Once upon a time, in a galaxy far away, stockings were as much an essential part of a woman’s outfit as hats and gloves. Even by the 60s, Jean Shrimpton shocked the Australian media by wearing an above the knee dress without leg coverings to the Melbourne Cup. Now, we tend to wear tights for colour, or pattern, or warmth. But in the 1940s they were essential for decency and an air of elegance.
The problem being, that in the 1940s there was a war. And stockings in either silk or nylon were incredibly hard to come by, and very expensive. Even if they were available, most girls preferred to save their coupons for more exciting items like dresses.
The solution was make up for legs, known as liquid stockings, cosmetic stockings, bottled stockings and even ‘phantom hose’. Fake tan for a ‘healthy’ colour on legs was already being experimented with in the 1930s, but by the war years this was turned into an attempt to emulate the look of a stocking by painting on a layer of coloured cream. Companies such as Max Factor, Charles of the Ritz, Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden all had their own versions. You didn’t have to buy a solution at the cosmetics counter though, as many girls made up their own recipes at home or simply used watered down gravy browning. The seam at the back could be drawn on with eye pencil – but if you wanted a really professional result you could visit one of the leg make-up parlours that were as popular during the 40s as eyebrow threading bars are now.
One of the problems with this technique is touched on in the film Hope and Glory, after American GI Bruce and London girl Dawn have been enthusiastically jitterbugging, with her skirt flying up as she spins around the dance floor:
BRUCE: Are those some new kind of stockings you’re wearing?
DAWN: They might be.
BRUCE: I mean, no suspenders. They just kinda’ disappear up your ass.
If you want to learn more, there is an excellent article about Liquid Stockings on Cosmetics and Skin website.