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Dakota Datebook

Silk Stockings

 

A silk crisis came to America in the summer of 1941. That was the time when Japanese military-forces took total control over French Indochina, and the U.S. government shut down all trade with Japan on July 26. We would not sell them any oil, Japanese accounts were frozen, and Japan could not sell goods in the U.S.

This embargo shut down silk imports to America, and the U.S. government shut down all production of silk stockings on August 2nd, 1941.

The military commandeered all silk-supplies. Parachutes were constructed of silk because it was so strong yet supple, able to stretch and flex without ripping. 

Silk was also essential on battleships, for big naval-guns used “powder bags,” made of silk. Silk burned completely without ashes, hence, it did not smolder or clog naval guns.

Because “virtually all” silk used in the U.S. came from Japan, manufacture of silk stockings, dresses, fishing-lines, slips, neckties, and underwear all ended.

Since women wore silk-stockings in that era, there was a huge run on the existing silk hosiery. Curiously, some believed daily life would be insupportable without silk underwear.

After the remaining inventories of silk hosiery was exhausted, consumers turned to substitutes such as nylon, rayon, or cotton – or simply went bare-legged. Some painted cosmetic stockings on their legs!

Stocking-makers stepped up production of nylon products until that ended in 1942 when nylon also became essential for parachutes and military powder-bags as the stocks of raw silk ran out.

American manufacturers adapted, making fine strides in using rayon and cotton for stockings. To promote the attractiveness of cotton, in October, 1941, the U.S. Office of Production Management distributed photos of Hollywood actresses, including Dorothy Lamour and Lana Turner, modeling cotton stockings to complement their fashionable dresses. Rita Hayworth was portrayed in a pink and silver evening dress, with cotton stockings made of “fine crepe lisle of the same spun-sugar sheen as the dress.”

On this date in 1941, the Bismarck Tribune published an article about silk as a “strategic raw material,” explaining the importance of silk for defense preparedness even before the July cut-off of Japanese silk, and before the declaration of war, which would follow in December.

The “silk-stocking scare” in the summer of ’41 had shoppers rushing to buy the deluxe silken hosiery while they still could. Afterwards, North Dakota women made do with cotton and rayon legwear until the war ended in 1945.

 

 

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSUM History Department

 

Sources:

“Making America Strong: Silk,” Bismarck Tribune, March 12, 1941, p. 3.

“Washington Tabs,” Bismarck Tribune, August 9, 1941, p. 4.

“Silk Hosiery Mills Ordered to Cease Production at Midnight,” Bismarck Tribune, August 2, 1941, p. 1.

Dorothy Dix, “Some Luxuries Denied Today Did Not Exist 20 Years Ago,” Minneapolis Star, November 18, 1942, p. 17.

“Buying Wave,” Bismarck Tribune, September 15, 1941, p. 4.

“Silk Plants Temporarily Dislocated,” Hartford Courant, August 7, 1941, p. 17.

“U.S. Hopes Women Will Wear Cotton Stockings,” Hope [ND] Pioneer, June 12, 1941, p. 8.

“Silk Stockings Doomed,” Minneapolis Tribune, December 27, 1941, p. 3.

“Smart Substitutes Sought as Silk Shortage Looms,” Bismarck Tribune, August 2, 1941, p. 2.

“Hosiery and the Women,” Hope Pioneer, August 14, 1941, p. 2.

“All Stocks of Nylon are Frozen,” Bismarck Tribune, October 12, 1942, p. 1.

“Cotton Stockings Worn By Motion Picture Actresses, Oct., 1941,” Library of Congress, Photo, Print, Drawing, loc.gov/item/2005675474/, accessed February 11, 2021.

“Leg Appeal With Cotton Stockings,” Pittsburgh Press, November 30, 1941, p. 79.

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