The ’50s era represented a return to fashion for women. After World War II ended, and the men returned home, women wanted to look glamorous and sophisticated. Ladies wore hats and white gloves. Dresses had flared skirts that reached the calf. Underneath their skirts and dresses, women wore hosiery they referred to as “stockings” or “nylons.” The hosiery was only mid-thigh in length. Women kept their stockings and nylons from falling down by attaching the mid-section of the top and back to fasteners on girdles and garter belts.
There were two main product choices for women’s hosiery: seamed or seamless. After making that choice, women then went on to other choices such as size. Seamed hosiery featured a seam that ran from the heel of the hosiery all the way up to the edge of the stocking. Since the seams ran up the middle and back of the leg, women had to check themselves in a mirror to see if they were straight or ask their husband or girlfriend to check for straightness before they appeared in public. Crooked seems were a fashion “no-no.”
Seamless hosiery debuted in Britain in 1952. Early response was lukewarm. Hosiery without seams was associated with bare legs, and viewed as undignified. Moreover, women missed the form fitting shaping that seamed hosiery provided. Another early problem that women encounter with both seamed and seamless hosiery was the tendency for the hosiery to bag or sag around kneecaps and ankles after hours of wear. Always aiming to please and keep their cash registers ringing, manufacturers made improvements to correct these issues during the latter half of the ’50s, and women eventually bought-in to the smooth, worry-free look of seamless hosiery.
Fishnet stockings were a fashion accessory worn by dancers in Parisian shows such as the famed Moulin Rouge. They made their way to the U.S. in 1908, packed in trunks aboard steam freighters. By the ’50s, fishnet stockings lost their risqué association with burlesque dancers, World War II pin-up girls, and as a hosiery choice worn by “women of the night.” Black fishnet stockings became fashionable and acceptable as a hosiery choice for women in the ’50s.
By the ’50s, nylon stockings dominated the hosiery marketplace, replacing silk as the material of choice. Nylon was first introduced in 1940 by the Du Pont company, which spent considerable brainpower in research and development and money in advertising to persuade women to make the switch from silk to nylon. The investment paid off. Women loved nylon, feeling it was much more durable and less prone to run, but it looked like silk. Initially, Du Pont registered the name as “nigh-lon,” but it wasn’t long before female consumers dubbed the material “nylon.” According to “Science and Corporate Strategy: Du Pont D&D, 1902-1980, nylon became far and away the biggest money-maker in Du Pont history.
References and ResourcesFashion Era: 1950s Petticoats, Stockings & Stocking Adverts; Pauline Weston Thomas
Stockings Only: History and Terms of Stockings & Hosiery
Smithsonian; Nylon Drama; David A. Hounshell, John Kenly Smith, Jr.
Idea Finder: Nylon Stockings