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'Make lisle the style': the politics of fashion in the Japanese silk boycott, 1937-1940.

On a Friday afternoon in late January, 1938, a standing-room crowd of 600, including many of the leading society women of the District of Columbia, attended an unusual fashion show at the Wardman Park Theater. The hour-long pageant entitled, Life Without Silk: From Morning to Midnight in Cotton and Rayon, sponsored by the League of Women Shoppers (LWS), aimed, quite literally, to make a cause fashionable. Directed by Lee Simonson, the well-known scenic designer who wore a woolen necktie, the LWS organized the show to popularize the nascent campaign to boycott Japanese silk. Simonson and the D.C. branch of the LWS intended Life Without Silk to "reveal the chic a woman can acquire without a thread of Japanese silk." To promote the boycott, they believed, was also to raise consciousness about socially-responsible and stylish modes of non-silk fashion. (1)

The audience members, many of them prominent boycott supporters, attended Life Without Silk as proponents and originators of such styles. Demonstrating that "Washington women can dress smartly in clothes made of cotton, rayon, and wool--everything but silk," the pageant's participants--mostly "members of the Junior League and women prominent in the social life of the capital"--modeled non-silk styles fit for any occasion and any time of day. A model who wore a "gayly printed morning coat of a cotton pique" was followed by others clad in suede suits, and hats, "tennis costumes of rayon, with copper tunic top, zippered down the front," cashmere cocktail dresses, and flowered cotton evening gowns. "To judge by the volume of applause, it was evident that women could look smart on the beach, at the races, around a bridge table, at the dance or in an embassy garden without silk," one newspaper reported. The show had "dowagers and sub-debs alike 'ohing' and 'ahing' in admiration." The highlight of the pageant occurred when the dancer and movie star Eleanor Powell, whom the Washington Post described as the "owner of what many believe to be the shapeliest legs in Hollywood," emerged on stage with those legs "encased in cotton stockings." (2)

Outside the theater, a contingent of women representing the American Federation of Hosiery Workers (AFHW), a union affiliated with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), marched in protest of the boycott. (3) Some 300 hosiery workers had traveled by train from Reading, Pennsylvania, the heart of the country's full-fashioned hosiery industry, to challenge the premises of the silk-free fashion show. Refusing to cede the moral high ground to the LWS, the hosiery workers argued that the dictates of both ethical consumption and good fashion required not a boycott but the continued purchase of silk. Decrying the silk boycott as short-sighted and wrong-headed, the paraders, many of whom claimed to be unemployed, argued that a silk boycott would victimize American industry, particularly American hosiery workers, far more than it would hurt the Japanese economy. "Why Make Us The Victims of Foreign War?," asked one sign; "Wear Silk and Save Our Jobs," implored another. The hosiery workers claimed that there were no practicable alternatives to silk, the essence of good fashion, and that it was unrealistic as well as unfair to ask American women to discard their silk apparel. "Nothing can properly take the place of silk," declared Lillian Shearer, a union member from Reading, who spoke on the Mutual Radio Network the evening of the protests. American women, she said, would not, and should not be expected to settle for "lower standards of dress than they now enjoy." The silk boycott, she charged, turned silk workers into fashion victims not once but twice; as workers forced into unemployment, and as consumers unable to dress fashionably. Posing for the photographers and spectators who lined Constitution Avenue, the paraders drew attention to their silk hose by holding their skirts aloft; a twenty-piece band provided musical accompaniment. (4)




Media coverage of Life Without Silk and the Hosiery Workers' protest march emphasized the bodily displays of the women of the LWS and of the AFHW rather than the causes their fashions were meant to serve. Time described Powell's limbs as "superhuman and mordantly adept, as if animated by a baleful intelligence of their own." In a rare moment of agreement from the other end of the ideological spectrum, the Daily Worker emphasized the majesty of Powell's "shapely legs sheathed in cotton stockings." Jane Eads reported in the Washington Herald that "'Life Without Silk' was not only illustrated on the stage, but carried out in real life yesterday as some 600 women, wearing cotton or rayon stockings--in some instances none at all--flocked to see a fashion show at the Wardman Park Theater dramatizing the Washington LWS' boycott of Japanese goods." In the Washington Daily News, Martha Strayer wrote that LWS membership "is well equipped in the matter of ankles but not in cotton stockings worn upon said equipment." The media singled out the exotic stylishness of America Iglesias, the "pretty" daughter of the resident commissioner of Puerto Rico, "who came barelegged, in a white cotton frock" and jacket that she wore "with as much verve and style as if it were one of the more fashionable silk outfits." (5)

Reports on the AFHW counter-protest had a similar bodily emphasis, stressing what one reporter called "the sheer number of sheer hose." "The current theme in this capital city today is all about 'Legs-Legs-Legs' and how they ankle up Constitution avenue. It was a grand parade--the greatest leg show the city has ever witnessed," noted a reporter for the Reading Eagle, who could not resist adding, "Lots of people didn't know what it was all about. They just stared, goggle-eyed" at the "600 legs in the sheerest silken hose." Even journalists who addressed the political differences that divided the protesting women did so in corporeal terms: "Both factions were supplied liberally with beautiful girls, chief difference being that the Pennsylvania factory workers flaunted their silk hosiery while the embattled shoppers and their models moved to and fro on legs encased in lisle," declared the Washington Post in an article accompanied by a series of photographs of the pro- and anti-boycott contingents in seductive poses headlined, "Shapely Pros and Cons of the Silk versus Cotton Debate." (6)

Despite their attempts to reduce the events in DC to a peep show, the reporters unwittingly brought to light important similarities in the political tactics of these opposing groups, tactics which both extended older practices of consumer activism and also squared off against those practices. Following a tradition traceable to the nation's founders, the LWS and the AFHW accepted as fundamental the view that consumption was a moral and political act that linked individuals to each other and to the producers of the goods they purchased in an imagined community of mutual responsibility covering great distances, sometimes even crossing national borders. Like previous generations of consumer activists, both groups believed that wearing (or avoiding) certain kinds of clothing was not just a matter of political rhetoric but a political activity, with tangible real-world consequences. The media coverage also highlighted the ways in which both groups rejected a defining characteristic of most previous forms of American consumer activism: the degradation of pleasure and fashion and the valorization of sacrifice. The LWS and the AFHW rejected the assumption that beauty and ethics were antithetical, and, conversely, that sacrifice was, in itself, a form of morality. Instead, they demonstrated that consumers could be activists not just when they refused goods and eschewed pleasure but also when they consumed goods and enjoyed them. Unlike most previous consumer movements, which walled themselves off from popular culture, the silk boycotters and their opponents, while disagreeing about the proper course of action, used fashion-conscious, media-friendly, public-relations-savvy strategies to nourish their political engagements. (7)


By using the techniques of mass culture to advance a cause, the silk boycott, understudied and little remembered though it may be, showed that ethical politics could be eminently fashionable, that good fashion could be a political statement, and that female consumers were central to both of these projects. The silk boycott, at home in the world of fashion and pleasure, did not, however, represent a singular moment in the history of consumer activism; it was rather the most visible episode in a recessive strain of that tradition. In tracing the origins of this fashionable form of consumer activism, and in emphasizing continuities as well as departures from previous traditions, this article argues that the boycotters and their opponents articulated in a new register of pleasure the notions of consumer power and long-distance solidarity, foundational concepts which gave rise to and continue to sustain consumer activism. Their disagreement about the proper course of that activism also revealed the capaciousness of the category of political consumption, showing that fashion-friendly consumerism, like the broader category of consumer activism of which it is a part, can take different forms and sanctions no single political viewpoint. (8)

I. Did Your Stockings Kill Babies?

The movement to boycott Japanese goods began in the United States in August 1937. Influenced by the romantic writings of Pearl Buck and others, many Americans had grown sympathetic to the Chinese people in the 1930s. These feelings intensified after Japan launched its undeclared war against China in July 1937. Against a country whose motto "Export or Die" pointed to the degree to which it relied on global markets, the threat of a boycott posed a powerful weapon, especially during a time of worldwide Depression. Unlike the ongoing but less effective boycott of Nazi Germany, which did not single out a particular good, the anti-silk campaign linked militarism to the consumption of one product. While calling attention to a wide range of Japanese imports that consumers should avoid, and launching, accordingly, a boycott of Japan's manufactured goods, most boycotters identified raw silk as "the lifeline of the Japanese militarists," the major export of "an economy built on textiles" and the United States' most economically significant Japanese imported good. They emphasized the unwitting culpability of American consumers--especially women, who reportedly bought ten to fifteen pairs of silk stockings per year--in financing war crimes through their consumption of Japanese products. (9)

The boycott quickly became what The Nation described as "a nation-wide movement of unprecedented proportions." In October 1937, both the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the CIO endorsed a boycott of Japanese manufactured goods and President Franklin D. Roosevelt seemed to sanction such actions when he called for a "quarantine" of militarily aggressive nations, including Japan. In the aftermath of the sinking of the United States' gunboat, the U. S. S. Panay, on the Yangtze River in December 1937, and growing publicity about Japanese atrocities in China, the silk boycott became one of the most popular consumer campaigns in American history. Proponents dubbed it the "people's boycott" after a Fortune poll in February 1938 found that well over half the country supported it. The silk boycott campaign was carried out in different parts of the country by a variegated constituency that included students, Chinese Americans, veterans and consumer groups, YMCA's, manufacturers associations, celebrities, progressive women's groups, and liberal and leftist organizations, ranging from the LWS, to the American Friends of the Chinese People, to the Committee for a Boycott Against Japanese Aggression, to the American League for Peace and Democracy, to the Communist Party. Early in 1938, R. A. Howell, a member of the American Friends of the Chinese People, called the boycott "the largest movement of its kind in history." An "imposing list of international unions, federations, councils and locals" endorsed the boycott, including the Trades Union Congress in England, the Confederation General du Travail in France, and Jawaharal Nehru's Indian National Congress Party. That same year the boycott gained further momentum when America's six largest chain stores--F. W. Woolworth, S. S. Kresge, McCrory, S. H. Kress, the F. and W. Grand Stores, and the National Dollar Stores--announced that they would place no additional orders for Japanese manufactured goods. (10)


