"Stocking Panic"

Business Week August 9, 1941

Shutting off raw silk brings crisis for women of U. S. and acute problem for both manufacturers and retailers.

In most countries, silk stockings are a luxury pretty much restricted to a few fortunate women in the upper income brackets. But to the average U. S. female over the age of 12, they are one of the basic necessities. The United States imports almost its entire supply of raw silk from Japan, and 90% of this goes into stockings, mostly women's. Last week, women took one quick look at the headlines announcing the new crisis in Japanese-American relations, grabbed their pocketbooks, and dived headlong for the nearest stocking counter.

The result was a rush of business practically unparalleled in retail history. In one New York specialty shop, an imperious customer said, "I use four pairs a month. Give me enough to last two years." In Denver, one woman put three $100 bills on the counter and ordered. "That many stockings, size 9, I don't care what color." Stores everywhere added extra sales help, in many cases taking on inexperienced girls. The plea of OPACs' Harriet Elliott, that women avoid piggishness and buy only for their immediate needs did not even wheel the tide.

Christmas in July. Women's Wear Dailv, in a quick survey of the situation, reported sales in individual cities up 100% to 300%, with the heaviest buying on the East and West Coasts. Totalvolume was estimated as better than double that of the big Christmas season, which ordinarily accounts for between 17% and 18% of annual stocking sales. By the beginning of this week, following OPMs order of last Saturday halting processing of raw silk and announcing that the government would take over all stocks-on-hand for the production of parachutes and silk bags for explosives, the run on the market had reached such proportions that most stores were limiting customers to two or three pairs apiece. Even rationing, however, did not prevent a virtual sell-out of almost all popular brands, lines. and sizes by the end of this week.

Makers Ration, Too. Hosiery manufacturers, likewise, were resorting to rationing in apportioning their slender stocks of finished hosiery and dry goods to retailers. With enough of these on hand to supply only about five months normal demand, many manufacturers and distributors stopped all shipments pending a general clarification of the situation.

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Copyright © 1998 The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. All rights reserved.

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Last Revision: 6/5/98