Stockings and World War II

You may have seen or read about ladies painting on their stockings during the second world war. If you have, you may have also wondered why on earth they would do this and how they would get the seams up the back of their legs, never mind how they got them straight. Read on to find out more about this interesting trend, brought on through necessity by World War II.



In 1939 Dupont started to manufacture nylon stockings, which was revolutionary at the time as hosiery had previously been made from silk. These new stockings were incredibly popular with women, who rushed to stores to snap up as many pairs as they could afford. Up to 4 million stockings were sold each day throughout America and Dupont struggled to keep up with demand.


However, disaster struck when the second world war broke out and nylon needed to be utilised for the wartime effort, equipment such as parachutes and ropes were made from nylon and were of course prioritised over hosiery.

“Rationing was mandated by the each country’s government, and was embraced and carried out by citizens the world over.” – Meghann Mason, University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

America entered into the war in December of 1941 by which time, nylon stockings had become very fashionable and sought after. Although it may seem ridiculous to us nowadays, stockings back then were extremely important, women would not venture outside of their home without hosiery adorned legs, it would have been considered indecent! When the war broke out, stockings were bought and sold on the black market and many people resorted to theft in order to get hold of a pair of precious nylon stockings. For the ladies who were not criminally inclined, they needed to find a solution to the stockings shortage, and fast!

Liquid stockings

Many leg creams and lotions became available to the public, these were applied to the legs with the intention of recreating the colour and shine of a nylon stocking. Some examples of products and advertisements are listed below: Ann Barton’s Leg make-up


Leg Silque Liquid Stockings

Elizabeth Arden – Velva Leg Film

Helena Rubinstein’s Leg Stick

 Charles of the Ritz Leg Make-up


Application The application of the ‘liquid stocking’ was very important and took some experience to get right. There is a very interesting piece about the application of this liquid here but I have added a small extract below:

“There are three main types of leg make-up: the dark tinted liquids that you apply with cotton, the lotion and cream type that you apply with your hand and the solid stick variety that you stroke on directly. Whichever you prefer, there is a trick to applying it for best results. Experiment with different shades until you find the one that is most flattering, then practice putting it on until you can do it easily.” – Hunt, 1942

However, it didn’t end there. Ladies who were keen to wear a faux seam up the back of their legs needed to become adept at drawing straight lines from their heel to their thighs (usually with eyebrow pencils); some ladies even drew on the design of the stocking heel! If you think putting on stockings can be infuriating, imagine trying to draw two perfectly straight lines up the back of your legs in the morning!


Some women would have (understandably) struggled with the application of the seams and came up with ingenious contraptions to help themselves, below is is an image of Kay Bensel with her new gadget!

“Here, 1942 Hollywood starlet Kay Bensel applied her faux stocking seams with a device ‘made from a screw driver handle, bicycle leg-clip, and an ordinary eyebrow pencil” – Meghann Mason, University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

If you really couldn’t master the application of liquid stockings however, there were several options. Women could go to department stores and have a shop assistant teach them how to apply the lotions and buy the products afterwards:

Another option would be to go to salons and have other ladies apply the liquid stockings to your legs themselves!


Below is a very impressive paint job!

So when you’re struggling with putting on your own stockings and cursing at not being able to get the seams straight, spare a thought for these poor ladies! Elinor 

4 thoughts on “Stockings and World War II

  1. Very interesting! I’ve wondered for a while about the veracity of the story that women used gravy as a substitute for stockings – it makes so much more sense for there to have been a common commercial liquid substitute rather than all going right to the ersatz, sticky solution. Gravy must have been something only a few women used, or maybe even an urban legend.

  2. Pretty much like self-tan products, I imagine. Difficult to get perfectly even. There was also a lot of experimenting with stockings in other materials than silk and nylon – rayon stockings and so forth, and up here in the cold bleak north a lot of people were probably resigned to wearing knit wool stockings and heavier cotton stockings.

  3. Pingback: A dream come true – My visit to the Touchable stockings factory | The Nylon Swish

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