Reviving the global vision that had been central to the first wave of consumer activism in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries during the "non importation" movement of the American Revolution and the "free produce" campaigns to eschew slave-made goods, boycott supporters argued that the causal chain set off by consumption did not stop at the nation's borders. Boycotters asked shoppers to adopt toward goods made in fascist countries the "same sensitiveness which causes many to refuse to buy the products of child labor or sweatshop labor." In doing so, they extended the reach of the politics of consumption to foreign policy. For boycott supporters, to wear silk was to contribute to Japanese atrocities and unwittingly to become what the Committee for a Boycott Against Japanese Aggression called "an innocent partner in Japanese aggression." By making transparent the connection between the consumption of silk and Japanese militarism, the boycotters aimed to make such innocent ignorance impossible. Arguing that unthinking consumption of such goods would promote Japanese imperialism, they did not hesitate to attribute a direct causal link between silk purchases and murder. As one pamphlet asked, "Did Your Stockings Kill Babies?" The answer to this blunt question, according to The Boycott Japanese Goods Committee of Greater Boston, was an unequivocal yes: "If your stockings are silk ... they helped Japan to murder thousands of babies and women, workmen, and peasants of China." Another boycott group reminded consumers that "every pair of silk stockings buys four rounds of deadly machine-gun bullets." Given that the purchase of Japanese goods made consumers accessories to murder and mayhem, the consumer's job was to "refuse to be an accomplice in the crime," by eschewing silk and other Japanese goods. (11)

Accordingly, for the boycotters using "consumer power to effect social justice" took on new meaning. Looking carefully at products before purchasing them did not mean merely examining them for cost and quality (as an earlier generation of consumer activists would have suggested), nor did it mean only examining working conditions (as labor-friendly organizations such as the National Consumers' League and the AFHW as well as the LWS itself recommended to consumers) but also understanding the degree to which goods comprised the economic sinews of enemy powers. As Rebecca Drucker, a member of the LWS, wrote, in supporting the boycott the League was not fundamentally altering but rather logically extending into the field of foreign-made goods its mission, summed up by the slogan, "Use Your Buying Power for Justice." The League emphasized that women, in their role as consumers, had an important role to play in this expansion of aggregate purchasing power from domestic labor relations to foreign relations. According to Robert Stark, a correspondent for the New Masses, the consumer was the first cause in a series of events that would weaken the Japanese economy and hence its military. Stark suggested how the chain reaction of consumption could affect foreign affairs: "When you ask for lisle ... the salesgirl tells the buyer, the buyer tells the mill selling agent, the agent tells the manufacturer. And the manufacturer cuts down his buying of silk. Multiply your insistence by several million--and raw-silk sales will drop, crash." The same techniques of organized non-consumption previously used to punish anti-union employers, Stark claimed, could be employed to weaken national economies. (12)

The movement's stress on the causal link between the purchase of silk and the health of the Japanese war machine placed a heavy burden on consumers. If the seemingly innocent act of buying stockings led directly to atrocities in distant parts of the world, ethical consumers could not claim to be neutral or unaware of the consequences of their actions. By promulgating such a worldview, the boycott movement hoped to render moot the excuse that the consequences of consumption were unforeseen at the time of purchase. Sometimes boycott proponents described shopping not in terms of causation but as a kind of alchemy in which the very purchase of a product led it to magically and diabolically transform: "Stores display only silk stockings, satin nightgowns, pretty toys and novelties. But rub your eyes and look again, and every pair of stockings is a clip of rifle bullets, every gimcrack a blood-rusted fragment of shrapnel." This use of metonymy, evocative of the "free produce" movement's description of "blood soaked" cotton or sugar that howled in pain, suggested that the consumption of silk and other Japanese products did not merely cause violence, but was itself an act of violence. (13)

While both the AFL and the CIO voted overwhelmingly in October 1937 to boycott Japanese manufactured goods, neither organization supported the boycott on Japanese silk, the raw material that provided the livelihood for hundreds of thousands of workers in hosiery and related industries. The AFHW was the most vociferous among the trade unions in distinguishing between the boycott on manufactured goods, which it supported, and what it deemed to be the ill-considered boycott of Japanese silk. The AFHW asked liberal and radical consumer activists to weigh the benefits of a silk boycott against potential harm it would do to American workers. Disagreeing with the boycotters' claims of causal transparency, the AFHW argued that purchases were embedded in a complex causal matrix, whose moral calculus was not readily discernable. Determining the truth about products, and consequently the morality of using them, was a complicated business, the union suggested. Indeed, the Hosiery Workers rejected the argument that silk was primarily a Japanese product. The union argued that the bulk of the labor performed on silk occurred after it arrived in the United States. Emil Rieve, the union's president, claimed that for this reason, "The silk industry is an American industry in which American capital is invested and American labor is engaged." Global trade was a fact of life, the AFHW argued; this did not make silk stockings any less American than other goods manufactured in the United States. "No modern nation is economically completely self-contained and ... some part of its people must subsist by interdependent processes of international exchange of commodities and the flow of world trade," declared John Sayre, a critic of the boycott. He noted that the "American housewife" who "gives vent to her moral indignation ... by refusing to purchase the silk products of peasants who live in Japan ... ought to know that by her act she is at the same time causing unemployment to share-cropper tenant farmers of cotton in American dixie and to full fashioned hosiery workers in Pennsylvania." Sayre's comments reveal that a shared belief in the widening circle of causation set off by consumption was no guarantee that all would understand the workings of consumption's effects in the same way. The Hosiery Workers claimed that the boycott would harm American workers far more than it would cripple the Japanese war machine. (14)

Boycott opponents questioned the loyalty, wisdom, and judgement of the boycotters, whom they denounced as "uplifters and left-wingers" seeking an "emotional outlet" heedless of the consequences of their actions. "We level no charges against those who are promoting the Silk boycott," wrote Rieve disingenuously, before proceeding to level the following charge: "We say only that it appears to be directed by persons who either have not given sufficient thought to what they are doing or who are serving purposes not wholesome to American industry, American labor and the broad national economy of the American people." The AFHW also argued that the boycotting women were not up to the task of weighing the impact of non consumption. Even the women of the AFHW made this sexist argument by adding a class dimension; the upscale boycotters were ignorant of the realities of working-class life. The hosiery workers claimed that these debutantes and dilettantes were, in effect, laying them off through their non consumption of silk. (15)

Cease to Support Economically What we Condemn Morally

Despite the schism between the LWS and the AFHW over the virtues of the boycott, the clash in the Capitol on that January afternoon in 1938 involved a surprising set of adversaries. Before the Japanese silk boycott, few observers would have foreseen conflict between these groups, one a prominent champion of labor consumerism and the other a leading proponent of consumerist labor advocacy. Both groups played a central role in reviving the consumer movement and in forging a bond between labor and consumer groups in the 1930s. No union had argued more strongly for the importance of consumerism than the AFHW, whose newspaper, The Hosiery Worker, was one of first periodicals of any kind to include regular columns on consumption and on the necessity of practicing politics not only on the shop floor but at the cash register. Conversely, no consumer organization was more pro-labor than the League of Women Shoppers, which described itself as an "auxiliary" of the labor movement. Jessie Lloyd O'Connor, the president of the LWS's Chicago chapter, described the organization as "an outfit formed ... to bring consumers into understanding and sympathetic action with labor." From its founding in 1935 the League championed living wages for waitresses and domestic workers, organized boycotts of dozens of companies whose policies it determined to be anti-labor, and saw its main purpose as championing the growing power of organized labor. Both groups exemplified the emerging alliance between labor and consumer advocates. And both were generally understood to be related components of the broad progressive movement, the so-called "Popular Front" that was at the cutting edge of social and political activism throughout the New Deal era. (16)

The LWS and the AFHW also shared similar assumptions about the ethical and political importance of consumption. Drawing on a tradition that extended back to the origins of modern consumer activism in the late eighteenth century, they understood consumption to have far-reaching consequences. Consumption was for both, above all, an act of solidarity and a mode of assisting the many people to whom the consumer, in a modern economy, was inextricably linked. Consumer activists had long argued that shoppers created a market for the goods they demanded and, in effect, "hired" the workers who made them. Consumers, thus, had great power and responsibility: power because purchasing transactions were the first cause of economic activity, setting production in motion; responsibility because purchasing decisions directly affected the livelihood of workers, the health of businesses, and even the prosperity of nations. Shoppers, therefore, had the potential to promote morality at the workplace or, conversely, to turn the workplace into the moral equivalent of a sweatshop. The silk-boycotters and silk-defenders shared the view that irresponsible purchases did not merely condone exploitation but were in themselves exploitative acts. Shopping ethically did not merely reflect one's political beliefs but was in itself the performance of ethical politics.

Goods, consumer activists had argued since the American Revolution, had to be understood in their social context. And appearances, they claimed, could deceive. Consumer activists posited a metonymy in which products, no matter how superficially appealing, if made under immoral conditions, by immoral employers, or immoral countries, embodied the evil that produced them. For the American revolutionaries, English tea, no matter how fragrant, carried the bitter taste of oppression. For abolitionist proponents of the "free produce" movement, even the tastiest slave-made sugar was "smeared with the blood of the innocent and the oppressed. They may be sweet to the taste but they are bitter to the thought." (17) The Japanese silk boycotters understood themselves to be maintaining and extending these traditions of consumer politics. While silk stockings might look pretty, they could not be judged so since the effects of wearing them were anything but lovely: as a pro-boycott pamphlet declared, "never has vanity cost so much." The beauty of a good, in other words, could not be determined by an examination of the isolated thing itself. The hosiery workers too positioned themselves within this tradition of uncovering the truth about products in social terms. Emil Rieve, the leader of the Hosiery Workers' union, argued, for example, that many goods advertised as non silk, and thus morally pure, alternatives, were manufactured by non-union employers or, even worse, in fascist Germany, and were thus themselves ethically compromised. Such accusations undermined the view that lisle stockings were inherently virtuous. By ignoring the provenance of lisle stockings as well as the status of the workers who made them, Rieve charged, the boycotters violated the premises of ethical consumption they claimed to hold dear. (18)

Agreement on the political importance of ethical consumption, thus, did not guarantee consensus as to specific actions that followed from this principle. The clash in the Capitol complicated the seemingly straightforward claim made by one boycott supporter that we should "cease to support economically what we condemn morally." There was agreement on the widened web of causation set off by consumption, but disagreement on how wide and in what direction the concentric circles extended. There was agreement on the importance of ethical consumption, but disagreement about what constituted it. There was agreement that there were no neutral or apolitical shoppers, but disagreement about what the proper form of consumerist engagement should be. There was agreement on the special importance of women in this battle, but disagreement as to what role they would play. Agreeing on the importance to the political practice of ethical consumption of fashion, pleasure and sexuality, these groups disagreed as to what cause these forces should be promoting. (19)

