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Real Silk Hosiery Mills product box, eBay.

Smooth Moves, Real Silk!

Ladies (and gentlemen, too)… imagine an item of clothing so important… so luxurious… that a personal, to-your-door representative would arrive at your home to consult with you on the latest trends, colors, weights and textures for your fitting. What was this all-important, image making-or-breaking accoutrement?

A business suit? A tux, perhaps? A ball gown?

Nope.

It was socks, basically.

Or that’s what the owners of the Real Silk Hosiery Mills would have you believe, anyway.

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Click to enlarge this 1929 Saturday Evening Post advertisement. eBay.

Indeed, according to Real Silk advertisements, choosing one’s hosiery should never be left to some artless hack.

Never buy a shade because it looks well on someone else. Check it on your own skin. Check each shade for its becomingness to you. It is better to choose a tone that flatters your ankle than a high-style color — better to harmonize it with skin tones than arbitrarily match a costume’s hue. Every hosiery shade is affected by the skin tone of the wearer… Real Silk’s Shop-at-Home Service brings you an actual summary of the season’s smartest clothing colors (with samples of fabrics and shoe leathers) showing which hosiery shades are correct with each color range.”

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Click to enlarge this 1924 Good Housekeeping advertisement. eBay.

Company History:
According to Indiana Historical Society files, the Real Silk Company was founded in 1922 by brothers J.A. and L.L. Goodman. The company ran knitting mills which manufactured men’s and women’s silk hosiery, lingerie, and underwear. At its peak, the company’s sales volume averaged more than one million pairs of women’s hosiery a year. In fact, at one point, Real Silk Hosiery Mills in Indianapolis was the largest shipper of COD parcel post packages in the country and was considered to be the biggest manufacturing unit in the industry.

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Click to enlarge this 1938 advertisement. eBay. “The Real Silk representative will advise you about color and style. We suggest Real Silk’s new 251 (if you’re serious about her). Call Real Silk in your city and the representative will come to you.”

The company ran into financial difficulties in the early 1930s as a result of the Great Depression. The stock market collapse depressed Real Silk’s market — and the company suffered an additional loss due to the price of raw silk. Real Silk owed a considerable amount to its lenders. Control was eventually assumed by a bank committee. The company’s financial situation began to improve shortly thereafter and a gentleman named Gustav Efroymson (former president of H.P. Wasson Co.) assumed control in 1932.

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On offer, eBay: a pair of Real Silk hosiery, deaccessioned from the Children’s Museum.

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Click to enlarge 1938 magazine advertisement about Real Silk hosiery. eBay. “It will pay you to talk to a Real Silk Representative — the man who knows about hosiery.” Does it seem odd to anyone else that in days of such propriety, men sold what essentially were women’s undergarments… door to door, unchaperoned?

Difficulties soon occurred with labor over wage increases which resulted in a strike in April and May, 1934, that included the arrests of sixteen strikers in Indianapolis in what was one of the city’s most famous, and violent, strikes. Street fights, attacks on company workers, and a successful bombing of an employee’s home moved the Mayor, Reginald Sullivan, to invoke police powers. The matter was finally resolved in May leaving neither the workers not Real Silk a clear winner.

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The kerfuffle over wages at Real Silk caused the city’s most violent strike, to date.

Company profits were jeopardized in the early 1940s as the need for silk during World War II dried up supplies. Cleverly, the company became instrumental in the manufacturing of parachutes for bombs as well as hosiery for both male and female military personnel to stem potential ruin. During the war, more than 1,500 employees were dedicated to the manufacture of silk parachutes in the Indianapolis plant. After the war though, the company once again struggled as nylon, an inexpensive material, replaced costly silk in garments.

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In the days of silk hosiery, ladies  actually repaired their stockings. Repair kit, eBay.

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Inside of Real Silk stocking repair kit.

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Real Silk advertising premium. eBay.

Gustav Efroymson died in 1946, and control of the company passed to his son, Robert who chose to close manufacturing operations. All the machinery was sold except that which was related to direct-to-consumer selling, and the plant, which was located at 611 N. Park was leased to a printing company. In 1957 Real Silk Inc. became registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission as an investment company, although they continued the door to door selling of hosiery, lingerie, and other clothing products on a national scale.

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Click to enlarge this 1938 women’s “shop at home” advertisement. eBay.

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Click to enlarge this 1937 Real Silk advertisement, eBay. The descriptions are most humorous by today’s standards.

Certainly, the Real Silk Hosiery Mill left its indelible imprint upon Hoosier history. It remains with us today in the form of Real Silk Lofts (The former plant converted into apartments in the late 1980s) and in a wide array of vintage print advertising and promotional items.

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Click to enlarge this 1926 advertisement for the at-home hosiery and lingerie service, touting the “safety and convenience” of having a (usually male) representative come to your home for the fitting. eBay.

Check those old drawers and cupboards! You might just find some… Real Silk Hoosiery!

Tell us in the comment box below:
What are your memories of Real Silk?
Did any of your relatives work there?

