Rayon and its impact on the fashion industry at its introduction, 1910-1924
Sara B. Marcketti
Rayon was and continues to be an important fiber to the textile and fashion industry. Prior to rayon's invention, only natural fibers such as cotton, silk, flax, and wool were available for clothing and home furnishings. Rayon, invented in 1846, began to be manufactured in the United States in 1911. Called artificial silk until 1924 when the name rayon was coined, rayon was a less expensive alternative to silk clothing and accessories.
This paper focused on the time period of 1910-1924. The start date 1910 was selected because rayon production in the United States started in 1911. The year 1924 was chosen as a stop date for this project because acetate was invented in 1924 making rayon no longer the only manufactured fiber. This topic was important to study because little to no research had been done to address how rayon was introduced to consumers and to assess its impact on the fashion world. Seven research questions guided the research. These questions were: What was the early history of rayon production and introduction to the public? What names did manufacturers use when selling rayon? What type of products featured rayon? How were the above products promoted to the public? What were the stated advantages of rayon during this time period? What were the stated disadvantages of rayon during this time period? Why was rayon perceived as inferior to silk? This study utilized a grounded theory and content analysis to analyze data collected from the retailers' newspaper Women's Wear, the woman's fashion magazine Harper's Bazar, and the woman's home magazine Good Housekeeping.
Manufacturers and the industry used a variety of names to describe rayon which seemingly caused confusion for the consumer. The terms artificial silk, art silk, fiber (fibre) silk, fiber (fibre), chemical silk, manufactured silk, scientific silk, rayonner, and rayon silk were all used to describe one type of fabric. The majority of products made of rayon were hosiery; along with sweaters, draperies and curtains, embroidery and trim, bed spreads, dresses, scarves, blouses, women's suits, hats, and socks.
During the time period of 1910-1924, many advantages and disadvantages were apparent. The major advantage of rayon was its luster; the second major advantage was cost. Rayon was lower in cost than silk. Other advantages of rayon included its ability to cover and it wore well as dress trimmings and embroidery. In spite of these advantages, there were many disadvantages. Rayon was susceptible to heat and moisture, only one-eighth as strong as silk, and weaker when wet. Women who purchased rayon did not know how to properly care for the fiber. Rayon fibers were coarser than silk which produced a coarser weave, had poor elasticity, poor abrasion resistance, poor dye affinity, and lacked the necessary qualities to produce a twistable yarn.
Rayon was seen as inferior to silk for four main reasons. First, was the industry's portrayal of the fiber rayon. Terms such as "real" and "true" silk made consumers think that silk was the optimal choice, but that they might have to settle for rayon, the imposter. Cost perceptions was the second major reason rayon that was seen as inferior. The majority of rayon products were priced less expensively than silk products. For many consumers, cheaper prices equaled lower quality. Third was confusion about the terminology used. A variety of terms were used to describe rayon: artificial silk, art silk, fiber (fibre) silk, fiber (fibre), chemical silk, scientific silk, rayonner, wood silk, and rayon silk. With this list of terms, consumers would not necessarily know what specific product they purchased or the correct fiber content. The fourth, and final reason, was poor information provided about rayon to the consumer.