II. We Must Rival the Blood-Stained Productions in Beauty and Durability

The tactics employed by the silk boycotters and their opponents departed from the rhetoric of renunciation that had been a staple of most previous episodes of consumer activism. The dominant tradition of American consumer politics has been leery of the elements that we commonly associate with consumer society. The "non-importation" movement of the Revolutionary era, the founding event in the history of American consumer activism, for example, promoted homespun clothing both as a means to economically harm British enemies and as a way to keep "the bug bear--fashion" at bay. Ultimately, the movement conflated these two goals, so that the revolutionary boycotters understood eschewing luxury as itself a statement of patriotic principles. The revolutionaries pitted American simplicity and virtue against British fashion and corruption. Similarly, most of the antebellum advocates of "free produce," boycotters of slave-made goods, defined pleasure and virtue as opposites. They proudly trumpeted their "self-denying practice" and invoked "abstinence" as the highest value. Other boycott campaigns--the most common and consistent form of American consumer activism from that time to this--have traded on the rhetoric and practice of virtuous sacrifice. The important consumer organizations of the twentieth-century, from the National Consumers' League in the Progressive Era, through Consumers' Research (founded in 1929) and Consumers Union (founded in 1936), to the best-selling books of Vance Packard in the 1950s, through groups associated with Ralph Nader since the 1960s have generally distrusted adornment as well. The popular (and apt) depiction of Nader as an ascetic rather than an aesthete may also be applied to earlier consumer activists, whose perspective tended toward a utilitarian suspicion of fashion. Many contemporary consumer activists, proponents of "voluntary simplicity," for example, continue to hold such views. (20)

American consumer politics are not unique in this regard. Nineteenth-century British socialists, according to Noel Thompson, displayed an "uneasiness with consumption" and believed that "human liberation lay in no small measure in the simplification of desire." In Revolutionary France, sans culottes, whose very name indicated a pride in abjuring the fashions of the wealthy, promoted a "right to subsistence" but attacked a broadly-defined notion of luxury as inherently counter-Revolutionary. As the historian Warren Breckman has shown, late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century German intellectuals attempted to "discipline consumption," as they sought to distinguish between productive (utilitarian) and unproductive (luxurious) acts of consumption. The Swadeshi movement in India and the National Products movement in China condemned goods of foreign provenance, in part by defining them as unnecessary, unpatriotic, and unvirtuous luxuries. None of these groups rejected increased consumption out of hand; indeed, they generally championed a higher standard of living for ordinary people. Still, in practice and in rhetoric they emphasized the dangers rather than the pleasures of consumption. Increased consumption may have been the goal, but discipline and deferral were the daily practice. (21)

This vision of consumption as a moral and political danger, while dominant, did not go entirely unchallenged. Before the silk boycott, a counter-tradition, especially popular among subaltern groups, had emerged that used consumption as a resource for political engagement. African American resistance to Jim Crow, both organized and quotidian, often linked fashion and consumption to political claims. Successful black families in the urban post-Reconstruction South, according to Glenda Gilmore, "lived a deliberately conspicuous life." In proudly displaying fine table settings and luxurious wardrobes, they challenged white stereotypes about how blacks "by nature" lived. For working-class African Americans, conspicuous fashions and the display of familiarity and comfort with consumer culture served as an expression of the dignity that whites sought to deny them. From the lynching of "uppity" blacks, who had the temerity to challenge their degraded status through the display of acquisitions, to the Zoot suit riots, to the Woolworth lunch counters, white supremacists often reacted with violence to such public displays of consumption. (22)

A second and roughly coterminous set of efforts to link consumption positively with politics came with the attempt of a group of working-class Americans to embed labor ideology, and even labor radicalism, in the emerging consumer culture. Through demands for an eight-hour workday, "living wages," and an "American Standard of Living" labor leaders and organizations sought to republicanize consumer society. For working-class women, according to Nan Enstad, the search for pleasure in popular culture--through developing distinct fashions, reading dime novels, attending movies--did not detract from their politics. Rather, these forms of consumer culture enabled them to "imagine recognition and value as workers" and as women and made possible solidarity and resistance. Similarly, women's suffrage advocates attempted to "sell suffrage" to the American people by using the developing techniques of advertising and marketing on behalf of their cause. The New York City Political Equality League, for example, asked its department of hygiene to sponsor a "suffrage temple of beauty." (23)

Until the Japanese silk boycott, however, such positive visions of fashion remained a distinctly minority view within the consumer movement itself. For most activists, alternative consumption generally meant abstention or the purchase of ugly or uncomfortable goods, which they took to be a synecdoche for the moral worth of the cause. Adornment itself was troubling and problematic to the pioneering generation, as it continued to be for later generations of consumer activists, such as the National Consumers' League members who, in the words of Josephine Goldmark, demonstrated "a considerable sense of virtue" when they endured the discomfort of "the voluminous nightgowns, chemises, and other underwear of the period made of heavy, often coarse, white cotton" that bore League's "white label" of approval. The silk boycotters' break with the antifashion tradition was particularly significant in the 1930s when the consumer movement was large and respected but still widely depicted as puritanical, humorless, and unalterably opposed to adornment of any kind. A cottage industry of cartoons and articles mocked the fussiness and reflexively anti-fashion sentiments of movement participants. Critics published spoofs which claimed that Consumers' Research "has proven that Santa Claus doesn't exist," or that "dill pickles don't contain dill," or that consumers should eat bird seed rather than breakfast cereal. The critics exaggerated only slightly: the movement sought to convince the American consumer that pleasure and fashion were as unnecessary as wasteful packaging and as nefarious as advertising and other forms of corporate manipulation. This strand of consumer activism saw consumer society--or at least its dominant characteristics--as the enemy. The silk boycotters, by contrast, made fashion central to their cause; indeed, given the performative logic they promoted, it is not too much to say that fashion was their cause. (24)

Put Silk in the Doghouse

Activists on both sides of the boycott issue were well aware that they were living in an era of shifting erogenous zones. "Legs have emerged after a century of shrouding" noted the fashion commentator J. C. Flugel in 1930. As interest "has departed from the trunk and is centered on the limbs," he wrote, "ankles, calves, and knees" had become women's "chief erotic weapons." In trading on the interest in their legs, and in using them as erotic weapons in the boycott cause, the pageanteers and marchers were mimicking (or perhaps were copied by) the femmes fatales of contemporary film who, as Stella Bruzzi notes, were characterized by their legs and by their attempt to attract male attention through their limbs. James Laver, the fashion historian, noted in 1938 that the "the makers of silk stockings were enjoying a boom" based upon "the newly-discovered seductiveness of the feminine leg." Cole Porter captured this "new erotic aesthetic" in his 1934 song, "Anything Goes": "In olden days a glimpse of stocking/Was looked on as something shocking/But now, God knows/Anything goes." The AFHW illustrated this aesthetic in a cartoon entitled "Looking for the Label" that appeared in its newspaper in 1939. The cartoon depicts a group of men staring lasciviously at the legs of a department store mannequin. The fact that the male gaze was drawn to the female leg, the cartoonist seemed to be suggesting, provided a good opportunity to highlight union label hosiery. Another AFHW cartoon, highlighted the allure of union label hosiery, by showing that "Peggy O'Connor," who wears such stockings, "has many guys." The boycotters also sought to use this newfound fascination with the female leg for political gain; witness their showcasing of Eleanor Powell's famous limbs and thousands of less well-known leg barers. (25)

Women had long been central to the American tradition of consumer activism, but the emergence of the leg-oriented aesthetic gave their actions a new visibility and resonance. With fashion widely understood as a weapon of foreign policy, anti-silk boycotters assigned women power in the traditionally male arena of politics and foreign policy. As Bryon Scott, a Democratic Congressmen from California, put it, "the possibility of checking aggression rests very largely on the style consciousness of American women." Lee Simonson, the director of Life Without Silk, agreed when he said in a comment echoed by many other boycott supporters that through their non-silk fashions, "American women must strike the first effective blow against Japanese aggression." From the opposing side, the Hosiery Workers' newspaper accused the boycotters of excessive "zeal and thoughtlessness" for mistakenly putting foreign considerations ahead of domestic ones in their fashion choices. As the union member Lillian Shearer said, "I should like to ask them to think carefully about how they toss around the job which means life to so many of us." Notwithstanding her union's own media-savvy behavior--indeed, Shearer made these comments during her radio address--she urged American "not to be misled by stunt pictures and press agent stories" of barelegged coeds or celebrities in lisle. (26)



Both the pro- and anti-silk forces understood the importance of spectacle and sought to make their campaigns visually pleasing, and occasionally even titillating, to viewers. An observer of a non-silk parade put on by the Women's Senate at St. Olaf College noted that "lisle stockings got the 'once-over' [as the audience] eagerly craned their necks to cast critical eyes on the legs of exhibitors." (27) But to promote the spectacular was not to reduce women to objectified bodies. Boycotters believed that they were, above all, political actors, drawing upon previously unclaimed resources within consumer society. They invoked sexuality, spectacle, fashion and pleasure as political forces and rejected the usual opposition between these on the one hand, and virtue, on the other. "We are boycotting silk, not fashion," as one anti-silk group claimed. Rather than demanding sacrifice from American women, the boycotters encouraged women to engage in a simultaneously playful and serious process of creative refashioning. Stressing the importance of "making it a fashion to wear cotton, wool, or rayon clothes," they emphasized the congruence between good politics and good fashion. Urging women to "Put Silk in the Doghouse," Leonard Sparks and Mississippi Johnson called on "women of means, working women, housewives, students, and professional people" to "start boycotting fashions which will not only keep the figurative blood and bones of Chinese babies from around their legs, but which will give them pleasure and artistic satisfaction." This was perhaps the first event in the history of consumer activism which placed "pleasure" and "artistic satisfaction" on a par with virtue, in part because, unlike most earlier boycotts, the emphasis was not on doing without but on finding pleasurable means to outdo silk fashions. This effort was political not just because women dared to demand pleasure, but because they recognized pleasure as having both individual and social components. (28)



The recognition that silk was no ordinary fabric drove the effort to make cotton and other alternatives fashionable. Silk, all acknowledged, was a key element in women's fashion, especially in the form of stockings. A leaflet produced by the Hosiery Workers shortly before the boycott began declared, "Full fashion hosiery has come to be the symbol of modern women's charm." Boycotters thus had to confront and subvert the centrality of silk. Relegating this fabric to the "doghouse," as the New Masses urged, would be no simple matter. In the face of the difficulty of this task, boycotters portrayed their actions as benefitting both American and foreign workers and their movement as one of refashioning. As one boycott supporter said, "if enough women endure the temporary discomfort of lisle and rayon, the hosiery manufacturers will be forced to market the better substitutes which are known to exist." Boycotters described non-silk alternatives as fun, sexy, and on fashion's cutting edge, and attempted to enact these qualities in their own clothing choices to prove them so. The boycott movement sought to convince American women--who, it was said, purchased 85% of Japanese silk sold in the United States--not only that the cause was worthy but that eschewing silk did not mean abandoning fashion. They aimed to create alternatives so stylish that, as one supporter wrote hopefully, after observing a non-silk parade, "one would think that lisle stockings were the latest fashion decree." An LWS official said, "Women can find enough pretty things to wear without buying the products of Japan," suggesting that the quest for "pretty things" was not to be slighted as it had often been in previous consumer campaigns. (29)

