Styling Synthetics: DuPont's Marketing of Fabrics and Fashions in Postwar America

Scholars have studied innovation from various perspectives, but few have considered the interaction between big business and the fashion marketplace. This study examines the efforts of E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company to create and expand the American synthetic-fibers market after World War II. DuPont described this work as transforming the “relatively simple ‘art’ of selling fabric” into the “complicated ‘science’ of marketing.” This process involved developing in-house marketing expertise and reaching out to sources as disparate as American fabric designers, Parisian couturiers, Seventh Avenue manufacturers, southern textile giants, and mass-market retailers. To promote the “wonders” of synthetic fibers, DuPont relied on “fashion intermediaries” to determine what customers wanted and how its fibers could meet those needs. This study suggests that the mass-market success of DuPont's synthetic fibers owed as much to creative marketing, styling, and performance as it did to industrial research and organizational innovation.