Paint-on Hosiery During the War Years

A back “seam” drawn with an eyebrow pencil topped off the resourceful fashion effect

With nylon or silk hose hard to come by, women had the look of stockings brushed on their legs.

So it’s Saturday night in 1941, and you want to wear stockings with your cocktail dress, but the new wonder material nylon has been rationed for the war effort and has disappeared from department store shelves. What do you do in such times of patriotic privation? You get resourceful, and cover your legs with a layer of nude-colored makeup, and line the back of each leg with a trompe l’oeil seam.

A successful application of liquid stockings and seams.

Last week, in the first post from the Stocking Series, we heard about the huge reception of nylon hosiery. On May 16, 1940, officially called “Nylon Day,” four million pairs of nylons landed in stores and sold out within two days! But only a year later, the revolutionary product became scarce when the  World War II economy directed all nylon into manufacturing parachutes, rope and netting.

Liquid stockings were a noteworthy enough phenomenon that even the Smithsonian has a bottle in its collection. Leg Silque Liquid Stockings, National Museum of American History.

World War II poster, Amberley Museum, Britain.

As duty prevailed, a new fashion arose from the nylon ration. Liquid stockings, it was called. A foundation for your legs, applied carefully and evenly for the illusion of hose. Advanced users got even more realistic by using black eyeliner pencils to draw the “seam.”


Drawing in the seam-line on “Makeup” stockings with a device made from a screw driver handle, bicycle leg clip, and an eyebrow pencil, 1942. Bettman/Corbis

Having trouble with your seam? No problem! This contraption, made from a screwdriver handle, bicycle leg clip and an ordinary eyebrow pencil would do the trick!

Leg makeup bar, 1944, at a department store.

For those women overwhelmed by options— Ann Barton’s Leg Make-up, Harriet Hubbard Ayer’s Stocking Lotion, Patrick’s Leg Art, Leg Charm from Cosmetic House, Helena Rubinstein’s Leg Stick and Max Factor’s Pan-Cake Make-up, for starters—or unsure about application techniques, a leg makeup bar at their local department store could provide some guidance for beautifying their gams.

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