Textile Fiber Products Identification Act

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

There are many laws which we don't often think about but which have some pretty big impacts on our lives. In this lesson, we'll talk about one such piece of legislation, the Textile Fiber Products Identification Act, and explore both its history and use in modern society.

Textile Fibers

Let's do an experiment: take your clothes off. Sorry, that came out creepy. Don't do that. Go and get a piece of clothing from your dresser. Somewhere on that garment, you'll find a little white tag. You've probably seen this before, either to find washing instructions or to figure out what in your shirt feels so itchy. However, there's something else on this tag you may or may not have really noticed before: the materials used to make that garment. That's cool, but why is it there? It's actually federal law, as defined by the Textile Fiber Products Identification Act. It's a little piece of history you never realized you were wearing.

It may be an important part of history, but it still itches


The story of the information on that little white tag dates back to roughly the 1950s. Now, up until this point most American textile producers did categorize their products by materials, but this was a fairly simple matter of cotton, silk, wool, or other natural fibers. Then, America entered World War II in the 1940s, pumped literally billions of dollars into scientific research for wartime production, and came out the other side with an array of new, synthetic fibers originally developed for military use. Ever heard of nylon? This synthetic material was first created in the 1930s, but took off when the military started using it for parachutes, tents, ropes, ponchos, and other products during the war.

After WWII ended, American industry boomed, the economy boomed, and Americans started looking to new technologies as a symbol of post-war growth and global affluence. This extended to synthetic fibers which became commercially available in a big way. During the war, American women had voluntarily rationed to conserve resources, skipping on luxuries like stockings. In the post-war economic boom, purchasing these luxuries (now made with technologically-advanced synthetic fibers) became an almost patriotic duty. Seriously. In fact, as America entered the global struggle against Soviet communism in the 1950s (a period known as the Cold War), nylon products became almost synonymous with American culture, capitalism, and democracy.

During the war, women were asked to ration on silk and nylon stockings

The commercial growth of synthetic fibers in the 1950s, the competition against the Soviets, and the growing role of the USA in a globalizing economy led many officials to worry about how these fibers were being identified. There was little standardization as far as how synthetic versus natural fibers were labeled, and consumers were not always being told what made up their clothes, linens, and other textile products. So, in 1960 Congress passed the Textile Fiber Products Identification Act (TFPIA) to resolve this problem.

Is that real nylon? She wondered...


So, what exactly does the TFPIA state? At its most basic, this Acts says that producers must clearly identify all of the fibers used to make a textile product. This applies to both the product itself and the marketing for that product, including magazine ads and commercials. This required a standardization of the names used for synthetic materials as well, which at the time were often labeled in different ways. Furthermore, the materials must be listed in order, with the fiber composing the highest percentage of the product appearing first. You may notice that many items actually have the exact percentage of each fiber listed. The manufacturer must also be listed on the product by name or identification number. Finally, the TFPIA lays out the measures for enforcing this new policy, and gives enforcement power to the Federal Trade Commission.

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