My mother got to meet real live American men in two strange ways. Firstly her high school in Melbourne gave all its football fields over to the American Army, to use as a training camp. The school built a brick fence between the students and the soldiers, but athletic girls managed to climb the fence to check out the talent on the other side.
Secondly my grandmother used to go down to the docks at Port Melbourne, before every major Jewish holiday. My grandmother must have been a courageous and determined soul. She asked the ships’ captains to select a small group of their Jewish sailors for the holiday.. and no captain ever refused her. Her goal was to give young sailors a holiday meal, surrounded by a warm loving family, even though they were 10,000 ks from home. Every American sailor or soldier brought a luxury gift that my family had not afforded before – orchids on a stick for my grandmother and nylon stockings for my mother and her two teenage sisters.
Perhaps Australian men were less educated in dating etiquette; the best gift they brought to warm the heart of a date was a chocolate frog for 3d. More likely still, Australian men brought no present at all! Or perhaps the Australian army and navy had paid hopelessly low salaries to its men since August 1939, whereas the Americans paid their men halfway decent military salaries since January 1942.
At least regarding nylons, Smithsonian.com has the answer! Hemlines were rising throughout the 1930s, and stockings, made back then from silk or rayon, had become an essential component to a woman’s wardrobe. The delicacy of the 1930s stockings did not hurt the bottom line; women purchased an average of eight pairs of stockings per year during that decade.
In fact the first test sale to DuPont employees’ wives took place at the company’s experimental station. Before the 4,000 pairs of stockings sold out, DuPont had had women modelling nylon hosiery at the 1939 New York World’s Fair; they were touting nylon as a synthetic fabric light as air. Intelligent American men soon understood how to win a woman’s heart!
From the moment DuPont realised what kind of stretchy, durable, washable, dryable revolution it had synthesised, the company focused on women’s hosiery, a huge potential market. DuPont’s initial sales success in Wilmington was the start of the nylon stocking craze! In May 1940, four million pairs of brown nylons landed on department store shelves across the USA at $1.15 per pair and sold out immediately. Standard silk stockings, which did not stretch, were tough to clean and ripped easily, were quickly supplanted. By 1941, sales in the USA reached 64 million pairs.
Eventually WW2 arrived in the USA. As quickly as nylon stockings had found their way into department stores and boutiques, providing women with inexpensive, longer-lasting hosiery options... the stockings disappeared :( The material was severely rationed and channelled into war efforts. Nylon was permitted only in the manufacturing of parachutes, ropes, aircraft fuel tanks, shoe laces, mosquito netting and hammocks, aiding in the USA’s national defence.
American women had to be inventive to meet their leg-beautifying needs or turn to the black market. However nylon stockings were apparently present in many GI’s kitbags to impress the glamour-starved women in the overseas countries American soldiers trained in. Did my 18 year old mother and her friends know that? Were Australian women as excited about nylons as American women? It has been suggested (History Today, October 2014) that some of the babies born in Britain and Australia to American soldiers in 1943-5 could be directly traced back to the gift of nylons.
When the war was over and rations were eased, nylon stockings returned to American shops and sold quickly. In late 1945 Nylon Riots started up around the USA; tens of thousands of women queued up to try to buy a pair.