A Leg Up on Fashion with Vintage Hosiery Illustrations

Seventy-five years ago today, the 1939 World’s Fair opened in New York, and DuPont debuted a new product that would dramatically impact the fashion industry.  It was “Polymer 6.6” but was given a more memorable name for its New York debut : nylon.  Stockings made of this new silk-like material were featured at the fair as a less expensive substitute for silk stockings.  In honor of this occasion, Modern Graphic History Library takes a look at hosiery illustrations (both silk and nylon) over the years.

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Ladies’ Home Journal, May 1948, by unknown artist

While silk stockings were very desirable, they were also the most expensive, so hosiery companies also sold them in cotton or a polished cotton called lisle.  Hosiery advertising stressed the color choices available to ladies (and in the early 1900s, to men and children as well).  In 1912, Gordon Hosiery noted that proper hosiery was needed since a lady’s ankle must be attractive for the new trend in “short, skant skirts.”

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 from Ladies’ Home Journal, April 1912, artist unknown

Hosiery companies hired popular artists to illustrate their product.  Luxite Hosiery, stressing its durable yet stylish fine Japanese silk hosiery, used Coles Phillips art.  Phillips was popular for his magazine cover illustrations of “fade-away girls” where the dress of the woman faded into the background.

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by Coles Phillips, Everybody’s Magazine, 1918

Charles Dana Gibson, who was known for his popular Gibson Girls, illustrated for Ipwich Deluxe Hosiery.  Ipwich stressed that college graduates needed at least one pair of inexpensive silk stockings as they set forth into the world.

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by Charles Dana Gibson, Ladies’ Home Journal, June 1946

Hosiery was advertised as an important fashion accessory to complement the rest of a lady’s outfit, especially as hemlines rose. Companies stressed how they had the latest French colors. Holeproof Hosiery’s “chic” hosiery featured tan and beige, which were popular on the French Riviera.  The colors were chosen to coordinate with the latest French dress materials and shoes.

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by John LaGatta, Ladies’ Home Journal, September 1926

As 1930s fashion focused on glamor, so did the hosiery advertisements.  Hummingbird Hosiery stressed that their stockings, found in stores of “the better class” could let a woman be glamorous both in daytime and evening.  The new pale sand color for spring was designed by a Parisian stylist.

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by McClelland Barclay, Vogue, April 12, 1930

Stockings had become such a stable to women’s fashion that references them were found in advertisements for non-hosiery products and in fiction illustrations.

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by Robert O. Reid, Collier’s, June 7, 1939

On May 14, 1940, just over a year since they debuted at the World’s Fair, the first nylons appeared in New York City stores. 780,000 pairs were sold that day.  Sixty-four million nylons were sold that year.

After America entered World War II, there was an embargo on Japanese silk, but silk was needed for parachutes.  Nylon was used instead, and it took the nylon in 36 pairs of stockings to create one parachute. In 1942, rationing of silk and nylon began, and stockings became scarce. However, companies continue to advertise.  Surrealist artist Salvador Dali drew a series of advertisements for Bryans nylons featured in Vogue.

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by Salvador Dali, Vogue, November 1, 1945

When the war ended and rationed eased, women could resume purchasing their stockings, if they could find them in stores. Demand for the hosiery was so high that it took several months before production could finally keep up with demand.

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by Albert Staehl, Saturday Evening Post, February 15, 1947

Modern Graphic History Library wishes you luck in finding all of your fashion accessories.

Credits:

The Robert O. Reid illustration is from the Charles Craver Collection.

All other images are from the Walt Reed Illustration Archive.

 

Information about hosiery came from the following:

Bellis, Mary. The History of Nylon Stockings.  About.com, n.d.

The History Of Hosiery.  Elle UK. n.d.

Nebraskans Tighten Their Belts : No More Silk Stockings. Nebraska Studies.org, n.d.

Zebrowski, Carl. A Product With Legs. America in WWII, August 2005.

About the author

Andrea Degener is the Visual Materials Processing Archivist in the department of Special Collections at Washington University Libraries.