The Painted Leg- Liquid Stockings of the 1940s

I’m always fascinated by past fashion fads and the history behind them, for  example, the “cosmetic stockings ”  of the 1940s. Even though leg makeup had been around for a while, it never took off like it did in the 40s.  During that time it became a trend born out of necessity due to the outbreak of WWII.

British women were the first to to fall victim to the stocking shortage with those from the allied countries following close behind as their countries joined the war.  Even many women in the US who still owned stockings opted to donate them as part of their patriotic duty.

But women were not about to stand  for the bare legged look that was a direct result of nylon rationing for the  production of parachutes, ropes and cord.

So what was a fashion conscious girl to do?  Well, the very resourceful ladies of the 40s began  to look for alternatives to fake the look of hosiery, as a bare leg on the street at that time was considered un-seamly!  Gals raided their kitchen for ways to  glam up their gams, including, I kid you not, applying brown gravy, cocoa or tea! Eyebrow pencil was used to mimic a back seam. Though it was best to have a friend with a very steady hand to help with that.

leg painting

Of course once cosmetic companies realized there was money to be made,  there were many more options.

You could  have your legs painted by a professional.

Women leg painting

Or you could visit a department store’s Leg Makeup Bar and buy leg makeup in cream, lotion and stick form to give your legs the stocking clad look you craved.

Leg Makeup Bar

Helena Rubenstein Leg Makup

Pour On stockings


Liquid silk stockings

Stocking stick leg makeup

This video shows a woman applying her stocking paint.

Apparently the products had a tendency to rub off,   as evidenced by this popular joke at the time.

Q-What’s a wife more afraid of finding on her man than lipstick on his collar?

A-Leg paint on his back.

Now that’s what I call rubbing someone the wrong way!!!

Of course, nowadays bare legs in public are considered the norm. But it’s still nice to have them looking buffed, tanned and blemish free. So we now have some great self-tanners to get that look.  I’m a big fan, considering I’ve got pasty white legs,  and my favorite product is FakeBake Flawless. It’s the only self-tanner I’ve found that is quick and easy to apply, plus doesn’t give me that orangey “glow.”

What about you? Do you tint your legs?


Till next time, xo


Linking up with Catherine at Not Dressed as a Lamb for the #saturdaysharelinkup

By | 2017-06-16T19:19:15-04:00 June 15th, 2017|Fashion|8 Comments

About the Author:

Hi, I'm Theresa, owner and chief classy dame at the Blue Velvet Vintage online boutique. Lover of mid century fashion and home decor, classic films, Old Hollywood, pretty dresses, red lipstick, swing dancing and retro culture in general. Between my ecommere site and vintage style blog my mission is to revive the eras of classy dressing and inspire women to add more glamour to their lives! So don't be shy! I love to hear from others who share my appreciation of the styles of the past.


  1. Theresa Campbell
    Theresa Campbell June 17, 2017 at 9:26 am

    I know, Vicki. I can barely use the eyebrow pencil properly on my brows! Am constantly having to redo. I have tried the Sally Hanson spray before. I found it gave me too much of an orange tint. My guess is the final result with these products could be dependent on the undertones in the individual’s skin. So what works for one person doesn’t for another.

  2. Theresa Campbell
    Theresa Campbell June 17, 2017 at 9:21 am

    “The things we come up with in the name of fashion.” You sure got that right! It was only popular for a short period of time, because once the war ended, women were able to buy real nylon stockings again, which were much easier to apply!

    Love the idea that you have a mission to make pale skin popular. Fair skin was coveted for centuries in Europe, then North America, because it represented the “upper” class of society, the women who had the luxury of never having to work outside. Then in the 1920s fashions changed and clothing became more revealing, at least by 19th century standards, so that it was acceptable for women to bare their skin at the beach. Now the women with the most leisure time had the luxury to spend hours basking in the sun. So basically because rich people deemed it popular, tanning the skin became all the rage and it has been that way since.

    Kudos to you on proudly displaying your legs. I’ve seen some of your outfit photos where your legs are bare. Yours are a lovely ivory shade. Unfortunately, at my age, there’s a lot more going on that warrants disguising. And until spider veins, scars and age spots become a trend, I’ll be slapping on the FakeBake 🙂

  3. Avatar
    Shelbee on the Edge June 17, 2017 at 8:20 am

    Theresa, what a fun post! I never knew these liquid stockings existed. The things we come up with in the name of fashion! Was this a wildly popular fad or something that didn’t really catch on? It is so fascinating though, for sure. I have translucently pale legs and I have never used a self tanner. I just proudly wear my ghastly white legs knowing that my skin is healthy…It is my mission to make pale skin popular! Haha!


  4. Avatar
    Vicki June 16, 2017 at 8:51 pm

    Amazing they could get those lines straight with a brow pencil. I tan pretty easily but sometimes I’ll use that Sally Hansen airbrush spray right after the winter when my legs haven’t seen the sun for many many months.

  5. Theresa Campbell
    Theresa Campbell June 15, 2017 at 11:35 pm

    Condescending is right! So many of those old newsreels are like that. So, yes, the clothes were great back then, the sexism not so much. That joke is a bit racy. I think it’s probably the most provocative thing I’ve ever posted on this blog, which, now that I think about it, means I’ve been much too proper 🙂
    I tried the Neutrogena self tanner, but I found it didn’t give me enough color. I like the Fake Bake for the instant color it gives. And you can build it up to go darker.

  6. Theresa Campbell
    Theresa Campbell June 15, 2017 at 11:16 pm

    Wow, Vix. That is very cool that you got to hear first hand what it was like for those ladies living during that time. I couldn’t believe it when I first learned about the gravy browning! Love that “Suntan of the self employed.” I only wish I could do that. I’m so pale that if I lay out under direct sun all I do is burn, even with sunscreen on. Because of that I finally gave up and now resort to chemicals and hiding under an umbrella .

  7. Avatar
    Suzanne June 15, 2017 at 9:23 pm

    Those ads back in the day were something else! The announcer is positively condescending. Ugh! I like the clothes they wore back then but I think I might have hated living at that time.

    That is quite the racy joke!

    I do use a very light tanner/moisturizer by Neutrogena. It doesn’t get very dark though. I’m thinking I need to go a shade darker. I have an issue with veins on my legs and would like better coverage.


  8. Avatar
    Vix June 15, 2017 at 11:51 am

    I grew up listening to stories ladies of my Grandma’s generation told me about painting their legs with gravy browning and getting friendly with American GIs in the hope that they’d have a spare pair of stockings on hand.
    Those old adverts are great.
    If the sun’s out I’m out in my shorts acquiring the suntan of the self-employed! I’m not adverse to a bit of fake tan in the winter. I think skin looks much nicer with a hint of colour. xxx

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