In the late 1930s, fashionable women desired to wear nylons, a sheer nude pantyhose with a black seam up the back. The DuPont Company, a large chemical company, developed the first nylon stocking in the 1920s and its popularity spread like wildfire: almost 4 million were being purchased daily. After the war started, DuPont switched their nylon factories over from making stockings to making parachutes and rope for soldiers, leaving women all across Britain and the United States without nylons.
As the war was under way, the fashion industry sold products by using marketing that told women it was patriotic to keep up your beauty routine. However, because a lot of products were made in small quantities and sold out very quickly, women had to adapt in order to maintain their fashion sense.
If you wanted to look like you were wearing nylons, you had two options: either find them on the black market or use makeup on your legs to make it look like you were wearing stockings. Only women with money could afford the high price of nylons on the black market, so women without money had to make do with leg tanner.
While getting ready in the morning, if the woman wanted to look like she was wearing nylons, she would apply a leg tanner all over her legs. Occasionally, women would even go so far as to draw the black seam up the back to really create the appearance.
In the photo above, “Hollywood starlet Kay Bensel applied her faux stocking seams with a device ‘made from a screw driver handle, bicycle leg-clip, and an ordinary eyebrow pencil”. A drawback: if it rained during the day, your “nylons” would wash off!
After the war, the DuPont Company was able to resume producing nylons, which stayed in fashion until pantyhose were developed, which is what women wear today.