Revealing the Korean Body Politic, Part 8: The Bare-Leg Bars of 1942

Liquid stockings nylon world war two(Source, above and below: Rare Historical Photos)

Back in the early-1940s, newly-invented nylon stockings were the must-have fashion item in the US. But supply could never meet up with demand, with 4 million pairs once selling in just 4 days.

Then the US entered the war, and all the nylon available was suddenly needed for parachutes, ropes, and bomber tires. Dupont, the sole manufacturer, retooled all its stocking machines.

Still desperate for the look though, women improvised with ‘liquid stockings’ instead, using foundation, black eyeliner, and eyebrow pencils to draw them on their legs. Stores soon began catering to the demand, adding more sophisticated lotions, creams, and sprays. Specialist ‘bare-leg bars’ followed.

So I read via this great book when I was 15, (although unfortunately that panel didn’t get scanned for the online version), and I’d like to pretend that I was taken aback by the lengths some would go to the sake of vanity, and precocious enough to realize that people were no different in 1991. In reality though, I simply thought that the women were crazy (hey, I was 15!), and didn’t understand how anyone could have been fooled by such a poor substitute.

More likely, women ‘wore’ them because liquid stockings became a pseudo-fashion in their own right—or at least until nylons became liquid stockingsavailable again (sparking the ‘nylon riots‘ of 1945). Either way, they’re another good example of the genuine concerns women had about maintaining a feminine appearance when they started working in factories in World War Two, as well as their cheap solutions (although this particular one would have been used off the factory floor). I’m glad to finally have a name for them, and a wealth of photographs to use in my presentations :D

Anybody know of any similar shortages and improvisations by women (or men!) in Korean fashion history though, which may resonate more with Korean audiences? Thanks!

The Revealing the Korean Body Politic Series:

3 thoughts on “Revealing the Korean Body Politic, Part 8: The Bare-Leg Bars of 1942

    • Thanks for the suggestion, but could you elaborate please? I do know high school students will cut up their uniforms and throw flour at each other at graduation time (is that what you meant?), but that’s because they don’t plan on wearing them again!

      Anyway, as I type this I’ve suddenly remembered that I have one Korean fashion history book, focusing on the 1930s, and I wonder if it talks about Korean women wanting the “New Woman” look of the time, but having to improvise as Japan’s increasing wartime demands on the colonial economy prevented supplies of cosmetics and so on. I’ll see what I can find.

      Thanks for the inspiration!

      • Sure! Oh, what I meant was middle/high school students (in Korea) personally “refashioning/refitting” their given uniforms. For instance, tighter pants (i.e., the gangbuk look), or shorter skirts. I think whatever the circumstances, people always try to find a way to look “fashionable.” In creative ways. Great article! I’ve never seen a Korean book talk about that particular topic. People just looked classy. That’d be an interesting topic. I’ve never thought about the effects of Japanese wartime demands in that context! I’m curious too.

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