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Fashion During WWII (Fall 2012)

World War II
            In 1939, a global war broke out between the Allied countries of Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union and the Axis Powers consisting of Germany, Japan, and Italy. This long and brutal war lasted until 1945. Because of this war, fashion was affected tremendously due to many historical forces. These historical factors include economics, science and technology, and personal and group identities.

            In wartime, fashion was largely determined by necessity. The necessity for women during the Second World War was a minimum wardrobe with versatility. Function overpowered form. Instead of focusing on conspicuous consumption, women focused on practicality. During the period of war, fabric manufacturers focused on war-related textiles. Wool was demanded for the manufacture of uniforms while silk was necessary to make parachutes, maps, and bags for gunpowder. To make the most of the wool and silk supplies, most civilian clothes were resorted to being made out of rayon and viscose. Huge quantities of women’s shoes were made with wooden soles to conserve leather, which was needed for soldier’s boots. Most of the population was deprived of necessities such as food, clothes, and other vital goods.
             In Germany, a lot of the factories were run by Jewish people and therefore were forced to shut down, or people refused to buy from their shops. Other factories lost their workers due to the concentration camps and were henceforth forced to shut down as well. Menswear was very difficult to locate because most of it was directed towards dressing the German army with both clothes for the war and every day life. In France, women adapted the new look ‘la robe a mille morceaux’, which was a dress pieced together using the remnants of old tattered clothing; forced to be frugal with the supplies they had. Clothing consumption in France was rationed and coupons were handed out. Each article of clothing was assigned a coupon value. Coupons were relinquished with cash when new clothes were purchased. The coupons allowed even the wealthiest to afford very little when it came to clothing. Limitations on the yardage for specific garments were set and extraneous details were outlawed. Because of these limitations, men’s suits could no longer be made with double-breasted jackets, or pleated or darted pockets on jackets. Only a single hip pocket was permitted on trousers, while turn-ups were not permitted at all and hems were narrowed. In Great Britain, The Board of Trade controlled supplies, restricted demand, and imposed design regulations in order to make the most of clothing resources. 
            Initial measures taken by the Board of Trade included the Cotton, Linen, and Rayon Order and the Limitation of Supplies Order. Both of which reduced the stock of retail fabrics. The number of clothing factories was cut due to the Concentration Schemes and newcomers were prevented from entering the industry due to this. The first Consumer Rationing Order was introduced in order to reduce demand and encourage fairly distributed goods. With the first rationing and issue of about sixty-six coupons per person, men were only allowed to purchase the bare minimum of an overcoat which required 16 coupons, a jacket or blazer costing 13 coupons, a waistcoat or sweater for 5, trousers for 8, a shirt for 5, a tie for 1, a woolen vest and underpants for 8, socks for 3, and shoes for 7. Women’s clothing followed a similar coupon pricing. Because stockings were so expensive, women started going barelegged. To give the illusion of tights, they tanned their legs and painted a mock seam up the back of their leg. The second year of rationing reduced the number of coupons to a mere forty-eight. The Utility Scheme was introduced by the British Board of Trade, making sure that both low and medium quality consumer goods were produced at reasonable prices and high standards, while also meeting the restrictions on raw materials and labor. Because of the rationing of clothes due to the coupon system, women started making their own clothing because it was cheaper.  ‘Utility’ was applied to garments that had a low quality level and high retail price. Manufacturers had to meet utility quotas of eighty-five percent of their total production in order to be permitted to make clothes using non-utility cloth. Shortly after this, the Making of Civilian Clothing (Restrictions Orders) was passed in order to maximize on the profit made by the diminishing resources. This order prevented wasteful cutting and restrained dressmakers, tailors, and manufacturers from doing various tasks such as putting extra pockets, buttons, or seams in a skirt. Silhouettes were slimmed down to eliminate waste, conserve fabric, machinery, and workers.  The waistcoat was eliminated due to the economy, making all suits only two pieces, while also eliminating the unnecessary accessories like pocket flaps and turn-ups on trousers. The wealthier were forced to be frugal as well by making their existing clothes last as long as possible and recycling them. This was enforced due to the ‘Make-do and Mend’ campaign organized by the government. Women even began making jewelry out of used bottle tops, corks, and film spools. In 1941, the United States entered the war. Although the economy had not taken a hit quite as hard as Europe, general limitations were still set, forbidding the use of non-essential details and the manufacturing of certain garments. 

Science and Technology
            The economic forces causing the rationing and ban on certain textiles led to technological advancements in the textile industry. Because of the need of natural fibers such as wool and silk for uniforms, the textile manufacturer DuPont started developing new synthetic fibers made from mineral materials. Synthetic fibers are cheaper and can be manufactured instead of found in nature, therefore they were more affordable during the harsh economic times of the war. The production of the new synthetic fiber, nylon, was also used as an alternative to silk to make parachutes. Nylon was the new miracle fiber because it looked like silk but was more durable. Production of makeup was avoided to meet the needs of non-fashion requirements such as face creams to help prevent toxic substances from absorbing into the skin of munitions workers. 

Personal and Group Identities
            Trousers became more acceptable for women to wear for utilitarian purposes. Women were forced to replace men in the factories, and therefore were allowed to wear pants like the men; making pants a necessity for women in the workforce. Women wore shapeless masculine-looking jackets. Women served with the Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service, the Women’s Reserve of the Coast Guard, and the Women’s Auxiliary Corps. The United States women serving in the forces were considered to have the best uniforms because of the use of both functionality and some femininity. Civilian clothes were often made to imitate uniforms of those serving, adapting the cut and color of military uniforms. Because more people were forced to work in the factories, clothing was adjusted to make life in the factory easier. Anything that could catch in machinery was eliminated or concealed. Women’s hair had to be pinned back or hidden under a head scarf, buttons were found only in the back of garments or at the shoulder, and men wore their belt buckles in the back. ‘Siren suits’ were adopted for civilians and were important when it came to air raids at night, because civilians could zip them up over their pajamas quickly in order to make a fast escape to the air raid shelters.

Fashion as a Result of Winning WWII
            The economic prosperity after winning the war resulted in luxurious and expensive clothing styles. Women who were forced to enter the work force returned home and retired their masculine work clothes. They regained their femininity and allowed the men to take up their pre-war positions while they returned to their roles in the house.

            Fashion often reflects values and lifestyles. During WWII, lifestyles changed and so did the fashion. Because of the harsh economic times created by the war, the fashions were impacted tremendously and forced to change. Fashion went from being lavish, excessive, and accessible to dull, simplistic, and hard to come by. Certain textiles were resorted to use only for war materials, therefore rationing occurred and new textiles were developed to compensate for the loss of materials used for civilian clothes. Women’s role changed as they were forced to enter the work force. This change in role led to a change in fashion as well. Women took on a more masculine appearance to fit their new role in the workplace. WWII had a significant impact on the fashion of the time because of the historical forces of economics, science and technology, and personal and group identities.

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