Nylon, the first truly man made fibre although invented in America, I believe, before the war, only became available in this country after the Americans entered the war and then only in the form of stockings which G.I’s brought with them to woe our women, some of whom would do almost anything to get hold of a pair. There was a huge shortage of women’s stockings so, one way of over- coming this was to stain the legs with tea and then draw a line using a brown coloured pencil down the back of the leg to simulate a seam, all stockings at that time had a manufacturing seam along the full length of the stocking unlike the seamless stockings or tights of to-day. I remember drawing the line on Pat when she had reached the age of wearing them.
One other source of the material was parachute silk or nylon which some women managed to get hold off, it was quickly made into all manner of wear but there was one snag with it, if you made any outer garment with it such as a dress it did not photograph very well and I remember when I was at ‘boys club’ at one point we had a room set aside as a dark room for developing film and printing photographs. One of the older members developed a film of his sisters wedding in which she had worn a dress made from parachute nylon, when we made prints from the film, much to our delight, the dress was only there in ghost form but her bra, panties and suspenders were as clear as a bell. I don’t recall how well she took it nor if she showed them to friends and family, it was not as if it was just the one picture, the dress, was, more of less, missing in them all.
Boys wore long woollen socks with the girls tending to wear ankle socks, in the case of boys, the socks were held up with elastic garters with the top of the sock turned down over the garter, fancy broad garters were also used by women as an alternative to suspenders to hold up their stockings. Woollen socks were prone to wear through to holes at the toes and heals and there are few things more uncomfortable than strangling a big toe through hole in your sock, which meant that darning socks was another regular job for mum, to aid darning holes there was a smooth wooden instrument called a ‘mushroom’ with a domed head with a turned shaped hand grip, the domed head was inserted into the sock so that the hole was at the top with the rest of the sock pulled down and gripped by one hand leaving the other hand to do the darning. I t was quite a skilful job to properly darn a sock where firstly the wool was sewn back and forward across the hole and then threaded the other way over and under alternate strands forming a woven patch. Mum was very good at darning but that didn’t stop the patch from becoming yet another hole resulting in darns being darned again and again.
A I have already mentioned, Mum was very secretive about her underwear but I do know that she was never into the latest fashion and like most women of that time wore directoire knickers and a corset, although I never saw this garment on the line I did see them in the clothes basket for dried clothes from time to time, Mums corsets were always pink with a number of narrow vertical pockets designed to take strips of whalebone or later woven metal strips, the corset was drawn tightly around the middle of the body using a cord threaded through a series of metal strengthened eyelets, much as shoe laces and pulled in so that the woman’s waist was, in the majority of women, very narrow and in some cases drawn in to the point that a man could put his hands around her waist with thumbs and fingers of both hands touching, it is little wonder that women were subject to fainting with their lower ribs compressed to that degree. Mum used to buy all our underwear at Mrs Mansbridge drapery shop which was a detached building on the eastern side in Bournemouth Road near the railway bridge, I clearly remember being with her when she bought some knickers, the shop had a wide counter with loads of drawers behind the serving area which were all labelled and from one of which the knickers of the right size, shape and quality we taken and spread out on the counter for mum to examine.