. On the first day, 780,000 pair were sold. Why so many? Women’s liberation, of course. It was now socially acceptable for women to show their legs and the new, sheer fabric was the perfect stocking to go with the shorter skirts.

At that time, they were still stockings—not pantyhose. In other words, they started at the feet and went about 2/3 of the way up the leg and were held in place by a garter belt. Since nylon did not stretch, the stockings were crafted to fit the leg. They came in a plethora of sizes and two styles: “full fashioned,” the kind with the seam, and “seamless.” When the US entered World War II, all nylon production went toward the war effort and the stockings became difficult to obtain. Just what was the nylon needed for in the war? Not stockings, that’s for sure! The nylon went towards manufacturing parachutes, tires, and other commonly needed products.2

Thankfully, in 1959, DuPont (who held the patent for nylon) invented another innovative material called Lycra©. By adding that material to nylon, they found they could stretch the stockings up to seven times their length without breaking. With the advent of the mini skirt in the 60’s, women needed something a bit more stylish than the stockings. Thus, the hosiery manufacturers developed tights or pantyhose. Eventually, they ceased manufacturing the hosiery flat (with the seam) and began manufacturing them as a tube.

Today, many women choose to go bare-legged. Even still, hosiery companies still continue to develop nylons for every body’s needs. There are control top, rear-enhancing, thigh-slimming, even moisturizing and massaging nylons available. I kid you not. The website My Tights offers a wide variety of hosiery to fit every need, whim, and fancy. So, the next time you reach for the clear nail polish to stop that run in your $4.49 pair of LeggsTM, remember the ladies of the ‘40’s and how they longed for something more comfortable. Then think of the ‘60’s when they actually received something more comfortable!

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