Watch out for the fellow who offers to sell you "nylon" hosiery! There isn't any.
No mere man can fully understand the power of nylon stockings over women's minds, hearts, and consciences. But a lot of men are busy exploiting this feminine weakness.
Foremost example: Uncle Sam. The only legitimate purchaser of nylon hosiery in the world is the U.S. Government. No, the stockings aren't "sent to Iceland on lend-lease," as reported in a silly story that was repeated on the floor of Congress. They travel a much more devious route.
Our secret agents overseas discovered that a half dozen pairs of sheer nylons would buy more information from certain mysterious women in Europe and North Africa than a fistful of money. After all, what could the ladies buy with money in the empty shops of the Old World? So several large hosiery mills, which had made no nylons since Pearl Harbor, received substantial orders from Washington; the necessary yarn, they were informed, would be available. Pleasantly surprised, they turned out the merchandise -- the only nylons legitimately manufactured in years.
Nevertheless, enough American women want nylon stockings at any price, in contempt of law, and with callous indifference to our soldiers' needs for other nylon goods, to support a sizable black market. It is some satisfaction to record that the black market operators give the women a merciless stinging.
Thirteen cases of raw nylon en route from the Du Pont factory in Martinsville, Va., to a parachute yarn plant in Winston-Salem, N.C., were stolen from a motor-freight terminal in Greensboro, N.C. Accepting the thin story that the nylon was salvage from a warehouse fire, two manufacturers made it up into hosiery. It was spread as far as possible by making the feet and tops of cotton. But these skimpy makeshift stockings sold readily for $5 a pair to bootleggers, who in turn got $10 a pair from customers, male and female, hexed by the magic word "nylon." The nylon yarn was worth $7800; it was made into $140,000 worth of stockings.
FBI and OPA agents arrested three men. One, a former official of a trucking company, was fined $5,000 and is serving a two-year prison term. The two hosiery mill men were fined $12,000 each and placed on 18 months' probation. The Government agents managed to seize 5,000 pairs of hose before they could be peddled. These, by court order, were sold at the OPA ceiling prime of $ 1.65 a pair in the office of the U.S. Marshal in Greensboro. The sale was to begin at ten o' clock in the morning. At 5 a.m. the queue began to form; when the doors opened, the line of women, four abreast, extended four city blocks. Half of them went away disappointed.
Much more intricate was another scheme for black market nylons. A silk mill in Pennsylvania got a contract to convert raw nylon into thread for glider towropes. Part of the raw nylon was systematically snitched, and accounted for in reports to the WPB as "spoilage." The "spoiled" nylon was transported to three hosiery mills whose owners were in the plot. When the FBI cracked down, it found 10,320 pairs of nylons in one warehouse, 6,500 unfinished pairs in another, enough thread to make 36,000 pairs more. Four men were indicted.
Most patrons of the nylon black market are stung in two ways: they pay fantastic prices and they do not get nylon. Travelers, and even professional merchandise buyers who should know better, have bought "Mexican nylon" in quantities. Sometimes they have misleading names, such as "carbonyl."
Dozens of pairs have turned up for laboratory analysis at the New York headquarters of the National Association of Hosiery Manufacturers. They're just rayon. You can get them at any hosiery counter in the United States; ceiling price, $1.25.
An Omaha store imported 1,680 pairs of these "nylons" in good faith and advertised them at $2.25, plus $1.85 for customs duty. The Better Business Bureau had a pair analyzed and thus convinced the merchant he had been victimized. The stockings were withdrawn from sale.
The lengths to which the gyps will go is indicated by the troubles of the Van Raalte Company. It is getting a stream of complaints about hosiery bought as nylon, stamped with the Van Raalte name and the nylon trademark and, most convincing, made with the patented Van Raalte toe. Some victims bought the counterfeits in Mexico City, some bought them from bootleggers in the U.S.; but it seems plain that the imitations were all made in Mexico.
The small amount of honest nylon wastage or spoilage that does occur in war production is allotted to manufacturers of underwear, brassieres and girdles -- never to hosiery mills. Every retailer should know that there just isn't any nylon hosiery to be had. Still, when George M. Toney wrote to 1,000 stores from a post office box address in Washington, D. C., offering nylons at $7.44 a dozen pairs, he got orders with some $2,000 cash by return mail. There is no guesswork about the money, because postal authorities opened his mail and counted it.
Ruses of the bootleggers show little originality. The driver of a delivery truck, often bearing the name of a well-known shop, stops a woman on the street and tells her that some nylons were put on his truck by mistake. She can have them at $5 (or $10) a pair. Or a peddler drifts into a doctor's office on the pretext of making an appointment. He casually mentions that the parcel in his hand contains nylon stockings -- unfortunately not his wife's size. Could anyone use them? He is typical of the shifty-eyed, furtive nylon bootleggers who canvass office buildings in the big cities.
Perhaps the limit of credulity is reached by the people who buy compounds which, dissolved in water, will "nylonize" rayon stockings. One of the big hosiery manufacturers remarked dryly, "If any chemist has such a formula, he needn't bother with the 25-cent trade. I'll give him $5,000,000 for it in cash."
After the war there will be nylon hosiery, finer, sheerer, stronger, more beautiful than ever before. Designs for the machines to make it are past the blueprint stage. But until the war is over, the Army and Navy need every pound of nylon. There won't be any for stockings except what is stolen. And there won't be much stolen. So, ladies -- don't be suckers.
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Last Revision: 6/15/98