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The invention of nylon in the mid-1930s by the geniuses at DuPont, and the first commercial sale of nylon stockings in late October 1939, are landmarks in fashion history that anyone with a modicum of reverence for the timeline of chic would do well to note. Perhaps with a moment of silence. Or the gentle rustling of stockinged leg against stockinged leg.
Here, LIFE.com pays tribute to nylon stockings — and hosiery in general — with a series of classic photos that capture something of the fashion staple’s allure, and the quite evident reasons for the stocking’s central place in the style canon.
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.