Anti-silk protests took a variety of forms but almost all of them sought, in the spirit of the LWS pageant, to be fun and stylish. The first such event that gained national attention took place at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York on December 30th, 1937, at the Third Annual Meeting of the American Student Union (ASU), a left-wing student organization. (30) Immediately after the delegates unanimously passed a resolution calling for a boycott of Japanese goods, Lloyd James, a student from the University of Chicago, decided that it was time for the group to take matters into their own hands. "Let's do it right now," he shouted. "Let's take off every bit of Japanese silk we have on and toss it in a big bonfire." Without waiting for a formal vote, a fire was lit and delegates came streaming outside onto the snow-covered campus of Vassar College, tossing their silk garments into the conflagration. Chanting "Make Lisle the Style," "Wear Lisle for a While" and other slogans coined on the spot (including the less mellifluous, "If you wear cotton, Japan gets nothin'"), the men stripped off their silk shirts and neckties, and the women took off their silk stockings as well as what the New York Times described as "a few more intimate garments." Fully aware of the media presence, the delegates obligingly posed, dancing and singing around the silk-fed fire, as photographers snapped pictures of shirtless men and hoseless women that appeared in Time, Life and other national journals of news and opinion. (31)


Throughout 1938 and 1939, boycotters initiated hundreds of events in the spirit of the ASU bonfire. There was, for example, a silk free "anti-fascist food and style show" in Seattle; an "Anti Silk Fashion parade" in the Bronx; a "Shun-the-Silkworm-Even-in-the-Larva Stage Fling" in Manhattan; organized pickets at the Japanese consulate and the Japanese Bazaars in the Chinatown neighborhood of San Francisco; a "Cotton Ball" featuring the dresses of Elizabeth Hawes and other well-known designers in New York City's Hotel Pennsylvania. A "Boycott Japan" event at the jam-packed Shrine Auditorium (capacity 6,000) in Hollywood, planned by Melvyn Douglas, Dashiell Hammett, and Dorothy Parker, among others, was highlighted by a "strip tease of silk stockings and silk undergarments disdainfully discarded and dropped into a red, white, and blue waste-paper basket." Students at New York University staged a dance at which lisle hosiery was a "condition of admission." At least one couple organized an "anti-silk wedding." Leading actresses on Broadway, including Frances Farmer, the star of Clifford Odets's play "Golden Boy," and the entire cast of "The Women" let it be known in the playbill that they performed in lisle hose. In staging silk-free parades, beauty pageants, Hollywood extravaganzas, bonfires, and engaging in similar theatrical gestures, boycott groups emphasized that social responsibility could be not only fashion-conscious but trend-setting. For these boycotters consumer society was not an obstacle to be overcome but an essential resource to help popularize their movement. As Sparks and Johnson urged in calling for bold non-silk alternatives, "Inconspicuous substitutes won't do it. Something dramatic will." Calling attention to fashion and the body would not detract from the moral seriousness of the cause, they claimed. Indeed, such conspicuous consuming gestures were precisely what was necessary for the movement to succeed. These anti-silk events all shared a similar spirit and focus: they aimed to merge political engagement with consumerist pleasure. (32)

By proclaiming alternative fabrics and even bare-leggedness fashionable, the show's organizers sought to dislodge silk stockings as the gold standard of style. As the Washington Post observed, "it would seem that the average American woman feels self-conscious if she is not wearing silk stockings. The boycott movement will not be economically important unless and until she becomes self-conscious about wearing silk." (33) In this context, fashion was no mere expression of personal taste but inescapably political in four related senses. First, what one wore became an emblem of political beliefs. For boycotters, going silkless (or wearing lisle) was a symbol of their support for the cause. (34) But fashion was more than a mere statement of one's political beliefs. It was also a profoundly political activity itself. This was well illustrated by the parades, pageants, strip teases and other events associated with this cause. According to the logic of consumer causality, wearing particular kinds of clothing had real-world effects; clothing was, thus, both symbol and action. Third, the boycotters worked to change concepts of the fashionable, from below (by ordinary people) and from above (by department stores and designers, such as boycott supporter Elizabeth Hawes). (35) Finally, boycotters produced a politics of celebrity and spectacle that was not shallow, egotistical, or conservative. Every time that "society leaders, stars of stage and screen," such as Eleanor Powell, Sylvia Sydney, Frances Farmer, or Loretta Young proclaimed through word and deed that "lisle is the style," they helped publicize the movement far beyond the abilities of ordinary citizens. Similarly, Joseph Lash, an ASU member, noted many years after the event that "if you were trying to attract attention to a political position" you could do worse than to start a bonfire "in which all the girls threw their silk panties." The silk boycotters did not apologize for the spectacles they created or for seeking the endorsement of celebrities but understood these practices as central to their efforts. They saw no contradiction in using the techniques of advertising--sexuality, the photo opportunity, and the celebrity endorsement being among its prime components--in the service of the boycott. (36)

A positive view of fashion and pleasure also formed the basis for the anti-boycott arguments of the AFHW. The Hosiery Workers' Union had long argued for a form of ethical consumption that legitimized the desire for pleasure on the part of the consumer while encouraging shoppers to ensure that workers were not mistreated in the process of producing such instruments of pleasure; as the title of one of its pamphlets proclaimed, "Loveliness Based on Human Misery is Indeed Coarse." To be truly fashionable, the union argued, clothing had to be produced in accord with standards of decency. Silk hose made by well-paid, unionized American women workers, the union argued, met these standards: "Union made full-fashioned hosiery is the symbol of the modern women's intelligent interest in the economic conditions that shape and mold her life with the same effectiveness that full-fashioned hosiery shapes and molds beauty onto her limbs." For the hosiery workers, as for their boycotting opponents, moral consumption served to harmonize aesthetics and politics. Boycott opponents, however, dismissed as quixotic efforts to change fashions as quickly and as fundamentally as the silk boycotters proposed. There was, they believed, simply no acceptable substitute for silk. Despite the boycotters' promotion of native American fashions, lisle, and rayon, their opponents argued that American women were not prepared to accept what Lillian Shearer called "primitive" substitutes for silk stockings, to make what J. B. Matthews, a former consumer activist turned critic, called "the great sacrifice of feminine attractiveness involved in changing from silk." (37)

When not challenging the political judgment and fashion sense of the boycotters, opponents charged that the movement's reliance on publicity-generating activities and its use of sensuous imagery undermined the cause. Matthews, in a typical dismissive riff, noted that one boycott advocate
 has proposed that some well-known actress make the "dramatic
 gesture" of removing her gossamer hosiery in public, crying "No more
 silk stockings for me while the Japanese troops remain in China."
 Why stop with silk stockings? This suggestion has interesting
 possibilities (which the Minsky Brothers may have overlooked) of
 restoring the banned striptease to the burlesque of Broadway. The
 act might have little "pushing" power in ridding Chinese soil of
 Japanese troops, but it would have great "pulling" power at the
 burlesque box offices. Furthermore, the consumer movement, as
 communists conceive it, would experience a lot of activizing. (38)

Such charges, of course, could also have been made against the Hosiery Workers, who initiated their anti-boycott campaign with a media-friendly, leg-baring parade down Constitution Avenue.

In highlighting the centrality of women and of pleasure, and in linking fashion to politics, the anti-silk boycott and the counter-protest it generated marked a distinctive moment in consumer activism. What made the Japanese silk boycott modern is that it took place in consumer society and was also of consumer society. Unlike previous consumer movements, it did not view consumer society or the sensations it promoted as inherently dangerous, demeaning, or depoliticizing. Before the silk boycott, the consumer movement was antagonistic to mass culture and was comfortable with consumer society only to the extent to which it produced low cost, high quality goods. By promoting engagement in consumer society, silk boycotters found in mass culture what previous activists had seen only in renunciation, the basis for a moral consumerism. (39)

Departing from the proudly minoritarian spirit of previous consumer movements, in part by resurrecting and embellishing a recessive strain of the consumer movement dating to the free produce movement that sought to reconcile beauty and morality, the silk boycott attempted through its emphasis on the body, fashion, and fun not just to align itself with but to become popular culture. Drawing on the spirit of the new youth culture, on the popularity in the 1930s of stunts, such as "dance marathons, roller derbies ... goldfish eating contests," and on the culture of celebrity, the Japanese boycott movement embedded itself, for the first time in the history of the consumer movement, in the idiom of popular culture. This effort not only broke with the view of previous and future generations of consumer activists, it also challenges a position that continues to be espoused by influential scholars of consumption. Consumers, the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has written, are "guided by aesthetic interests, not ethical norms." By placing aesthetics in the service of virtue, silk boycotters challenged such a dichotomy. (40)

If those involved in the silk boycott distinguished themselves from earlier activists by invoking pleasure rather than sacrifice, they nevertheless borrowed the philosophy of earlier boycotters. Rather than privatized consumption, the defining characteristic of the consumer society's promoters in business and advertising, the silk boycotters followed their predecessors in promulgating a publicoriented and politicized vision in which pleasure was closely tied to the social consequences of shopping. In the spirit of earlier modes of consumer activism, they claimed that an article of clothing, no matter how stylish, could not be defined as fashionable or pleasurable if those who made or sold it suffered. The surface aesthetics of a product had to accord with fair conditions of labor for it to qualify as truly beautiful. Similarly, pleasure could only be had in the absence of exploitation. Participants in the silk campaign sought through their consuming practices to promote a harmony between the beauty of a good and the ways in which it was made. As socially-situated characteristics, neither beauty nor fashion could be understood in terms of the thing in itself; nor could pleasure be understood as an experience abstracted from its social context. These advocates of fashionable politics posited that the purchase of a good had an impact on the producers and distributors of the product. Ever mindful of the importance of spectatorship in a consumer society, they believed, it also had an impact on the audience that would observe the use of that product.

