As far as nylon goes, it’s undeniably one of the most interesting textiles in the history of fashion. It’s fitting, then, that the humble fabric has risen as one of the most popular styles for bags and accessories in 2021. Unusual times call for unusual fashion, and nylon certainly encompasses all that. It’s almost apocalyptic; it’s sturdy, water-resistant, affordable, and works for a range of items from couture gowns to everyday bags.
For the fall 2021 season, brands high and low embraced the nylon bag. There was Sacai’s utilitarian nylon backpack, McQueen’s logo shoulder bags, Marni’s quilted mini totes, and Miu Miu’s star-spangled padded tote bag in lilac and hot pink, fit for a retro ski chic chalet.
Although nylon was officially invented in 1938, one might associate nylon most with World War II, when rations made stockings go from silk to nylon due to its affordability and the fact that it was easier to care for. “Nylon may be having a resurgence right now for much of the same reason; it is an affordable alternative, and it offers ease of use and care,” explains Sarah Collins, Professor of Fashion at SCAD. “When coming out of a time of strife and uncertainty, like the second world war, or say, a pandemic, consumers focus on wisely using their funds.”
By the time the 1950s rolled around, nylon was found in everything from sweater sets and men’s suits to faux fur coats and petticoats. And by 1955, nylon had already struck it big on the Paris runways. Coco Chanel, Jean Patou, and Christian Dior started using synthetic fibers from DuPont (the inventor of nylon). Photographer Horst P. Horst was hired to document the use of nylon and other synthetic materials by the world’s top designers, including Nina Ricci, Emanuel Ungaro, Pierre Cardin, and Madame Grès throughout the late 1950s. And once the 1960s kicked off, the material offered the perfect structure and shine for the atomic looks of Courrèges.
But as Collins also explains, “nylon handbags are a relatively modern fashion, so they have a short history. While plastics like lucite were used in the 1950s for handbags, nylon was not often used in women’s handbags until Prada.” The brand debuted the Vela, otherwise known as the now iconic nylon Prada backpack, in 1984. Today, you can find almost anything from Prada in nifty nylon: skirts, dresses, headbands, even hats, and puffer jackets. In 2019, the label introduced Re-Nylon, a sustainable alternative to its nylon pieces of the past. Each item is made of Econyl, a sustainable yarn made from waste.
Of course, it would be impossible to ignore the effect Y2K has had on fashion, and, as a result, nylon. Scroll through TikTok and you’ll see a sea of Prada’s re-edition bags, which, like the name suggests, are new iterations of Prada’s bags once released in 2000, 2005, and 2006. “Younger generations are googling to see what girls in the ’90s wore,” adds Collins. “They see the ubiquitous nylon bags and mini backpacks and want to replicate that style today.” And with more and more emerging designers from Sunnei to Marine Serre experimenting with the fabric, it’s no wonder Gen Z is drawn to all things nylon.
Shop the best nylon bags and accessories below.