I spend many of my days researching, and I often come across strange and fascinating tales that don’t quite fit in my books. Thus, Friday story time is born. Because, really, does a great story need a reason?
This week’s tale was inspired by my snarking about stockings. Though I have no wish to wear them, they were once highly coveted, and I suppose I shouldn’t take them for granted!
Strong as steel.
Fine as a spider’s web.
More elastic than any of the common natural fibres.
That’s how Charles Stine introduced the invention of nylon in 1938, in a presentation called “We Enter the World of Tomorrow” at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. He told 3,000 women’s club members that his team of scientists had invented a completely new material using coal, water, and air.
The women were impressed. In fact, they were ready to tear off their expensive, easily-torn silk stockings at a moment’s notice and try this new invention, even if it did feel a little cold and clammy against the skin.
They weren’t allowed their prizes for long. By the early 1940s, every once of nylon was being used to make materials for World War II – parachutes, cords, and ropes. Women were reduced to wearing rayon hose or painting their legs with specially-marketed leg make-up. They hoarded actual nylon stockings for special evenings out, and followed women’s magazine advice for making them last longer: wash them in vinegar to keep the color fresh, and rub face cream on your heels to prevent snagging the fabric.
When the war finally ended, it took two years for companies to stockpile enough pairs to meet the demand in clothing shops. Women stood in line-ups several blocks long just for the chance to buy a pair. And in Britain, Canadian and American soldiers took to impressing their girlfriends not with chocolate or flowers, but with brand new packages of nylon stockings.