One of our Triborough Reference Librarians, Debby Wale, has been looking through our Costume Collection at Chelsea Reference Library for references to Nylon.
Susannah Handley’s book charts the history of Nylon.
In 1931 Wilmington’s Evening Journal broke the news that a silk like fabric could be made by combining antifreeze and castor oil.
Now for the technical stuff – I promise, there will be some fab pics from Vogue as usual!
What is Nylon?
This quote was taken from the Encyclopædia Britannica (Britannica Online Library Edition, 22 May 2013 – this can be accessed with Kensington and Chelsea library membership)
In October 1938, DuPont announced the invention of the first wholly synthetic fibre ever produced. Given the trade name Nylon (which has now become a generic term), the material was actually polyhexamethylene adipamide, also known as nylon 6,6 for the presence of six carbon atoms in each of its two monomers. Commercial production of the new fibre began in 1939 at DuPont’s plant in Seaford, Del., U.S., which in 1995 was designated a historic landmark by the American Chemical Society. Soon after the DuPont fibre was marketed, nylon 6 (polycaprolactam) was produced in Europe based on the polymerization of caprolactam. Nylon 6 and nylon 6,6 have almost the same structure and similar properties and are still the most important polyamide fibres worldwide.
Nylon arrived on the scene just in time to replace silk (a natural polyamide), whose East Asian supply sources had been cut off by imperial Japan. Women’s stockings made of the new fibre were exhibited at the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco and at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. The next year they went on sale throughout the United States, touching off a nylon mania that survived diversion of the fibre to military use during World War II and continued after the war with such intensity that nylon virtually established the synthetic-fibre industry.
Right, that’s the serious bit over. Those eyes that have glazed over can wake up now.
On to the nice pictures in Vogue!
These advertisements appeared in Vogue throughout 1958.
Stockings were an obvious candidate for nylon to replace silk – when they first appeared they were referred to as ‘Nylons’.
Astraka fake fur would please the anti-fur movement today, although I’m not entirely sure that poodle is impressed.
Chiffon was originally made from cotton – here is a selection of California Nylon Chiffon ads from Vogue, 1958
Above – You can see the puffball skirt is not an entirely modern invention.
The lady in the conventional yellow chiffon dress on the right is probably saying “I hope she doesn’t have to sit down in that!’
Above – are they amazed by her stylish appearance – or are they looking for the join in her hairpiece?
Nylon is extremely flammable, unless flame resistant treated. Below is an advertisement from Vogue in 1958 for a ‘flare free’ Heathcoat nylon dress.
Similar items of clothing are still manufactured today as you can see on the Heathcoat Fabrics website.
Nylon fabrics were easy to care for. As indicated in the advertisements below with women enjoying everyday activities wearing smart clothes. Smoking, drinking coffee, and possibly standing too close to the fire.
I remember being on the train in the days when people were allowed to smoke in carriages. I watched a fashionably dressed lady’s mini skirt start to melt when her cigarette strayed too close to her clothing. Luckily, I alerted her before her mini skirt became much shorter than she intended.
Shop for the shade… Nylon was available in bright, non-fade colours.
Every last thing a sweater can give. The knot and style of Wolsey, the wash and wear of Ban-lon – in specially processed nylon. Downy soft, feather light, with a dreamy eye for colour.
To bring us up to the present day, a 21st Century take on nylon, visit the Berg Fashion Library to see this article in full – you will need your Kensington and Chelsea library membership to access this.
Electric Textiles »by Bradley Quinn
Kanebo (Japanese manufacturer of textiles and cosmetics) are also developing ‘Biosafe’, a nylon filament yarn embedded with microscopic ceramic spheres (chemically bound to the fibres) that release a constant stream of silver ions, which has a powerful antibacterial effect.
The fabric is ideal for sportswear, high-performance gear, underwear and hospital gowns. Since the antimicrobial deodorant in Biosafe is kneaded into the fibre itself, its properties are highly durable and withstand repeated washing. Tests have shown the fabric will destroy some harmful bacteria and inhibit the growth of others, making the fabric ideal for hospitals or clinical environments.
Debby Wale, Triborough Reference Librarian