One morning in November 1946 a crowd of women gathered outside a store in King Street, Sydney. When the doors opened at 9 am, the women rushed to the hosiery counter. Two policemen were called in off the street to control the crowd. The Telegraph reported:
‘One woman who gained one of the first pairs had to slide to the floor and crawl out among the legs of others to get away from the counter.’
What was so special about these stockings that they caused such excitement? They were the first all-silk sheer stockings offered for sale in Australia since the end of World War II. 1.
Limited supplies of silk stockings had been available at the beginning the war but they were removed from the market completely when rationing began in 1942. In response to the howls of protest, Mr Coles, the chairman of the Rationing Commission, explained that the silk yarn was required to make parachutes. He added,
‘There is not the slightest hope in the world of silk stockings becoming available.’ 2.
With nothing but wool or lisle stockings on offer, Australian women sought alternatives. One popular item was stocking cream. This was a thick cream that was smeared onto the legs. It was available in four colours ‘approximating to the leading stocking shades’. To add authenticity, women used a dark brown eyebrow pencil to draw a ‘seam’ up the back of their legs. 3.
After the war, women were tantalised by the promise of nylon stockings. Twelve months after the silk stocking stampede, nylon stockings made by local manufacturer Prestige Ltd. were ‘secretly distributed’ to Melbourne stores. They were available in one colour only and came with care instructions. 4.
Not all women were enamoured of the new product. In 1953, Sydney Morning Herald correspondent ‘Hypatia’ complained
‘At the second wearing the stockings, even though they had been carefully washed according to directions, gave at the knees under slight sudden strain.’
‘Fair Go’, agreed. ‘Nylon stockings are expensive rubbish,’ she wrote.’ 5.
Despite these early hiccups, nylon stockings dominated the market until the late 1960s when pantihose were introduced.
The stockings in our collection are Prestige Illusions. They were on the market in the mid to late 1960s. In 1966 they were selling for 16/11 (or $1.69 in decimal currency). 6.
1 The Telegraph, ‘Wild rush for first all-silk stockings,’ 20 November 1946
2 Evening Advocate, ‘No more silk stockings,’ 22 September 1942
3 Evening News, ‘Stockings painted on.’ 14 June 1940
4 Advocate, ‘Nylon stockings,’ 10 November 1947
5 Sydney Morning Herald, ‘Nylon stockings,’ 17 November 1953
6 Canberra Times, ‘Prestige Illusion hosiery!’ 22 December 1966