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c. 1941-1945

Painted stockings and the Nylon Riots

No more ladders!

World War II, the deadliest conflict in human history, impacted the lives of 100 million people — and sometimes in a trivial, but a deeply annoying way.

Case in point: the nylon stocking. One might have taken them for granted — and then suddenly they were gone. Rationing of materials was introduced to America in 1941 and nylon stockings immediately got the chop.

For millions of women (and men), this was especially frustrating because the darned things had only been available for two years.  Nylon, the invention of one Wallace Carothers, was invented in 1935. Four years later, nylon stockings were introduced to a hungry public at the 1939 World’s Fair.

That year, four million pairs were bought in a single day. But in 1941, the resources deployed to create stockings were redirected towards war — and in particular, parachutes. Existing stockings became ever more rare, emerging onto the black market.

Introducing Glamor Hose

The solution? Enter Glamor Hose, which was almost the exact opposite of what its name suggests. Women used gravy browning to paint their legs and then drew a stripe up the back with an eye-liner pencil for a seam. No more ladders! No one would ever know the difference, right?

In August 1945,  stocking production resumed. Such was the latent demand that in Pittsburg, 40,000 women attempted to purchase 13,000 pairs of stockings. A fight broke out and such scenes repeated themselves across the nation. These disturbances, known as the Nylon Riots, only ceased in March 1946, when manufacturers ramped up production.

A shoe store in London. The sign reads ‘No More Ladders – We paint your stockings on your legs.’
Fox Photos/Getty Images
Customers save their ration coupons by having “stockings” painted on their legs.
Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis/Getty Images
A woman obtaining “Glamor Hose”
Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis/Getty Images
A woman administers gravy browning.
Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis/Getty Images
Actress Ann Miller at Columbia Studios
Bettmann/Getty Images
Jackiem Keisler creates a seam
Bettmann/Getty Images
A woman draws a seam at home
Bettmann/Getty Images
In Hollywood, ‘Starlet’ Kay Bensel uses a device made from a screwdriver handle, a bicycle leg-clip, and an eyebrow pencil
Bettmann/Getty Images
A woman paints the appearance of silk stockings onto a leg.
Constance Bannister Corp/Getty Images
A Max Factor beautician paints a seam
A R Tanner/Getty Images

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