June 15th, 2008

carole lombard 07
  • vp19

Sheer confusion

Ah, the power of a shapely female leg wrapped in sheer hosiery (those gams on the album cover above belong to the magnificent Cyd Charisse, modeling at right for the cover and other promotional artwork for the film -- hey, who else would MGM choose?). Carole Lombard knew the value of leg power as well as any actress in Hollywood, and a number of stills showcased her superb stockinged limbs.

What's the point of all this? Well, the inspiration came out of something being offered on eBay, an item listed as "VINTAGE CAROLE LOMBARD STOCKINGS BOXED" (and, as we'll see later, the precise wording is important).

Go to the item, and this is what you'll see:

A pair of stockings in a box that has Carole Lombard's picture, and a closer look reveals it's from her 1932 Paramount film, "No One Man":

However, and this is crucial, nowhere in the listing is there an indication that Carole Lombard wore these hose. There's no claim of authenticity or ownership, or anything like that, from the seller -- simply a pair of stockings in a box with Lombard's picture on it.

Carole Sampeck of The Lombard Archive took a look and commented, "In 1933, they would be a run-of-the-mill (HA!!) item...I've seen Carole's photo on all sorts of things, including packages of notebook paper. They are remarkable in that the box has survived relatively intact all this time, and the stockings appear to be unworn. Just imagine -- someone had to (accidentally or on purpose) set this box aside and forget it...for about 75 years, so to speak. That in itself is pretty remarkable. It's an interesting curiosity, isn't it?"

Yes it is, but a further examination reveals something else about these stockings...

...they're not silk stockings at all, but nylon, which turns this stocking tale into an entirely different yarn, pardon the pun.

It's well known that nylon fiber was invented by DuPont ("better living through chemistry!"). The first nylon stockings went on sale at several Wilmington, Del., department stores in October 1939 (below are a few of the initial buyers)...

...then caused long lines in department stores when they were introduced nationally the following May 15. About 780,000 pair were sold on that day alone:

So it's theoretically possible that Lombard owned nylon stockings (likely, in fact, given Carole's curiosity and interest in innovation). But it would have been impossible for her to have owned the pair in the box -- thanks to the presence of one word.

And that word is "Cantrece."

You'll see "Cantrece" listed next to the "100% nylon" description. As it turns out, Cantrece was a new fiber DuPont invented in 1964, sort of "Nylon: the next generation." Many hosiery companies sold Cantrece stockings (as well as some newfangled item called pantyhose), and DuPont heavily promoted the fiber in fashion magazines, such as in this ad from 1965:

So at most, these stockings are slightly more than 40 years old.

Ironically, the Lombard picture -- a relatively rare one, from one of her lesser-known films -- may have more value than the hose, although with the rising hemlines of the mid- and late 1960s, stockings became harder to find. Women, understandably reluctant to reveal a stocking top or glimpse of garter while wearing miniskirts, switched to pantyhose in droves. So if you're interested in the item, you can find it at http://cgi.liveauctions.ebay.com/2175-VINTAGE-CAROLE-LOMBARD-STOCKINGS-BOXED_W0QQcmdZViewItemQQcategoryZ28272QQihZ023QQitemZ360060484986QQrdZ1QQsspagenameZWDVW. Bidding continues through next Sunday. Just keep in mind that those stockings never, ever, came into contact with...

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