Stockings Series, Part 3: Ads from the Archives, 1890-1939

For decades, Ivory sold itself as the suds that made legwear last longer

 An 1891 Ivory ad blamed the wrong brand of soap for ruining stockings. 


“Just see, father, how this stocking is ruined, and I’ve only worn it once. I though it was because Jane had rubbed it too hard, but Mother says it’s all the fault of the soap that Jane used. And she wants you to be sure and order a box of Ivory Soap to-day.”

The story of stockings began before the nylon version captivated American women. Leading up to the craze for the synthetic stretchy material, silk stockings had their moment from the late 19th century through the mid-20th century. As hemlines rose and legs were exposed, silk stockings became an essential part of many women’s wardrobes. As I mentioned in Part 1 of Threaded’s Stocking Series, women, on average, purchased eight pairs per year. By the 1930s, in fact, Japanese silk producers were earning $70 million annually, mostly from stocking production. But the non-stretchy silk product was expensive, deteriorated quickly and ran easily. So before nylon was invented (and women went so far as to paint stocking onto their legs when there was a wartime shortage), techniques thought to elongate the lifespan of silk hose were embraced.

One such technique was washing stockings with Ivory soap. In the ads that follow, ranging from 1891-1939, Ivory flakes save the day – year after year—with their 99 44/100% pure suds. Part of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, the Ivory Project is a massive collection of 1,600 advertisements and related ephemera from 1838 to 1998 that represent a sample of Ivory’s print advertising:

Dating from the very origins of modern American advertising, the advertisements shown here illustrate the wide range of marketing strategies and techniques employed by the producers of American consumer goods. They also illustrate changing technologies in printing (for example, the introduction of chromolithography and photography) and the emergence of national print media, especially magazines, at the end of the nineteenth century.

Those changing approaches and technologies are apparent in the four-decade span of ads that follow. What’s consistent, though, is Ivory confidently touting itself as the game-changing soap to rescue your silk hose.

Ivory ad, “Will Water Harm It?” 1906.

“If it will not, you can depend upon it that Ivory Soap will not. This rule holds good in the case of colored goods of all kinds, woolens, dress fabrics, curtains—all the better-than-ordinary things that require more-than-ordinary care in laundering. Take stockings, for example. It makes no difference whether they are lace, listle, linen, silk, or wool, they will look better, last longer, and feel more comfortable if washed with Ivory Soap and lukewarm water than if cleaned in any other way. And the reason is simply this: Ivory Soap Is Pure Soap . . . And Nothing Else.

Ivory ad, “Silk Lace Stockings 15 Years Old!” 1921.

 Kept unbroken and lovely by the purity that is in Ivory Soap Flakes. Fifteen years ago in Paris, France, a Kentucky man purchased the pair of delicate, hand-embroidered silk lace stockings shown in the photograph as a gift for his wife. During the years that followed she wore them occasionally, dipping them into Ivory Soap suds after each wearing to rid them of the perspiration which always, though perhaps unnoticeably, clings to a stocking which has been worn and which rots the silk if permitted to dry in it…

Ivory ad, “‘Ivory’ – say salespeople,” 1931.

Use on your own dainty things the soap which salespeople in the finest stores approve . . . pure white Ivory.

The famous New York store which actually sold stockings of cobwebby handmade lace at $500 a pair said, ‘We can recommend Ivory with confidence because we know it is pure.’

Ivory ad, “‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to Beauty Magic,” 1934.

‘Moses in the Bulrushes,’ says Sally Gibson. ‘No, pardon me, it’s June in the forest of stockings.’

Ivory ad, “382 Hours in the air . . . on the ground . . .in 1 pair of silk stockings!” 1939.

Air Line Stewardesses get amazing wear from sheer silk stockings washed daily with Ivory Flakes. ‘I’m all up in the air about this wonderful discovery—how to save money on stockings…,’ Betty Ansena, United Air Lines Stewardess.

Ivory ad, “The Ivory Twins: Dizzy in the Arms of the Law,” 1939.

Dizzy:  Dolly, I had to. This week two pairs of stockings just went p-f-f-t!!

Dolly:  No wonder the way you let them pile up for Bridget to wash with that strong soap. I wish there was a law to make you use Ivory Flakes!

Police officer:  You said it! My wife tells me it sure does the trick.


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