The first nylon stockings were produced in Wilmington, Delaware, in October 1939—they were invented by chemist Wallace Hume Carothers who worked for DuPont which was headquartered there. Nylon stockings were modeled for the first time at the 1939 New York World's Fair—they were more durable than silk and rayon stockings which were prone to runs and it was washable as well. In no time, nylon stockings became all the rage and were selling out at department stores across the United States.
The popularity of the new hosiery was short-lived and nylon virtually disappeared from stores shortly after its debut when World War II began. Silk and nylon was needed to make parachutes and other war items such as netting and rope.
However, in the 1940s it was against the social norm for women to go out bare-legged. Many women took to wearing pants to save their silk stockings for special occasions. With the “Make Do and Mend” mentality, many women were repairing holes or worn areas in their stockings using needle and thread alone in order to wear their stockings many more times than normal.
Nylon was strictly rationed and on May 14, 1940, which was coined “Nylon Day,” four million pairs of nylons were temporarily available for sale in department stores across the U.S.—they sold out in two days.
In August 1941 (pictured above); one woman demonstrated on another how to use an eyebrow pencil to draw a “seam” on the leg, which would give the appearance of nylon hosiery. The line was drawn on after “liquid stockings” were applied. The “liquid stockings” gave the appearance of hosiery when in fact; only nude-colored makeup had been applied. Liquid stockings were essentially nude-colored foundation for your legs that if applied diligently, gave the illusion of hosiery. For those looking for additional detail, eye pencils were used to draw a line for the look of a “seam.”
Bottles of liquid stockings were arriving in salons and department stores in the US in August 1941. According to a 1942 advertisement an average bottle of liquid stockings contained about 24 pairs of “stockings.” For the “defense-conscious” woman the slogan for the stocking substitute was “Paint a limb and save silk.”
Products such as Silktona Liquid Silk Stockings, L’Oreal and Max Factor made liquid products for producing the illusion of stockings. And then there was the classic solution of an eyeliner or eyebrow pencil for a simple line up the back of your leg for the stocking seam to top off the resourceful fashion effect.
One of the first liquid stocking brands was developed in England and was called “Nina Makeup.” The liquid stockings came in six different shades. “No longer will Lulu Jane have to worry about snags and runs, just soap and water, for the stuff comes off at the slightest washing. You can even draw your own seams, only you are warned not to draw them too straight or they won’t look natural. The stuff even smells good,” a 1941 article said of the product. Beauty parlors also offered professional application of liquid stockings which took about half an hour, 15 minutes per leg and cost $1.
Liquid stockings were not an easy fix for all. In June 1943 one woman wrote to the Times-Dispatch seeking advice. “I am wearing liquid stockings to save my rayons, but cannot stand the feel of shoes without stockings, I have some “foot socks” to wear under my shoes, but as some of my shoes are perforated or have openings, they show. Can I get them in various colors or have you a remedy to suggest? The response: Simply use a little of your liquid stocking on the “foot socks” that you year. It will dye the same color, look the same, and will wash out just as it washes off your legs, with soap and water.
For those women overwhelmed by options— Ann Barton’s Leg Make-up, Harriet Hubbard Ayer’s Stocking Lotion, Patrick’s Leg Art, Leg Charm from Cosmetic House, Helena Rubinstein’s Leg Stick and Max Factor’s Pan-Cake Make-up, for starters—or unsure about application techniques, a leg makeup bar at their local department store could provide some guidance for beautifying their gams.
Leg makeup bar, 1944, at a department store.