“In just a handful of years, vintage nylons will completely disappear from the face of the earth,” says vintage stocking collector Steve, who also runs Stocking Showcase. And that’s enough motivation for him and others like him.
But aside from the stockings themselves, and perhaps pinups, what is there for collectors to covet in the realm of vintage stockings?
Vintage nylon stockings have a history as long and lovely as their back seams, for it took twelve years and $27 million to create, refine and develop the industrial processes for nylon.
This naturally leaves a paper trail for collectors who desire to document the birth of nylon.
Du Pont chemist Wallace Hume Carothers invented Fiber 66 — or nylon as we now call it — and it made its debut on the lovely legs of Miss Chemistry at the World’s Fair in 1939.
Miss Chemistry emerged from a test tube, a testament to modern science. (She may not have been a test tube baby, but she was a test tube babe!)
This same exhibit of Miss Chemistry and her test tube was shown again at the 1939 Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco, and the theme was often repeated in advertising as well.
Collectors desire early photographs and items showing Miss Chemistry, such as the Du Pont publication shown below. Some collectors have even started collecting World’s Fair memorabilia for its connections to nylon’s debut.
Nylons went on sale to the general public in May 15, 1940, aka N-day. In that first year, DuPont sold 64 million pairs of stockings. That year much nylon was used to create the tornado in the movie “The Wizard of Oz.” I’m sure many a vintage nylon stocking collector would love to get their hands on that tornado!
Not long after N-Day, “Nylon Mania” ensued. In part because Du Pont spared little expense in promoting nylon, but also because nylon was a thrilling ‘modern marvel’, the product of science. Ads from this time period are plentiful, and pretty to display.
Of course, World War II meant Du Pont would cease its nylon stocking production to meet wartime needs. They produced parachutes, airplane tire cords, and glider tow ropes for the military, and some collectors also seek these items to preserve the integrity of this time period. The nylon stocking shortage created such a demand in the US that women began paying as much as $20 on the black market for stockings which had previously cost just over one dollar. This time is referred to as “Stocking Panic.”
Stocking Panic was so intense that nylon stockings made the new. For example, police in Chicago ruled out robbery as a motive in a murder case just because six pair of nylon stockings (that would be $120 worth of valuable property) had been left at the scene of the crime. Collectors love to get such news clippings.
In August of 1945, a mere eight days after Japan’s surrender, Du Pont announced that it would immediately return to producing nylon stockings. Thus ends “Stocking Panic” — and begins “Nylon Riots.”
The riots began because Du Pont could not make the wartime conversions fast enough to keep up with consumer demands. Nylons once again made newspaper headlines as women, who had been standing in line for hours were turned away without even seeing the stockings, began to fight and riot. Collectors love the headlines, sure, but the photographs are most sought after.
It took until March of 1946 for Du Pont to meet consumer demand and end the “Nylon Riots.” But by then, Du Pont wasn’t using nylon only for fashion hosiery. Now Du Pont’s advertising featured a woman in a nylon dress, and nylon was adopted for use in lingerie and foundation garments. Many vintage nylon stocking collectors willingly accept these ads, and even the garments themselves, into their collections. And why not? Just as stockings do not make the whole outfit, neither are they the entire story.
[All black and white photographs courtesy of the Hagley Museum and Library]