A History of Hosiery: Nylon Stockings Hit 80th Anniversary

Nylon hosiery has reached a significant milestone, racking up an impressive 80 years on the consumer market. Although nylon tights are now a serious fashion faux-pas in certain circles, they remain a significant innovation is so many ways.

Nylon was the first truly synthetic fibre, and demonstrated the vital importance of advertising and marketing in the modern day. Despite its downgraded fashion status, the history of nylon stockings is undoubtedly worth consideration today. Nylon stockings entered the mass market in America on May 15th 1940, referred to in the press as ‘Nylon Day’, and were an instant hit. The nation’s 750,000-pair stock sold out on the first day, no doubt thanks to months of careful advertising. Manufacturers DuPont successfully whipped consumers into a frenzy over this seemingly magical fabric, completely overcoming the suspicions of many Americans towards chemical-based fibres at the time.

The popularity of nylon with American consumers, largely due to its strength, lustre and durability, was quickly superseded by the needs of the military during World War II. With nylon production redirected, women had to either turn to the expensive black market, or resort to staining their legs brown to mimic their beloved stockings. Scarcity served only to increase desirability, pushing demand so high there were ‘nylon riots’ among shoppers after the war.

Over the next few decades nylons popularity soared. The iconic mini-skirt of the 1960s meant younger consumers plumped for tights over stockings, which became available in an exciting range of colours and patterns. But mass appeal ultimately became its downfall: nylon came to be overused and outdated, particularly with the burgeoning environmental movement reviving natural fabrics once more.

Although nylon has fallen out of favour, it remains one of the most important fashion innovations. The first of its kind, nylon and other synthetics were generally inexpensive, durable and easily laundered which saved housewives considerable time and money. It’s also a valuable lesson in marketing. Despite the lack of modern channels, DuPont’s strategy was agile, creative and wide-reaching. Realising the importance of winning over influential designers, DuPont persistently courted Parisian fashion houses with free samples and publicity, and in 1955 was photographed on the runways of Chanel and Dior for all the world to see.

By Rebecca Taylar