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Perlon is a synthetic fabric very similar to Nylon and was developed in Germany in 1938. The now familiar Perlon trademark symbol was first registered in 1954 by Farbenfabriken Bayer Aktiengesellschaft. As you have probably gathered by now I specialise in Perlon slips. I just love the properties of this wonderful Perlon fabric – its softness against the skin, its wispy sheer transparency, its superior resistance to surface abrasion damage like rubbing and flecks, not to mention the adorable styles made with it. Oh, and it is wrinkle-proof too.
But, what exactly is Perlon? The science is a bit baffling to say the least, but for those brave enough to want to know, Perlon is a polymer manufactured using a ring-opening polymerization technique, as opposed to a condensation polymer process as used in the making of ‘standard’ nylon. So, now you know. Awarded its trademark name Perlon in 1952 after dragging the cumbersome titles of polycaprolactam and Nylon 6 around ever since Dr Paul Schlack of IG Farbenindustrie in Germany first developed it way back in January 1938. Clearly a case of being invented in the wrong place at the wrong time, Dr Schlack’s new invention was pressed into military use under the name Perluran and its civil use as a fabric was banned for the duration of WWII when the Nazis used it for the manufacture of parachutes, etc. By the end of the war, Germany’s manufacturing infrastructure was literally in ruins, leaving the door wide open for conventional Nylon to dominate the world market. It was not until 1949-50 that the first Perlon factory was opened in Oberbruch and the lovely fabric we know and love started to be produced as a fine fabric for the benefit of women everywhere. By the early 1950's Perlon manufacture in Germany had overtaken that of nylon - the former needing around 20% less phenol than the latter, thus making production of Perlon less expensive.
So, what are the features of Perlon and what makes it so good? During the 1950’s and 1960’s the tensile strength of Perlon was greater than other nylon variants available, making it possible to have thinner gauge fabric that had all the strength benefits of a thicker fabric while being deliciously feminine and lightweight to wear. It has a much greater resistance to ‘flecking’, ‘rubbing’ and ripping. Equally important was Perlon’s ability to take and ‘hold’ the palest of pastel colours – something they couldn’t do with standard nylon at the time – which is why you will often see Perlon slips in very pale pastel pinks, yellows, etc.
Why in particular was Germany the ‘Home of Perlon’? Why not anywhere else? After the end of WW2, a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ was reached between the American nylon (Nylon 6.6) producer Du Pont and the German producer of Perlon (Nylon 6) to divide sales of fabrics up in Europe. As well as the USA, Du Pont kept western Europe under the agreement, with nylon production rights being granted to Rhone-Poulenc in France, Grupo Montecatini in Italy and ICI in the United Kingdom. On the other side of this agreement, IG Farbenindustrie could make and sell Perlon in Germany and anywhere east of there. So, there and then, the geographical ‘division’ between Perlon and Nylon was created. Variants of Perlon were made under various names in Eastern Bloc states, most notably Dederon in the old East Germany – the name ‘Dederon’ being a play on the name ‘DDR’ (Deutsche Demokratische Republik). Our online slip shop always carries a fabulous choice of Dederon slips, usually from the 1970’s and 80’s.
Perlon Style! Perlon fabric has a place in time. It also has a place in geographical location. After a rocky start, dogged by war and the ugly side of politics, Perlon went on to great things – in Europe, primarily but not exclusively post-war Germany. The Perlon slips of the late 1950’s to mid-1960’s often display similar features that reflect the lingerie preferences of European women. Very elaborate and decidedly feminine lace and pleat bust and hems are often a feature, as is a sheer transparency of the fabric. The cut of these slips tend to follow ‘classic’ lines too. Shoulder straps are, more often than not, of thin ribbon and not adjustable – again, a typical feature of the European slip. For us, the deliciously elaborate hems are their most endearing feature.
More than just slips! Bras, suspender belts (garter belts), silky knickers and sheer stockings are also fashioned from Perlon – again, with all those beautiful advantages that the slips have. Perfect for that 1960s dress!
Am I the Queen of Perlon? I might be. Its hard to say. But I do hold very large stocks of Perlon retro lingerie – mostly slips – and I have an active and loyal clientele who collect and enjoy these delightfully feminine items and have done for many years. Beautiful Perlon slips, nightgowns and peignoir sets are always for sale in my online shop and the items offered are constantly changing. For collectors and wearers alike, Perlon underwear will always hold a fascination for those with a fondness of the glamour, elegance and classy sophistication of that mid-century era.
View my Perlon lingerie for sale here: https://nylonnostalgia.com/buy-vintage-lingerie/ols/categories/vintage-perlon-slips-unterkleid-for-sale
Perlon war damals deutlich teurer als “normale” Nylonunterkeider. So etwas lies man sich schenken und legte es entweder (möglichst noch verpackt) in den Schrank oder man liebte sie so heiß und innig, dass man sie täglich getragen hat. Die Webart ergibt ein viel feineres Gefühl auf der Haut und wenn ein Nylonunterkleid schon leicht ist, dann ist eben Perlon federleicht!
Article written by Emma Benitez. BA (Hons) in Fashion and Dress History, incurable vintage aficionado and owner of Nylon Nostalgia. Emma is a fabric specialist for a lingerie manufacturer with operations in both Europe and Asia. She has also supplied fine vintage lingerie to media production companies, fashion designers and private collectors worldwide since 2009.
This 1950 article about Perlon fabric makes the incorrect statement that it has low moisture absorption properties. The opposite is true.
Britain's introduction to Perlon was certainly low-key, as this 1952 article shows.
Typical Perlon slip designs. Typische Perlon Unterkleid. Diseños típicos de ropa interior de Perlon.
German Perlon lingerie catalogue
Perlon manufacturer's publicity material, 1963.
A vintage Perlon slip in it's original packaging.
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