This understanding of pleasure, defined in explicitly political terms, should be distinguished from the kinds of privatized pleasures sometimes celebrated by academic defenders of consumer society. James B. Twitchell's otherwise thoughtful analysis of consumption, for example, leaves unresolved the disjuncture between the private pleasures offered by consumer society and their social costs. In a discussion of "The Liberating Role of Consumption," Twitchell defends his purchase of a Red Miata in purely personal terms before segueing guiltily into a recognition of the environmental and political problems caused by such forms of consumption. Similarly, this merger of pleasure and politics differs from the tendency of some Cultural Studies scholars to stress the subversive ways in which commodities have been used, but to do so in individualist terms, isolating both the user and the commodity from the social and political world of which, consumer activists claimed, they were inextricably a part. (41)

There is also a crucial distinction between situating a political movement within consumer culture, as the silk boycotters did, and being subsumed by that culture. Too often scholars take a social movement's use of consumerist language or techniques to be proof of cooptation. The silk boycott offers a different dynamic from that identified by Thomas Frank, for example, in which counter-cultural movements lose their bite as their message is muted, sanitized, or transformed by business and advertisers. Silk boycotters asked a largely isolationist America to embrace a campaign to improve the lives of a faraway people (and, many believed, at some cost to American workers) and ingeniously promoted it as fun, fashionable and, above all, moral. They did so without compromising their ethical message; indeed their message was inseparable from the popular media through which it was disseminated. Consumer society can distort or destroy grassroots political efforts, but the silk boycotters and their opponents demonstrate that it can also be a resource for a range of political practices. (42)


The Japanese silk boycott marked a relatively brief high point in the merger between consumer politics and consumer society. As war preparations intensified, government policy gradually replaced the "people's boycott," which, notwithstanding its popularity and effectiveness in curtailing key Japanese exports, could not stop the sale of war materiel, especially scrap metals and oil, to the Japanese. In 1940, Washington allowed the 1911 Treaty of Trade and Navigation to expire. As war approached, the United States imposed an embargo on Japanese goods and stopped almost all strategic goods from being exported. With these actions, the raison d'etre for the boycott, which began as alternative to government action, disappeared. (43) Another factor in the eclipse of the silk boycott was technological. The development in late 1938 of nylon, the "artificial silkworm," by the Du Pont corporation opened up what Roosevelt aide, Harold L. Ickes called "vast and interesting economic possibilities." According to the announcement made at the New York Herald Tribune's "World of Tomorrow" Forum at the World's Fair preview in 1939, stockings of the future would be "fashioned by chemists," thereby "ushering in the death blow to the oriental silk trade and likely to cause more strategic damage than would the sinking of Emperor Hirohito's navy." It was rumored that Du Pont's term Nylon was an acronym for "Now You Lousy Old Nipponese." One commentator predicted that "It won't be so difficult to popularize a boycott of Japanese silk when women can obtain stockings from the Du Pont's mechanical silkworm that are not only equally attractive but wear longer." Nylon stockings first became available to the public in May 1940 and although they were widely used only after the war, the celebration of "artificial silk" led many to conclude that the days of silk's hegemony had passed. If nylon would lead, as Ickes predicted, to "the cutting of all silk imports from Japan to the United States," a boycott was no longer necessary. (44)

But technological developments and government action tell only part of the story. Just as important was an ideological shift during the war, when many elements of the consumer movement de-emphasized fashion and reverted to a stress on thrift. Jessie Lloyd O'Connor and other LWS leaders, reversing the arguments they had made during the boycott, sought to convince the public that "buying power is too great instead of too small." As the consumer advocate Caroline Ware wrote in her 1942 book, The Consumer Goes to War, "every purchase we make is a claim on our nation's resources. Every article we use is part of the nation's precious supplies." Ware deemed the logic of consumer society, a resource to the movement of the Depression decade, a detriment in the wartime climate of conservation. Continuing to hold that "Women do 85% of the Buying," the LWS declared that "Buying Power in War-Time is a Grave Responsibility" and urged women to discharge that responsibility by "supporting the Consumers Division of Office of Price Administration," the organization responsible for wartime rationing. By 1942, the act of donning or rejecting silk stockings became irrelevant, as the embargo made them unavailable. In this context, the connection between conspicuous consumption and morality that was posited by proponents and opponents of the boycott ceased to be a compelling social force. Throughout the war years, sacrifice was valorized in rhetoric, if not always in practice, and became, once again, a key element of political discourse. (45)

Despite the chastened wartime message of many consumer activists, the quest for a politics that was both pleasurable and ethical continued during the war. As Robert Westbrook has demonstrated in his ingenious analysis of the wartime cult of the "pin-up," rather than defining their military or civilian service as sacrificial, many Americans understood themselves, and their comrades, to be fighting for erotic, if domesticated, pleasures. Another mark of continuity was the emphasis in these pin ups on the female leg. Betty Grable, whose limbs supplanted Eleanor Powell's as the most famous in Hollywood, became, like Powell, a bodily symbol of righteous pleasure. In an ironic echo of the silk boycott, newspapers ran photos of young women, "Taking 'em off for Uncle Sam," discarding their nylon or rayon stockings so that they could be recycled into war materiel. (46)

Somewhat surprisingly, Consumers Union, the prototypical utilitarian consumer organization of the 1930s, embraced the quest for pleasure even during the war, an ideological transformation that can be dated to its support of the cause of non-silk fashions during the Japanese silk boycott. Consumer Reports devoted many articles to the search for fashionable alternatives to silk--including, during the depths of the war, leg paint (so-called "stockings in a bottle"), lisle, and the chemical compounds, rayon and nylon. Rejecting the group's founding anti-aesthetic philosophy, the Reports emphasized sexuality and contraception in its health columns, and even went to court in 1943 to appeal rulings which blocked the distribution of its pioneering Report on Contraceptive Materials. (47)

In the postwar years, Consumers Union--by far the largest branch of the consumer movement, with a membership of about half a million by the mid-1950s--did not revert to the suspicion of fashion and pleasure that characterized its early years. In its critique of the postwar fashion trend of the "New Look," for example, its members did not condemn fashion outright, but rather denounced this style as immoral (because it used too much material in a time of scarcity) and ugly (in part because it ignored the pleasures, for the wearer and the admirer, of "a well-turned calf, a twinkling knee.") In the late 1940s, Consumer Reports also instituted a column, "The Shape of Things," by the well-known industrial designer Elliot Noyes, on aesthetic product design. Throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s, Noyes discussed the aesthetics of alarm clocks, automobiles, chairs, heaters, lamps, radios, stereo cabinets, stools, sunglasses, televisions, toasters, and washing machines. Noyes treated everyday objects, including the kitchen sink, which he discussed in an April 1950 column, as worthy of aesthetic interest. The results of product tests were seamlessly joined in the Reports with record, movie, and television reviews, and medical advice, both physical and mental (the latter bolstered by an embrace of Freudian categories of psychoanalysis). By putting these issues side by side in Consumer Reports, Consumers Union suggested, like their pleasure-seeking predecessors, that the good society consisted not merely of efficient consumers but of pleasure-seeking consumers, and that such a society could value both social justice and fashionable, well-made clothing, both efficient products and humorous sit-coms. (48)

In the postwar years, then, some consumer activists continued to promote a socially-oriented, pleasure-centered consumerism which was evocative of the silk boycotters. Other branches of the consumer movement, as Lizabeth Cohen has documented, maintained an asceticism that was increasingly "out of step" with the zeitgeist of the postwar years. Furthermore, their increasing emphasis on individual consumer satisfaction, rather than social justice, was perfectly consistent with the advocates of what Cohen calls "the Consumers' Republic," who proclaimed privatized consumption to be a patriotic duty. Even when Ralph Nader helped spark a revival of the consumer movement in the 1960s, the asceticism remained; Nader and his followers condemned adornment as a ploy of big business. While the number of boycotts accelerated in the late quarter of the twentieth century, these actions, most notably the lengthy grape boycott organized by the United Farm Workers, were generally promoted under the rubric of virtuous sacrifice. (It is an irony of the postwar years, that the pleasure-centered agenda, rejected by a significant branch of American progressives, was adopted in our enemies-turned-allies and that its symbol was nylon. Erica Carter writes of the "glamour of the American nylon" in 1950s West Germany and notes that "the stocking became a dominant signifier of freedom, democracy, and the American way of life.") (49)

The continuing tension between consumption and sacrifice appeared, most recently, in the disappointed reaction of many pundits to the suggestion by President George W. Bush and other politicians that shopping was an important way to exercise citizenship in the wake of the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. These pundits found something untoward about the link proposed by Bush (who encouraged Americans to "buy, buy, buy"), New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (who urged them to "spend, spend, spend"), Miami Mayor Alex Panelas (who claimed "it has never been more patriotic to go shopping") and other political leaders between consumption and patriotism, especially in contrast to the sacrifices made by the World War II generation. "The Greatest generation got to save old tires, dig a victory garden, forego sugar," wrote Margaret Carlson of Time magazine. "The Richest Generation is being asked to shop .... buying becomes our patriotic duty." John de Graaf, the maker of the popular public television series Affluenza, similarly expressed disappointment with the contrast between the Good Fight and the War on Terror. "In World War II, we came together through sacrifice, victory gardens, collecting scrap metal. Now we're told the way to be unified is to shop like there's no tomorrow." "Sacrifice is out. Self-indulgence is in," wrote Marie Coco of Newsday. "Our mothers had to give up their silk stockings. We're being asked to make a national trip to the shopping mall." Americans, as Thomas Friedman wrote, "would like to be summoned by the president to do something more than shopping." (50)

In recent years, there have been hints of a revival of a politics of virtuous pleasure. Although generally promoting products as moral rather than fashionable, and defining the two as antithetical, some branches of the anti-sweatshop movement have begun to market apparel as, without contradiction, "sweat free" and "stylish." The "fair trade" movement, for example, not only warns citizens about the social and environmental costs of corporate coffee, it also offers gourmet alternatives. Proponents claim that "pleasure is at the very heart" of the "slow food" movement. Similarly, some advocates of voluntary simplicity, rejecting the sufficiency of the idea that the goal should be sacrifice have identified the quest for pleasure as politically productive and morally legitimate. These contemporary efforts to join consumer culture with political engagement recall the Japanese silk boycotters, who claimed consumerist pleasures as social and moral, rather than as personal and amoral. These efforts to forge a fashionable politics provides an important counter-example and corrective to the widespread view of consumer culture as inherently incompatible with political engagement. (51)

In a recent profile of the controversial activist Michael Moore, Larissa MacFarquar has argued that one reason why progressives "lost the mainstream in the eighties" was their habit of "pious, ascetic griping." Moore, she writes, "wants to bring back to the left a sense that pleasure is O.K., that self-indulgence isn't always evil." Consumer activists, as we have seen, contributed in no small measure to this association of virtue with asceticism. In the Japanese silk boycott, however, they contributed another less-widely heeded model; what we might call virtuous aestheticism. The activities of silk boycotters and their opponents demonstrate that consuming pleasures need not only be exploitative, nor fashion purely selfish, and that responsible consumption should not automatically be equated with self-denial. The boycotters' attempt to "make lisle the style" and the hosiery workers' counter-efforts to encourage consumers to "wear silk and save our jobs" demonstrate that consumer activists can profitably combine aesthetics and ethics, while their differences warn us against assuming that this relationship necessarily produces predictable political outcomes. (52)


Earlier versions of this article were presented at the First International Seminar on Political Consumerism, at the City University, Stockholm, Sweden; the Department of History at the University of California, Berkeley; and the Organization of American Historians 2002 Annual Meeting. At these talks, I benefitted from the comments and suggestions of audience members and commentators, especially Susan Porter Benson, Gary Cross, Paula Fass, Cheryl Greenberg, Lawrence Levine, and Michele Micheletti. Kendrick Clements, Jill Frank, Sheryl Kroen, Cathy Kudlick, Patrick Maney, Marc Schachter and several anonymous readers provided enormously helpful written critiques. Eric Bargeron, Marc S. Gallicchio, Gerald Horne, and Robert Zieger generously helped with specific queries. This essay is dedicated to the memory of five mentors whose example of decency, integrity, and intellectual generosity, inspired me and countless others: Elizabeth B. Clark, James Kettner, Michael F. Jimenez, Barry Riccio, and Reggie Zelnik.

