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Women’s Fashion During WWI and WW2 (Fall 2012)

            World War One and World War Two are historic events that will be remembered in our country forever. The tragic events that took place and all of the lives lost in the two wars are devastating. Many changes have occurred in the world today because of the wars. The main focus of this paper is the change in women’s fashion during the wars.  

World War I
            For as long as fashion has been around, Europe has been the worlds leading continent in the world of fashion. Most fashion trends and trend forecasting comes from France, the United Kingdom, and other surrounding countries. World War One was a war that was centered around Europe and took place during 1914 to 1918. Men fighting for countries such as France, United Kingdom, and Germany were battling while the women stayed at home to take care of the house and kids.  

            At the beginning of the year 1914 is when changes in the way women dressed started. “As women’s roles in Western society changed, modern fashion changed along with it” (Eurbanista). The materials that were used in old garments changed to more expensive fabrics such as wool to put into the uniforms for the soldiers. “By 1914, women's clothing had lost the rigid, tailored lines of the Edwardian period, and the styles of fashion's first great design genius, Paul Poiret, obliterated the need for wearing tight fitting corsets” (Monet). Part of the change in fashion was due to the jobs that women were fulfilling because the men were at war. Factory jobs, nurses, and farm work are a few of the jobs they took on. “Many of the occupations demanded the wearing of uniforms, including trousers. A military look crept into fashion designs as well with military style tunic jackets, belts, and epaulets” (Monet). The clothing that women wore became much more relaxed and simple. “As women dressed for new roles, gender dictated dress codes relaxed. Skirts became shorter, as they often do during wartime and colors became sober and muted” (Monet). It would be difficult to do hard labor in skirts that hit the floor, full-length arm sleeves and long hair. “A successful revolt by women against social and political restrictions led to the disappearance of physical restrictions of the corset. Almost for the first time in five centuries, the natural shape of women reappeared in clothing after World War I (1914-1919), as did the practice of revealing the legs” (Klyptix). Because of the manufacturing and farm jobs, the skirts became shorter, tops fit looser and their hair was cut. As the war got more intense the colors worn became darker and subtler. 

            Not only did the daily wear fashion trends, but also the nightlife trends in fashion changed. Chanel, a famous designer known worldwide was a huge attribute to the changes trends in women’s ware during this time period. Coco Chanel believed that, “Woman could be active and still remain elegant. She put this philosophy into her designs, shortening skirts and using jersey in womenswear. Of course, jersey had previously only been used for men’s underwear and sportswear, so this was considered revolutionary at the time. Her dresses stressed the new social role played by women, incorporating simplicity and masculinity” (Eurbanista). Chanel also brought the color black into trend. Most women tried to stay away from wearing black because it is known as a color of death and sad times. Chanel believed that it was a classic, elegant, and sliming color and that all women should have a staple garment in their wardrobe that is black. Another fashion designer, Paul Poiret, introduced fashion statements that could be worn by the women for the evenings. Stated in the Eurbanista, “Paul Poiret introduced the jupe colotte for evening wear - a high waisted tunic style dress worn with harem pants. As the world entered war, women were offered more tailored versions of the look which included military details along with checks and stripes” (Eurbanista). It was a challenge for some women to start wearing more ‘risky’ clothing because of past traditions and norms that was practiced. In addition to the clothes, the trends in shoes also changed. Because of the shorter hemlines, the women’s shoes would now show. “During the Great War, higher hemlines exposed a gap between the tip of the boot and a skirt hem. The look distracted from the overall appearance of an outfit, so the high button boots of the past were abandoned. Women wore shoes with heels that featured a slight curve” (Monet). The shorter skirts, prints such as stripes, and even pants were not in the women’s comfort zone or maybe even not accepted in those days. 

            A positive impact on women’s fashion changes in relation to the war is the money earned from fashion events. Fashion shows were often put on to show off the new trends that were happening at the time. Often times the events were put on to raise money for the war. Some fashion events were private events requiring an invitation to be allowed in. There, lots of money was raised for war veterans and families of soldiers who were fighting. “During World War I, fashion shows were organized to help raise funds for the war effort” (Monet). 

World War 2
            During World War 2, other changes in fashion were evolving and more styles were introduced. Because of the time of the war, Hollywood, films, and famous fashion icons became bigger and bigger and had a major impact on the fashion trends. Many would also say that Hilter also had an impact on fashion and how people chose to dress. 

