“Is the knitted way of life your life?”
—The Great American Knits Fall 1965
DuPont certainly hoped so.
On a recent trip to visit my family in Delaware I dropped off my overnight bag in my childhood bedroom and found a stack of papers and books my mother had left on my bureau that belonged to my grandmother. As I sorted through the pile of 1950s barbecue how-to booklets, 1970s Valentine’s Day cards and other miscellany, I found this gem of an advertisement from the New York Times, August 29, 1965, “The Great American Knits Fall 1965.” How timely with the first fall chill in the air! Printed on newsprint, the 20-plus-page advertising supplement showcased DuPont’s newest synthetic fibers via a catalog of sweaters.
Orlon! Dacron! Antron! Following on the heels of the nylon’s invention in the late 1930s (in my hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, no less!) forever changing women’s hosiery, these pseudo-space-age-sounding textiles made from DuPont fibers also transformed the way we dressed. When Orlon acrylic, Dacron polyester and Antron nylon, the branded names DuPont gave to these synthetic fibers, were first available, the company went to great lengths to target Parisian couturiers who incorporated them into their runway designs in the 1950s. Then, with marketing campaigns like this one, Orlon, Dacron and Antron hit the ready-to-wear knitwear market in the 1960s.
Touting their durability, washability, vibrant colors and remarkable textures, DuPont began manufacturing the complex materials just as the United States was preparing for its first moon landing. Along with Playtex, the company instrumental in Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit, DuPont played a significant role in the Apollo project of the U.S. space program in the 1960s. Concurrently, the upcoming lunar landing inspired designers to create the space-age, op-art fashion of the times as the fashion spreads illustrate.
What I love about this multipage ad for knits—besides the heavy eye makeup, bangs, angular poses and pointy fake press-on nails —is that DuPont, whose own marketing slogan was “Better Things for Better Living . . . Through Chemistry,” realized the importance of hopping on the fashion bandwagon to hype its own scientific discoveries. Including apparel brands like Melloknit, Sweetree and Crazy Horse, the ad declares, “Some women have made collecting knits almost a cult.”
Sadly, I can’t ask my grandmother why she held onto this ad, if she ever wore any of these outfits or what she thought about the heyday of synthetic fabrics. But I’m glad my mother, who knows I’ve always appreciated what others carelessly toss in the trash, saw the potential in this 47-year-old newspaper insert and left it on my childhood bureau.