1. "Shoppers Plan Fashion Show: 'Life Without Silk' Theme of Women's League Planned Exhibit," Washington Post, Jan. 19, 1938, 13.

2. "Rustling of Silk Turns to a Roar on Battle's Eve," Washington Post, Jan. 28, 1938, 1, 5; Jane Eads, "600 D.C. Women Attend Pageant of Silkless Styles: Wardman Presentation Given by Shoppers' Boycott," Washington Herald, Jan. 29, 1938, 9; "D.C. Women Push Ban on Silk Goods," Washington Times, Jan. 29, 1938.

3. The AFHW was a semi-autonomous member of the United Textile Workers Union and, later, the Textile Workers Organizing Committee and its successor, the Textile Workers' Union of America. Clete Daniel, Culture of Misfortune: An Interpretive History of Textile Unionism in the United States (Ithaca, 2001), 24-25, 89.

4. "Boycott Factions to Demonstrate: Pro-Silk and Anti-Silk Drama on Today's Program," Washington Evening Star, Jan. 28, 1938; "Proposed Boycott Against Japan," Congressional Digest 17 (1938), 101-128. Shearer's speech is quoted on 126-27.

5. On Powell's legs see, "Capitol Arena of Embattled Silk Factions," Washington Post, Jan. 29, 1938, 3; Time, Jan. 3, 1938, 30; "Eleanor Powell Joins in Boycott of Silk Hosiery," Daily Worker, Jan. 29, 1938, 4. Eads, "600 D.C. Women Attend Pageant of Silkless Styles,"; Martha Strayer, "Shoppers' League a Bit Remiss in Boycotting Silk Stockings," Washington Daily News, Jan. 19, 1938. On Iglesias see "D.C. Women Push Ban on Silk Goods."

6. "Silk Stocking Parade Makes Capital Goggle: Women Hosiery Workers March in Washington to Protest Boycott," Reading Eagle, Jan. 29, 1938, 1; "Capital Arena of Embattled Silk Factions"; "'Save Our Jobs': Silk Workers Fight Boycott Against Japan: 300 March to White House to Defend Own Jobs Imperiled by Ban of Tokyo Products," Washington Herald, Jan. 29, 1938, 3; "Shapely Pros and Cons of the Silk Versus Cotton Debate," Washington Post, Jan. 29, 1938, 3. For a similar photo spread, which contains dueling snapshots of Eleanor Powell and Lillian Shearer, see "Beliefs Differ," Reading Eagle, Jan. 29, 1938, 1.

7. To the extent that most previous consumer activists endorsed pleasure at all, it was a constrained form of pleasure, what the nineteenth-century British economist Alfred Marshall approvingly called "solid, unostentatious pleasure of a wholesome kind." Marshall is quoted in Martin Daunton and Matthew Hilton, "Material Politics: An Introduction," in The Politics of Consumption: Material Culture and Citizenship in Europe and America, ed. Daunton and Hilton (Oxford and New York, 2001), 15. For a brilliant treatment of a near contemporary example of the rejection of earlier models of sacrificial virtue, see Dana Frank, "Girls Strikers Occupy Chain Store, Win Big: The Detroit Woolworth's Strike of 1937," in Howard Zinn, Dana Frank, and Robin D. G. Kelley, Three Strikes: Miners, Musicians, Salesgirls and the Fighting Spirit of Labor's Last Century (Boston, 2001), 57-118.

8. The silk boycott is not mentioned in Monroe Friedman's otherwise comprehensive twentieth-century overview, Consumer Boycotts: Effecting Change Through the Marketplace and the Media (New York, 1999). For brief examinations, see Dana Frank, Buy American: The Untold Story of Economic Nationalism (Boston 1999), 98-99; Judy Yung, Unbound Feet: A History of Chinese Women in San Francisco (Berkeley, 1995), 238.

9. An editorial in the Nation was widely acknowledged to be the starting point of the boycott. "Boycott Japanese Goods!," Nation, Aug. 28, 1937, 211-212. Harold Isaacs describes the period from 1937-1944 as an "Age of Admiration." Scratches on our Minds: American Images of China and India (New York, 1958), 71. David Kennedy, Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (New York, 1999), 400-401. For an example of the romantic view of the Chinese and "their conspicuous good qualities" see, "The Boycott Road to War," American Mercury (Feb. 1938), 219. Gerald Horne suggests that some African Americans supported the Japanese in Race War: White Supremacy and the Japanese Attack on the British Empire (New York, 2004). R. A. Howell, "World's Greatest Boycott," China Today (March 1938), 4-5; "Boycott Committee Asks All Tokio Goods Barred," Daily Worker, Feb. 25, 1938. Walter LaFeber, The Clash: U.S.-Japanese Relations Throughout History (New York, 1997), 162, 185-87; "U.S. Labor Favors Japan Boycott," Chinese Digest (Nov. 1937), 7, 15; Esther Carroll, "Boycott Japanese Goods; Aid China!," China Today (Nov. 1937), 198, 211; R. A. Howell, "The Boycott Movement," ibid, 204-205; idem, "The Consumers Boycott Against Japanese Goods," ibid, (Dec. 1937), 217-220. In other fascist countries, lamented The Nation, "there is no one commodity like silk which can be singled out for attention." "The Shape of Things," Nation, Dec. 18, 1937, 675. Samuel Untermeyer, "Why Not Extend Our Anti-German Boycott to Japan," Anti-Nazi Bulletin (Nov. 1937), 6-9. On the anti-Nazi boycott movement, see Moshe Gottlieb, "The Anti-Nazi Boycott Movement in the United States: An Ideological and Sociological Approach," Jewish Social Studies 35 (July-Oct. 1973), 198-227; W. Orbach, "Shattering the Shackles of Powerlessness: The Debates Surrounding the Anti-Nazi Boycott of 1933-41," Modern Judaism 2 (1982), 149-169. "May Picket Stores in Boycott Drive Against Japan," Retailing, Dec. 27, 1937, 4. Jeffrey L. Meikle, American Plastic: A Cultural History (New Brunswick, 1995), 137; Angela J. Latham, Posing a Threat: Flappers, Chorus Girls and Other Brazen Performers of the 1920s (Hanover and London, 2000), 41.

10. "The Shape of Things." Howell noted that "At the London Conference in Support of China and the Japanese Boycott, held last month, over 800 delegates came from 21 countries representing 25 international organizations with a combined membership of well over 100,000,000 people." R. A. Howell, "World's Greatest Boycott," China Today (Mar. 1938), 4-5. Esther Carroll, "Boycott Japanese Goods; Aid China!," China Today (Nov. 1937), 198. For an example of the phrase "people's boycott," see Ann Rivington, "Make Mr. DuPont Help China!," China Today (Dec. 1939), 15-16. On widespread support for the boycott and the chain stores' decision to stop buying Japanese products, see "The Boycott is Winning," Nation, Jan. 8, 1938, 33-34.

11. The quotation on sensitiveness is from "Should We Boycott Japanese Goods?," Christian Century, Oct. 13, 1937, 1353. Did Your Stockings Kill Babies?, The Boycott Japanese Goods Committee of Greater Boston (Boston, 1938); "Boycott Pressed As Curb on Japan," New York Times, Feb. 13, 1938, 3; "Abetting the Crime," Current History 48 (May 1938), 50. H. J. Galland warned the "women of America" that their purchase of silk "finances the murder of Chinese children." "Where is the Boycott Now?," China Today 5 (Jan. 1939), 9, 15. The columnist Eugene L. Meyer claimed that "when we wear silk we are wrapping ourselves in the blood and bones of bombed Chinese babies." Quoted in Leonard Sparks and Mississippi Johnson, "Put Silk in the Doghouse: A Review of Fashions and their Origins Proves that it is Possible to Start a Big Swing for China and Against Japan," New Masses, Nov. 30, 1937, 13.

12. On consumption and social justice see, "Shoppers Plan Fashion Show"; Rebecca Drucker, "League Thumbs-Down Fascist Goods," Woman Shopper (Dec.-Jan. 1939), 1; Robert Stark, "Is the Boycott Slipping?: Silk Stockings Still Support Japan's Army," New Masses, Sep. 20, 1938, 10-12.

13. As a pamphlet prepared by the American Boycott Against Aggressor Nations noted: "It may be smart to wear silk stockings--but consider the consequences.... American women's mass purchase of silk permits the Japanese militarists to finance their ever-increasing atrocities on an ever-widening scale." Who Bought the Bomb?, American Boycott Against Aggressor Nations (New York, 1938), 22. "Pro and Con: Should We Boycott Japan," Reader's Digest 32 (Feb. 1938), 107-112. Quotation 112.

14. Fred Held, an AFHW organizer, claimed that the hosiery industry employed 100,000 workers and gave indirect employment to another 250,000 workers "engaged in transportation, distributing, merchandising and related industries." "Held Hits at Silk Ban," Hosiery Worker, Feb. 25, 1938, 1; Rieve quoted in Why Cut Off Our Nose? (What Price Boycott?) (San Francisco, 1938), 5; John Nevin Sayre, "Boycott--A False Remedy," Christian Century, Nov. 10, 1937, 1388-89. Quotation 1389.

15. "'Save our Jobs'"; "Held Hits Silk Ban"; Rieve quoted in Why Cut Off Our Nose?, 5.

16. Jessie Lloyd O'Connor lecture, May 1, 1942. Smith College, US League of Women Shoppers Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, General Files, File, Chicago, 1938-1942 Spring 1942, Chicago LWS.

17. Abigail Adams called tea the "weed of slavery." Quoted in Robert Middlekauff, The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 (New York, 1981), 227; J. Pass-more Edmonds quoted in "Free-Labor Produce," Anti-Slavery Reporter, Nov. 1, 1848, 176. For more examples, see T. H. Breen, The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence (New York, 2004); Lawrence Glickman, "'Buy for the Sake of the Slave': The Abolitionist Origins of Modern American Consumer Activism," American Quarterly, 56 (Dec. 2004), 889-912.

