National Nylon Stocking Day is observed across the country each year on May 15.
Many may not remember ever hearing the term “nylon stockings.” Varying in color, design, and transparency, a nylon stocking (also known as hose) is a close-fitting, variously elastic garment worn the same as socks, or tights.
- Stockings first started appearing after the invention of the knitting machine in 1589 by Rev William Lee. In the early days they were known as hose and worn mainly by men.
- Stockings worn before the 1890s were made of woven cloth such as cotton, linen, wool or silk.
- Before the 1920s, women’s stockings were worn for warmth.
- As hemlines of women’s dresses rose in the 1920s, women began to wear stockings over their exposed legs. These 1920s stockings were sheer, made first of silk or rayon, followed by nylon after 1940.
- Chemical company DuPont’s introduction of nylon in 1939 began a high demand for stockings in the United States. As nylon stockings were inexpensive, durable and shear, up to 4 million pairs would be purchased each day.
- On February 11, 1942, as America entered World War II, DuPont ceased production of nylon stockings and switching their focus to the manufacture of parachutes, airplane cords and rope.
- WW II created a mass shortage followed by a black market for stockings. Nylon stockings became increasingly popular on the black market, and sold for up to $20 per pair.
- During times of wartime shortage, women would sometimes draw a black line up the back of their bare legs to simulate the seam effect of a stocking.
- At the end of World War II, DuPont resumed production of the stockings but could not meet the demand leading to “nylon riots” in American stores.
- The riots occurred between August 1945 and March 1946, when the War Production Board announced that the creation of Du Pont’s nylon would shift its manufacturing from wartime material to nylon stockings, at the same time launching a promotional campaign. In one of the worst disturbances, in Pittsburgh, 40,000 women queued up for 13,000 pairs of stockings, leading to fights breaking out.
- In the 1940s and 1950s, the first pantyhose made its appearance. Film and theater productions had stockings sewn to the briefs of actresses and dancers, as seen in popular films such as Daddy Long Legs. Unlike stockings, pantyhose did not require a garter belt to hold the stockings up.
- Pantyhose were introduced in 1959, providing a convenient alternative to stockings which led to a decline in their sales.
- In 1970, for the first time, United States sales of pantyhose exceeded stocking sales and has remained the same ever since.
- In 1987, there was a slight decline in sales in pantyhose due to the newly invented hold-ups. However, they remain the most purchased kind of hosiery.