 

17 responses to “Sunday Adverts: Hoosiery”

  1. Isaiah says:

    Thank you Lisa for putting this article together. I just wanted to add that the two key gentlemen who were involved in the company were Jack Goodman, who was the guiding light for the building of Beth El Temple on 34th and Ruckle in 1924-1925, as then president of Beth El Congregation and Gustave Efroymson whose family foundation has currently been critically supportive in the stabilization and restoration efforts now underway to save that beautiful historical synagogue – the oldest remaining synagogue structure in the city of Indianapolis, The Temple Heritage Center is working closely with Indiana Landmarks and the Mapleton-Fall Creek Development Corporation to ensure the preservation of the building and identify a future sustainable use for it.

  2. Roger Groot says:

    Being a history buff of my home town of Grand Rapids, Michigan, I was looking at the listing of Real Silk Hosiery Mills of Indiana in my 1928 GRAND RAPIDS TELEPHONE DIRECTORY, and their local office was located at 707 Building & Loan Building. Reading about the history of this company was very interesting also.

  3. Carolynne Neumann says:

    My son found a postcard in their home while remodeling. It is to a Miss Laura Ridley from Real Silk Hosiery Mills dated Feb 4, 1925. Printed on back message in red print. Starts out on first line “BE ON THE LOOK-OUT”. Then going on to say a man would be delivering your order. More message than that too.
    Can you reply on this find??
    Thank you. Carolynne

  4. Tiffany Benedict Browne says:

    Very fun find!

  5. Marsha Merrick says:

    Recently found that my dad, Walter Pollard, was an office clerk at Real Silk in 1940. Peaked my interest in the history of the company. Was very glad to find your website. My grandmother, Ruth Logan, also worked at Real Silk, but believe she worked in the hosiery mill.

  6. John S Beaudry says:

    My father was a real silk salesman in spokane, washington.I was a hoping to find a catalog of the products he was selling post WWII?

  7. Tiffany Benedict Browne says:

    We’d love to see one too, John. Check back, you never know when we may!
    Thanks for the comment.

  8. Larry Sellars says:

    My dad Joseph Sellars went to work there I think in 1937 as a knitter and worked himself up to a maintenance supervisor. It moved to Georgia and the buildings were sold to Printing Arts Center which he still worked at the same job title He later retired in middle 70s I still have one piece of their equipment that he said cut silk but that’s about all I could get out of him. If you could be of any help please email me as to where I could find out about their machinery.

  9. Kathie says:

    I’m working on family history and found a very large picture of a group of people labeled “Real Silk Hosiery Mills Picnic August 22, 1934”. I’ve looked at the picture a few times over the years and never found anyone who looked familiar. Funny, what some time can do. I was getting ready to pack it up and there, pretty much right in the middle, are my children’s great grandparents. I think I remember a few boxes of the hosiery somewhere around the house…now I know the connection.

  10. Tiffany Benedict Browne says:

    What a cool story! One of the stories we are working on is a deeper-dive about Real Silk. Stay tuned!

  11. Storyteller says:

    There was a location in Linton IN that I am trying to research as a relative worked there. She made underwear, etc. and despite the extremely dedicated hard work ethic of the time it was rumored to be a “sweat shop” in later years. Breaks my heart. She {I think} at one time was paid in small remnants of silk rather than dollars. They were so poor that she made ALL of her husbands underwar, hers as well as slips into the late night at home with them. I just learned from someone today they made socks and actually still have some in their drawer stating they are still in wonderful shape and a favorite of her husband. I was told a salesman sold them and he wore them daily until they could no longer find a resource or salesman. In these very hard time today for so many, it puts much into perspective. I work in digital storytelling and am truly inspired by your work as it is stellar. There must be so much more with the other plants to learn, which is why I wanted to respond about the Linton IN location. Exactly where I do not know at this time. Your work on this is stellar and a delightful find, thank you. I look forward to what you have in store 🙂

  12. Bruce says:

    Can we buy old pictures of the building from back in the day? Or are there places that sell old Ads from Real Silk? Thank you

  13. Keith Hunter says:

    Bruce, you might find ads on Ebay. As for photos, check the digital archives at the Indiana Historical Society or the Indiana State museum. The Bass collection is one of the best for old Indianapolis photos.

    (FYI – I recently discovered that a 2nd cousin twice removed of my wife was a knitter there.)

  14. Cherrie L Robinson says:

    Jack was my great grandfather and from what I am told, a remarkable man. I am really interested in how the restoration efforts for Beth El went. I have a photo that shows him on the ground breaking of the building holding what looks like a time capsule and I am curious if it was unearthed. My grandmother would tell stories of the family business and how they went on to help make bags for the war.

  15. Laura Goodman Humphrey says:

    HI Cherie,
    My grandfather was L.L. Goodman, Jack’s brother. We must be related!

  16. Laura Goodman Humphrey says:

    The RealSilk Hosiery co. was founded by the 2 brothers, Jack and Lazure Goodman. G. Efroymson came along later.

  17. Jack hauber says:

    I sold Real Silk products door-to-door in 1959 in a northern Chicago suburb. I can almost remember the presentation, but I do know that in exchange for letting me in and listening, the lady got a free hanger to dry the hosiery after washing.

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