18. The "vanity" quotation is from, "Who Bought the Bomb?," 22. Boycotters invoked this socially-constituted notion of beauty and pleasure in their effort to distance themselves from the xenophobic "buy American" movement. Earlier consumer movements had often generated and were even motivated by anti-foreign feelings. Organized labor's promotion of the "union label" in the late nineteenth century, for example, depended on a contrast between "American" workers and dishonored foreigners. Moreover, as the historian Dana Frank has shown, contemporary "buy American" sentiment of the sort promoted by the Hearst media empire was also highly xenophobic. The silk boycotters wanted to distinguish themselves from these past and present dangers. Almost every anti-silk parade included signs bearing the slogan, "We bar Japanese goods, not Japanese people." Most boycott groups passed resolutions proclaiming that they were not motivated by nationalistic sentiment or hatred of the Japanese people. R. A. Howell of the American Friends of the Chinese People urged boycotters to avoid the taint of "economic nationalism--one of the essential features of fascism." A pamphlet produced by the American League for Peace and Democracy noted that "there is no reason for the consumers in the United States to hate the Japanese people" and called upon boycotters to avoid the "type of nationalism that fosters a feeling of superiority over other countries." Consumption could no more be ethical if it fostered ethnic hatred than if it condoned fascism. See "500 in Parade Back Boycott of Japan: Marching Women Wear Non-Silk Hosiery in Plea for Ban on Nation's Goods," New York Times, Dec. 12, 1937, 3; "Civic Groups Urge Boycott of Japan," New York Times, Dec. 19, 1937, 38; R. A. Howell, "The Boycott Movement Grows," China Today (Nov. 1937), 233-234, 243-244; Why and How to Boycott Goods 'Made in Japan', (New York, Feb. 1938), 11; Frank, Buy American. "Rieve's Report to the Convention," Hosiery Worker, May 6, 1938, 6.

19. E. Stanley Jones, "An Open Letter: To the Christian People of America and Great Britain," Christian Century 29, Nov. 10, 1937, 1386-88. Quotation 1387. The boycott, it should be noted, precipitated other schisms. The effort to punish Japan economically divided African Americans. A number of influential leaders, including W. E. B. Du Bois, opposed the boycott. Other African Americans, including Paul Robeson, sided with the boycotters, arguing that Japan's record in China and Korea disqualified it as moral leader of the nonwhite world. For comments in favor of the boycott see: Annabelle Brown, "Says United Asia Will Give Hope to Africans," Afro-American, Feb. 5, 1938, 4; "The Case for Japan," Afro-American, Jan. 15, 1938, 4; Du Bois to Waldo McNutt, Feb. 25, 1939. in The Correspondence of W.E.B. Du Bois, Vol. 2: Selections, 1934-1944, ed. Herbert Aptheker (University of Massachusetts Press, 1976), 184-85. Against the boycott see: Louis W. Hann, "Dislikes Editorial," Afro-American, Feb. 26, 1938, 4; "Sino-Jap Dispute Explained to Harlemites," Amsterdam News, Feb. 5, 1938, 4. For similar views see, for example, the Communist Party pamphlet, Japanese Imperialism and the Negro People (CP Pamphlet, Pittsburgh, 1934); John Chen Tome, "Chinese Differs with Editorial on Japanese," Afro-American, Jan. 22, 1938, 4; "Paul Robeson Aiding China Against Japan," Chicago Defender, Nov. 27, 1937, 24. For an excellent overview of this issue see, Marc Gallicchio, The African American Encounter with Japan and China (Chapel Hill, 2001), esp. 90 and Horne, Race War. On "Japan's low-budget operation to influence black American public opinion," see David Levering Lewis, W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963 (New York, 2000), 390. By the end of World War II, Du Bois had recanted his position. See "Japanese Colonialism," "Shanghai," and "Japan, Color and Afro-Americans," in W. E. B. Du Bois: A Reader ed. David Levering Lewis (New York, 1995), 83-87. In the last essay from 1945 he wrote that: "The experience of Japan has proven .... that domination of one people by other and selfish races, bad as it is, is no whit better than domination within a race by elements whose aims and ideals are anti-social" (86).

20. Michael Zakim, Ready-Made Democracy: A History of Men's Dress in the American Republic, 1760-1860, (Chicago, 2003), 12. Ann Fairfax Withington, Toward a More Perfect Union: Virtue and the Formation of American Republics (New York, 1991), 96. The free produce quotation is from "Products of Slave Labour," Non Slaveholder (April 1847), 86, 87. For a brief in favor of voluntary simplicity as challenging the assumption that "consumption and happiness are joined at the hip," see Michael Maniates, "In Search of Consumptive Resistance: The Voluntary Simplicity Movement," in Confronting Consumption, ed. Thomas Princen, Michael Maniates, and Ken Conca (Cambridge, MA, 2002), 199-235.

21. Noel Thompson, "Social Opulence, Private Asceticism: Ideas of Consumption in Early Socialist Thought," in The Politics of Consumption, 51-68. Quotation 52; Rebecca L. Spang, "What is Rum? The Politics of Consumption in the French Revolution," in ibid., 33-49. Warren Breckman, "Disciplining Consumption: The Debate about Luxury in Wilhelmine Germany, 1890-1914" Journal of Social History 24:3 (1991), 485-506; C. A. Bayly, "The Origins of Swadeshi (Home Industry): Cloth and Indian Society, 1700-1930," in The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, ed. Arjun Appadurai (New York, 1986), 285-321; Karl Gerth, China Made: Consumer Culture and the Creation of the Nation (Cambridge, MA, 2003).

22. Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1890-1920 (Chapel Hill, 1996), 12-13; On the importance of "dressing up" as a collective and political act, see Tera W. Hunter, To 'Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women's Lives and Labors After the Civil War (Cambridge, 1997); Robin D. G. Kelley, "The Riddle of the Zoot: Malcolm Little and Black Cultural Politics During World War II," in Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class (New York, 1994), 161-181; Shane White and Graham White, Stylin': African American Expressive Culture from its Beginnings to the Zoot Suit; Theodore Rosengarten, All God's Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw (New York, 1974); Kathy Peiss, Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture (New York, 1998), 90, 266; Ted Ownby, American Dreams in Mississippi: Consumers, Poverty, and Culture (Chapel Hill, 1998).

23. Lawrence B. Glickman, A Living Wage: American Workers and the Making of Consumer Society (Ithaca, 1997). Nan Enstad, Ladies of Labor, Girls of Adventure: Working Women, Popular Culture, and Labor Politics at the Turn of the Century (New York, 1999), 8. Margaret Finnegan, Selling Suffrage: Consumer Culture and Votes for Women (New York, 1999); Elizabeth Sanders, The People's Lobby: Organizational Innovation and the Rise of Interest Group Politics in the United States, 1890-1925 (Chicago, 1997), 208. Andrea Friedman, "The Politics of Consumption: Women and Consumer Culture," Journal of Women's History 13:2 (2001), 159-168; Lawrence B. Glickman, "Toward a History of Consumer Culture, Women, and Politics," Reviews in American History (Dec. 2000), 584-92.

24. Josephine Goldmark, Impatient Crusader, (Urbana, 1953), 62-63. On lampoons of the 1930s consumer movement as overly puritanical, see Lawrence B. Glickman, "The Strike in the Temple of Consumption: Consumer Activism and Twentieth-Century American Political Culture," Journal of American History 88 (June 2001), 107.

25. The phrase "shifting erogenous zones," is used by the fashion historians Robert H. Lauer and Jeanette C. Lauer in Fashion Power: The Meaning of Fashion in American Society (Englewood Cliffs, 1981), 17. J. C. Flugel, The Psychology of Clothes (New York, 1930), 161-62. Stella Bruzzi, Undressing Cinema: Clothing and Identity in the Movies (New York, 1997), esp. 135-38. "Historically, the relationship between women's legs, sexual politics, and eroticism has been complex" (135). James Laver, Taste and Fashion: From the French Revolution Until Today (New York, 1938), 130-131. The lyrics to "Anything Goes" can be found at "Looking for the Union Label," Hosiery Worker, Jan. 5, 1939, 1. "Cartoon Aid Union Label Drive," Hosiery Worker, Feb. 9, 1940, 3.

26. Scott quoted in "Proposed Boycott Against Japan," 114-16. Shearer is quoted in ibid., 126-27. Simonson quoted in Martha Strayer, "The Debs Wore Some Silk but it Was Fabric Spun by Chinese Worms," Washington Daily News, Jan. 29, 1938. For similar comments see: "Should We Boycott Japanese Goods?"; Stark, "Is the Boycott Slipping?," 10; "Senator Norris Backs Boycott Against Tokio: Nebraska Progressive Urges Women to Aid Chinese," Daily Worker, Dec. 31, 1937, 1; Hua Liang, "Fighting for a new life: Social and Patriotic Activism of Chinese American Women in New York City, 1900 to 1945," Journal of American Ethnic History, 17 (Winter 1998), 22-38; "The Shape of Things"; "Silk Hose Ban Scored by AFHW," Hosiery Worker, Jan. 14, 1938, 1; "Labor, Industry Attack Silk Ban," ibid., Jan. 28, 1938, 1.

27. "Cotton is King as Women Give Up Japanese Silk Hose," Manitou Messenger, April 4, 1939.

28. Eads, "600 D.C. Women Attend Pageant"; Sparks and Johnson, "Put Silk in the Doghouse," 13. For more on this issue, see Rob Schorman, Selling Style: Clothing and Social Change at the Turn of the Century (Philadelphia, 2003), 14; Hilary Radner, Shopping Around: Feminine Culture and the Pursuit of Pleasure (London, 1995), xi. T. H. Breen has some suggestive comments on the ways in which Revolutionary boycotters sought to make simplicity a new fashion in The Marketplace of Revolution, 214.

29. "Proposed Boycott Against Japan," 114-16. See also the similar comments by Sen. George Norris in "Silk Industry to Fight Boycott," Washington Evening Star, Jan. 28, 1938. Loveliness Based on Misery is Indeed Coarse, (Philadelphia, 1938). See Fred Davis, Fashion, Culture and Identity (Chicago, 1994), 88. "Women Warned of Silk Stocking Shortage if a Boycott is Invoked Against Japan," New York Times, Oct. 7, 1937, 17; "Life Without Silk"; "Cotton is King as Women Give up Japanese Silk Hose."

30. It is worth noting that during this same convention ASU members used the boycott for another purpose: to protest a movie theater owner's association that had "recently ruled against showing films which show colored people in roles other than the traditional caricatures." "Student Boycott Movie Theaters for Color Line," Afro-American, Jan. 8, 1938, 22.

31. "War and Peace," Time, Jan. 10, 1938, 42; "Students Burn Clothes to Spur Silk Boycott," Life, Jan. 10, 1938, 18; "Students Demand Boycott on Japan," New York Times, Dec. 31, 1937, 3; Harry Raymond, "Students Burn Silk Hose in Big Bonfire," Daily Worker, Dec. 31, 1937, 4.

