Getting a Leg up on Fashion
by Amy Kenneley
Mother had a little bottle of leg makeup in the bathroom cabinet tucked between Great Grandma's Sloan's Liniment and Grandpa's Mennen after shave lotion.
In the morning, standing in her slip, she'd reach for the little bottle, and placing her foot firmly on the edge of the claw-footed bathtub, she would begin to smear the tan stuff on her legs from foot to mid-thigh. Then she stood still for several wasteful minutes waving a magazine at her drying legs and glancing at the clock so as not to be late for work.
Soon she was dressed and out the door, looking very snappy in a blouse and skirt, white summer shoes, her red hair piled loosely on top of her head. Her tan legs seemed inconsistent with her pale face and arms, but that was the style for those World War II years.
During the day I could imagine her walking up stairs, sitting at desks, filing papers, eating lunch-- all the things she did at her job. I could imagine her swinging up the steps of the streetcar, holding on to the strap, or if she were lucky, being given a seat by a gentleman. Then she would come striding home---but when she walked in the door she was not as snappy-looking as when she had left.
What had happened to her legs! Mother now had a pair of carnival-colored ones.
Sometime during her hours away, the tan color had morphed into an orange and banana peel combo. What chemistry had happened? Not only that, but the legs she had so vigorously fanned dry now had melted onto her white shoes, leaving a wavy orange ring around the instep.
And then there was the tattletale red-brown smear along her skirt hem. It trimmed the hemline and of course the skirt would need a good washing.
With a stiff washcloth and some Ivory soap, she scrubbed her legs vigorously, erasing the orange stuff and assisting her ivory legs-complete with freckles-to return to normal.
Parachutes not Pair-a-nylons
Such was the effect of rationing and shortages in wartime. She didn't mind giving up the sugar, or portioning out the shoe ration stamps, or finding that some things just weren't available "for love or money" as she said. But somehow, not having some decent nylon stockings for work or special occasions seemed unfair.
She oogled the women on the street who sported "nylons"-the fabric name had already become synonymous with stockings-and wondered Who They Knew to produce these treasures.
She suspected they had been sold on the Black Market but could never prove that. Perhaps they knew the Right People. Perhaps they grabbed the last box at a Hush-Hush Sale. Perhaps.
Whatever the reason, Mother sighed and, with many other women, opened the medicine cabinet and spread the leg make-up on.
There were so many reasons to be happy when World War II ended. Families would be reunited. New cars would begin to be made instead of tanks and planes.
"..And we'll give a mighty cheer, when the ration books are just a souvenir," were the words of a popular song. Things could begin to be normal again-whatever that was.
That Christmas under the tree, there were several thin boxes Grandpa had placed during the night. When the women - Mother and my aunts - opened them on Christmas day, you should have heard the delighted "oohs!" as they discovered their boxes contained not one but three pairs of---nylons!
I never saw Mother use leg-makeup again.
Top of Page
Back to Memories
Back to Amy Kenneley