            “One might say that women’s fashions of the 1940's were dictated by Adolph Hitler. The German invasion of Poland in September 1939 set the tone for everything that happened in the next decade. And as fashion follows social trends and the events of the world economy, World War II necessitated changes in clothing styles and fashion design” (Monet). It is hard to think that a man who was so powerful and had a negative impact on millions of people’s lives had an impact in the fashion industry. Like previously stated, Hollywood filled with famous actresses also set new trends. “The movies helped to fuel one of the major fashion trends of the ‘40s. Perhaps because the present was so fraught with worry, nostalgia for a more peaceful, bygone era blossomed” (Wolfe). Accessories such as hats, pins, and scarf had played a big role in women’s daily wear.  “Hats became outrageously silly confections of flowers, feathers and veilings, incongruously topping off the otherwise low-profile looks. Turbans and snoods were popular and often practical because sometimes women just didn’t have time to spend on the complicated hair-dos that were in style” (Wolfe). Hollywood introduced a glamour side to fashion that most women were not used too. The corset that was introduced during WW1 was still around at this time, but altercations were made to it. Corsets were tighter and most included lace and strings to add more detail and glamour to it. Another trend that was introduced was the full military daywear look. “The most obvious fashion statement made during WWII was genuine uniform dressing and it was not only the men who wore government issue” (Wolfe). This uniform style dressing included fitted military style jackets, tailored skirts or pants, and shiny shoes. This look was mostly sold in navy and white. As more trends evolved and more materials were used, designers in the military found ways to use materials that they would not once think of to use in military goods. “Silk was needed for parachutes, nylon for military supplies, metal for armaments. Man-made Rayon replaced natural fibers. Instead of wearing nylon stockings, women applied leg make-up and drew ‘seams’ with eyebrow pencils” (Wolfe). New necklines, bright colors, and non-traditional combinations of colors and clothing pieces, started to evolve in fashion for women. In addition, Hollywood also introduced studs, beads, spikes, and braids into garments. Many designers got their inspiration from costumes they would see in movies and shows. 

            “Color added interest to otherwise plain styles. Chartreuse, maroon, rust, ochre and teal were popular shades, often used in daring combinations. To emphasize the strong top-heavy silhouette, often decoration was applied to shoulders, and sweetheart necklines also accented the look” (Wolfe). Women, who were able to keep up with the trends, felt very glamorous and wealthy, although many people at this time did not have much money. 

            World War One and Two have had an everlasting impact on many countries in the world. One would not think of fashion trends when thinking about the wars, but it was important to the women at the time. After researching about fashion trends during the wars, I have realized that the industry has been an ongoing circle. Trends from the past such as military jackets, studs and spikes, bright colors, and abstract patters have done a full circle and are back on trend today. I find it interesting that during the War on Afghanistan, certain trends from previous wars came back. The fashion industry has become much bigger and popular. Events such as fashion shows still raise money for our military, army, navy and air force. I have learned in this class, and through one of the 9 forces, ‘the role of a specific individual,’ can impact ones decision making. Specific actresses, Hitler, and Hollywood all have had an impact on women who decide to follow the fashion trends of the time. This can also tie into ‘personal identity.’ Discovering whom you are and what the women wanted to represent was also a factor in daily fashion wear. 

            In conclusion, I have found this research to be very interesting and factual. As a retail-merchandising student, it is cool to see certain trends reappear and have some of the same affects as it did many years ago. 

  1. Eurbonista. 2009. Fashion History From WW1 to WW2. (11 January 2009). http://www.eurbanista.com/fashion-history-from-ww1-through-ww2/
  2. Klyptix. 1996. How World War I and World War II influence fashion. (1996, October 30).  How World War I and World War II influence fashion.. (1996, October 30). http://www.writework.com/essay/world-war-and-world-war-ii-influence-fashion
  3. Monet, Dolores. 2012. Women and Fashion of the Early 20th Century – World War 1 Era. 13 June 2012. http://doloresmonet.hubpages.com/hub/Women-and-Fashions-of-the-World-War-I-Era-Clothing-of-1914-1920
  4. Monet, Dolores. 2012. Fashion History – Design Trends of the 1940’s. 20 August 2012. http://doloresmonet.hubpages.com/hub/Fashion-History-Design-Trends-of-the-1040s
  5. Wolfe, David. 2008. WWII Fashion. Patriotism, Pin-Ups and Paper Dolls. http://paperdollywood.com/articles/wwii_fashion.html