32. "'Made in Japan' Becomes Taboo: Women Shoppers Boycott Japan," Washington Herald, Jan. 19, 1938, 7; Sparks and Johnson, "Put Silk in the Doghouse." On the Hollywood protest see, Mary Bein, "Hollywood Chants 'Boycott Japan'," China Today 5 (Jan. 1939), 8-9. On the diversity of the groups involved in the movement see, Nathan M. Becker, "The Anti-Japanese Boycott in the United States," Far Eastern Survey, March 1, 1939, 49-55; R. A. Howell, "The Boycott Movement Grows," China Today 4 (Jan. 1938), 233-34, 243-44; "Anti-Silk Ceremony: Miss Jackson to Wed Edward Strong," Amsterdam News, June 4, 1938, 8. On the NYU dance and Broadway's use of lisle see, "The Shape of Things."

33. "Life Without Silk."

34. Joanne Finkelstein has noted that throughout history people have "[read] an individual's politics or morality from the way she dresses." Joanne Finkelstein, Fashion: An Introduction (New York, 1996), 70. This statement calls into question Anne Hollander's pronouncement that "the relation between the politics and the form that fashion takes always remains somewhat uncertain, since people often wear things for perverse reasons or without reasons." Anne Hollander, Sex and Suits (New York, 1994), 16. One supporter of the boycott noted that lisle stockings had become widely viewed as "an identification mark." Lucy Wyle, "Communism and Stockings," New York Evening Post, Dec. 4, 1939; Stanley High, "Communism Presses Its Pants," Saturday Evening Post, July 9, 1938, 5, 6, 30, 32-36.

35. In reviewing the history of "fashions and their origins" Johnson and Sparks noted that "the popular creation of fashions is nothing new" and listed a series of twentieth-century precedents, including the hair bob. Lee Simonson concurred and noted that "it doesn't take a very large group of women to change the fashion to cotton, wool, or rayon." Similarly, commentators noted that a few men donning "woolen ties in attractive Navajo weaves" could potentially set off a masculine renunciation of silk. Johnson and Sparks, "Put Silk in the Doghouse," 13; "Pro and Anti-Silk Question Argued By Demonstrations," Washington Post, Jan. 28, 1938; "Who Bought the Bomb?," 7.

36. The celebrities are mentioned in Judy Yung, Unbound Feet, 238; "The Student Movement of the 1930s," Joseph P. Lash, Interview at, paragraph 24.

37. Loveliness Based on Human Misery is Indeed Coarse; J. B. Matthews, "A New Way for Making Suckers Out of Consumers," Consumer's Digest 3 (Feb. 1938), 70-80. Quotations 78-79.

38. Matthews, "A New Way for Making Suckers Out of Consumers."

39. An excellent overview of the sources of the suspicion of consumption is David Shi, The Simple Life: Plain Living and High Thinking in American Culture (New York, 1985).

40. The quotation is from Warren Susman "The Culture of the 1930s," in Culture as History (New York, 1984), 162. See also Michael Denning, The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century (New York, 1998); Michael Rogin, "How the Working-Class Saved Capitalism: The New Labor History and The Devil and Miss Jones," Journal of American History 89 (June 2002), 87-114; Paula S. Fass, The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth in the 1920s (New York, 1977), 257-9; Zygmunt Bauman, Work, Consumerism and the New Poor (Buckingham and Philadelphia, 1998), 31.

41. James B. Twitchell, Lead Us Into Temptation: The Triumph of American Materialism (New York, 1999), 271-286; Patricia Cohen, "In Defense of Our Wicked, Wicked Ways: Conspicuous Consumption? Go to it, a Scholar Says," New York Times, July 7, 2002, 9:1-2. For a critique of celebrations of consumerist pleasure that ignore "the difficult and seemingly unsolveable problems of sweatshop economies and child labor" see, Angela McRobbie, "A New Kind of Rag Trade?," in No Sweat: Fashion, Free Trade, and the Rights of Garment Workers, ed. Andrew Ross (New York and London, 1997), 275-289. For an examination of the "ecological footprint" of individual acts of consumption, see John C. Ryan and Alan Thein During, Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things (Seattle, 1997).

42. Thomas Frank, The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism (Chicago, 1997). For other perspectives which differ from mine, see Ken Conca, "Consumption and Environment in a Global Economy," in Confronting Consumption, 133-34 and Marilyn Bordwell, "Jamming Culture: Adbusters' Hip Media Campaign Against Consumerism," in ibid., 252-253.

43. In July 1941 the assets of Japan were frozen. "Freezing of Foreign Funds in U.S.," in The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt comp. Samuel I. Rosenman (New York, 1941), 9: 133; Kennedy, Freedom From Fear, 504-506. For an inside account of deliberations about the embargo of Japan see Harold Ickes' diary entry for Sept. 28, 1940 in The Secret Diary of Harold L. Ickes (New York, 1954), 3: 339-40.

44. Entry for Nov. 5, 1938 in The Secret Diary of Harold L. Ickes, 2: 497. The quotation about Nylon as an acronym is from Meikle, American Plastic, 139. Susannah Handley, Nylon: The Story of a Fashion Revolution (Baltimore, 1999), 31-39; Raymond Calpper, "Artificial Silk Worm Developed by Du Pont," New York World-Telegram, January 17, 1939.

45. Caroline Ware, The Consumer Goes to War: A Guide to Victory on the Home Front (New York, 1942), 1, 5. The quotations from Jessie Lloyd O'Connor and the LWS are from an untitled 1942 pamphlet of the Chicago LWS, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College. On wartime rationing, see Amy Bentley, Eating for Victory: Food Rationing and the Politics of Domesticity (Urbana, 1998); Meg Jacobs, "'How About Some Meat': The Office of Price Administration, Consumption Politics, and State Building from the Bottom Up, 1941-1946," Journal of American History 84 (Dec. 1997), 910-941; Mark H. Leff, "The Politics of Sacrifice on the American Home Front in World War II," Journal of American History 77 (March 1991), 1296-1318.

46. Robert Westbrook, "'I Want a Girl, Just Like The Girl that Married Harry James': American Women and the Problem of Political Obligation in World War II," American Quarterly 42 (Dec. 1990), 587-614; "Betty Grable's Legs," Life, June 7, 1943, 82-86. On the discarding of stockings during wartime, see Meikle, American Plastic, 148. As Robin D. G. Kelley has pointed out, however, unauthorized attempts to find "pleasure in the new music, clothes and dance" by black "hep cats" led them to be ostracized and punished. "The Riddle of the Zoot," 163.

47. On the fight to disseminate CU's Report on Contraceptive Materials, see, "A Forbidden Subject," Consumer Reports (May 1943), 115; "For the People: CU to Appeal Mailing Ban to Courts," ibid., 132-34; "CU Wins Court Decision," ibid., (Oct. 1944), 255. Consumers Union also offered a sexuality guide: See the ad for Your Marriage: A Guide to Happiness by Norman E. Himes, in the Sept. 1941 issue of Consumer Reports, 248-49. On the silk stocking replacements see: "Stockings in a Bottle," ibid., (Aug. 1942), 201-202; "Bottled 'Stockings'," ibid. (July 1943), 181-82.

48. See the editorial, "The New Look and the Shell Game," Consumer Reports (Oct. 1947), 374; D.W.S., "Cheers for the Article on the New Look!," Consumer Reports (Feb. 1948), 51. Noyes' column ran from April 1947 through the early 1950s.

49. Lizabeth Cohen, A Consumers' Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (New York 2003), 130; Erica Carter, "Alice in the Consumer Wonderland," in West Germany Under Construction: Politics, Society and Culture in the Adenauer Era, ed. Robert Moeller (Ann Arbor, 1997), 347-371. Quotation 366; Carter, How German is She? Postwar West German Reconstruction and the Consuming Woman (Ann Arbor, 1997), 165-167.

50. Margaret Carlson, "Patriotic Splurging," Time, Oct. 15, 2001, 76; Marie Coco, "It'll Take More than Shopping to Heal America's Wounds," The State, Sept. 29, 2001, A11. See also Angela Shah, "Fight Terrorism: Shop till you drop," Nov. 5, 2001. (AP story at; Claudia Smith Brinson, "The Problem with 'buy, buy, buy'," The State, Nov 13, 2001, D1, 6; R.W. Apple, Jr. "Nature of Foe is Obstacle in Appealing for Sacrifice," New York Times, Oct. 15, 2001; Thomas J. Friedman, "Ask Not What ..." New York Times, Dec. 9, 2001, IV:13; Jill Vardy and Chris Wattie, "Shopping is Patriotic, Leaders Say," National Post [Canada], Sept. 28, 2001.

51. Paul Wachtel, "Alternative to the Consumer Society," in Ethics of Consumption, ed. David Crocker and Toby Linden (Lanham, MD, 1998), 199. Laure Waridel, Coffee With Pleasure: Just Java and World Trade (Montreal, 2001). See also the information at the "Fair Trade Action Guide" which describes the products it purveys as "great looking" "vibrant" and "gourmet" at: and; Michael Pollan, "Cruising On The Ark of Taste: By Pursuing The Politics of Pleasure, the Slow Food Movement Hopes To Save Rare Species and Delectables--and Give the Considered Life a Second Chance," Mother Jones (May-June 2003), 74-76. Stephanie Mills, Epicurean Simplicity (Washington, DC, 2002). On "stylish" clothes, see Jim High-tower, "Dressed for Success," Nation, June 24, 2002, 8. In contrast, and more typically of the consumer movement, Jeremy Larner pits moral goods against fashionable ones in his essay on the "No Sweat Apparel" website: "My Fashion Statement." March 19, 2003.

52. Larissa MacFarquar, "The Populist: Michael Moore Can Make You Cry," New Yorker, Feb. 16-23, 2004, 133-145. Quotation 137. For an insightful critique of the left's "romance of parsimoniousness and asceticism," see Jesse Lemisch and Naomi Weisstein, "Cornucopia Isn't Consumerism," Against the Current (Jan./Feb. 1992), 31-34; Jesse Lemisch, "Nader vs. The Big Rock Candy Mountain," New Politics 31(Summer 2001), 12-19. I take Jane Bennett to be expressing this point when she writes, "There is no way to guarantee that an aesthetic disposition will produce or even incline toward goodness, generosity, or social justice. Affect can join narcissism, beauty can serve violence, and enchantment can foster cruelty." But nevertheless "the attempt to sever ethics from aesthetics because of the dangers carried by the latter spells the probable defeat of ethics." Jane Bennett The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics, (Princeton, 2001), 148, 149.

By Lawrence B. Glickman

University of South Carolina

Department of History

Columbia, SC 29208
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