Fashionable Violence: The Post-War Nylon Riots

Two models at the New York World's Fair playing tug of war with nylons to demonstrate their strength. Source: Smithsonian.org

Two models at the New York World’s Fair playing tug of war with nylons to demonstrate their strength. Source: Smithsonian.org

Except for the fashionistas among us, most people give little thought to the clothes they wear. However, now and then fashion can cause a shocking amount of violence. Outbreaks of fashionable violence occurred in the US in the months after World War II, when shortages of nylons caused thousands of women to riot.

 

A stocking shortage

To understand why nylons could cause a riot, first we need to understand a bit about the history of a product that many women take for granted these days. Prior to nylons, stockings were made out of silk or rayon, and they were prone to tearing and had to be replaced often. They also had to be sized. Nylon, introduced to the public around 1939, was more durable and flexible. They did not require garters to hold them up.

The new nylon stockings were a hit; more than four million were sold in a year. However, just as the public was getting a taste for the new product, the war came and the government deemed nylon a key war material. DuPont shifted all production to war materiel, using the synthetic fiber to produce parachutes, rope, and tent canvas among other things.

Nylon stockings became hot items on the US black market, selling for as much as $20 a pair (over $300 in today’s dollars), where they’d sold for only $1.15 during peacetime. Nylon robberies were not uncommon. Women who could not afford to buy black market nylons used make-up and paint on their legs to give the illusion of stockings.

When the war finally ended, the public was ready to return to normal. Women especially were excited to be able to get a hold of their beloved nylons at a reasonable price. Not long after Japan surrendered in August of 1945, DuPont announced it would begin producing stockings again. However, by September the chemical giant could not keep pace with demand, and shortages plagued retailers. The first riots began that month as women swarmed stores, eager to get a hand on the precious commodity. The riots became worse in November and December. In one incident, 30,000 women lined up in New York, while 40,000 lined up in Pittsburgh for 13,000 pairs of nylons. The result was Black Friday on steroids. Women raced through stores to get to the coveted stockings, knocking over displays and fighting one another for the prize. Newspapers tittered with the scandalous stories. Some accused DuPont of deliberately creating a shortage.

Regardless of whether the shortage was deliberate or not, the company made up the shortfall by the beginning of 1946, producing 30 million pairs of stockings a month. The influx of nylons satisfied the stocking-hungry public, and the riots subsided.

 

Sources:

“Nylon Riots.” Wikipedia.org. April 22, 2014. Wikipedia. April 20, 2014 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nylon_riots>

Spivack, Emily. “Stocking Series, Part 1: Wartime Rationing and Nylon Riots.” Smithsonianmag.com. September 4, 2012. Smithsonian.com. April 20, 2014. <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/stocking-series-part-1-wartime-rationing-and-nylon-riots-25391066/?no-ist=>

Wolf, Audra J. “Nylon: A Revolution in Textiles.” Chemical Heritage Magazine. Fall 2008. Chemical Heritage Foundation. April 20, 2014. <http://www.chemheritage.org/discover/media/magazine/articles/26-3-nylon-a-revolution-in-textiles.aspx?page=3>

 

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