Rayon dress ad, 1942

The magic of rayon

Rayon dress ad, 1942
An ad for a rayon dress: Life Magazine, September 28, 1942

Where would we be today without rayon? What makes this particular fabric so special? Most vintage lovers know that rayon grew in popularity during the 1940s when natural fibers such as cotton, wool, and silk were crucial to support the war effort.

What I didn’t know: Rayon is the world’s oldest manufactured fiber. The French developed rayon during the 1880s. It’s made out of cellulose. The stuff you learned about in junior high school science class–plant cell walls. So it’s not really synthetic, but it’s not entirely natural, either. Interesting.

When Dupont Chemicals started producing rayon in the 1920s, it became ubiquitous, according to the folks at WiseGeek. But WWII definitely took that popularity to new heights–rayon wasn’t just affordable and versatile: in some cases, it was the only thing available.

The ad pictured here offers great insight into the wartime mindset. Leaner silhouettes using less fabric were the new norm. In some ways, the 1940s revisited the thrift of the Great Depression. Note the tips on how to protect dresses and keep them wearable season after season.

Does your vintage-flavored wardrobe include rayon?

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