Thursday, December 10, 2009
World War II Fashion
The influence of World War II - particularly the presence of military uniforms - had a profound influence on the shape of women's fashion . The silhouette, similar to a soldier's, emphasized broad, often padded shoulders and narrow hips. The War Production Board initiated Law 85 (L-85) to restrict the use of wool, silk, cotton and nylon. Women's suits could not exceed 72 inches wide at the hem and jackets could not exceed 25 inches in length. Because nylon stockings were unavailable, women resorted to leg make-up to cover their legs, and drew a seam line up the back with eye pencil. In an act of patriotism, America launched and embraced the opportunity to "Make-Do-and-Mend" and began recycling outdated or worn fashions into usable garments. Movies increasingly served as important conveyors. The underwire bra created a new uplifted silhouette, demonstrated by the busty actresses Jane Russell and Lana Turner.
During the Second World War Paris produced restrained clothing to match the economic atmosphere. The general wartime scene was one of drabness and uniformity, continuing well after the war finished in 1945. There was an austere atmosphere and people were encouraged to 'make do and mend'. A 'Mrs. Sew and Sew' featured in advertisements in women's magazines and propaganda cinema clips promoted the idea of recycling textiles. To working class women who had always had to make do and mend this was all rather patronizing and nothing new. Pillowcases would be turned into white shorts for summer. Wedding dresses would be worn several times, borrowed by sisters and friends, until the original 1939 bride in desperation for new items, remade the dress up into underwear, French Knickers or nightgowns. The only way to have feminine underwear was to sew it yourself. Skirts were made from men's old plus fours or trousers. Cast offs would be made into children's clothes. Collars would be added and trims applied all to eke out a limited wardrobe. Women who could sew dresses had trouble getting hold of fabrics so they used everything from industrial blackout cloth to parachute silk or the harsher new parachute nylon. Blankets were used to make coats and old voluminous swagger coats cut into smaller garments. Pillowcases were trimmed with lace and made into blouses. Nothing was wasted and even milk top discs were covered in raffia and made into handbags or accessories. Fashion items that became popular were the wedge sole shoe, the turban, the siren suit and the kangaroo cloak. The turban equalised people of all sorts. It began as a simple safety device to prevent the wearer's hair entangling in factory machinery. It doubled as a disguise for unkempt hair which women had less time to attend to being so busy running homes, jobs and giving extra help wherever they could. Knitting became a national obsession and leading designers worked on the Utility scheme, aiming to make the best use of materials to produce functional clothing. Christian Dior's New Look of 1947 was frowned upon by both the UK and USA governments and people were discouraged from wearing clothes that 'wasted' so much fabric. The advice was ignored particularly by Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret who were soon wearing it because it had influenced their own designers. Manufacturers read the public's need and their craving desire for newness and innovative change. They continued to manufacture replicas of the line and soon boxy uniform Forties fashions were consigned to the history books.
Elsa Schiaparelli, along with Coco Chanel, dominated fashion between the two World Wars. Starting with knitwear, Schiaparelli's designs were heavily influenced by Surrealists like her collaborators Salvador Dalí and Alberto Giacommeti. Schiaparelli, however, did not adapt to the changes in fashion following World War II, her business closing in 1954 while the house of Chanel flourishes to this day. Before World War II, for men's clothing, double breasted and single breasted suits were very popular. Men’s style after the War favored full-cut, long clothing. Part of the reason for this change was a reaction to wartime shortages. Long coats and full-cut trousers were a sign of opulence and luxury, coming in a full spectrum of colors from garish to delicate hues. Hand-painted ties were also popular featuring skyscrapers, exotic foliage, limousines, rodeos, Tahitian sunsets and even pin-up girls. One of the most extreme changes in postwar men’s fashion was the adoption of the casual shirt. In 1946 and 1947, Hawaiian or Carisca shirts were first worn on the beaches in California and Florida. Made in bright colors, the shirts sported fruit, flowers, flames, women or marine flora. About this time, a man walking the streets of New York without a jacket and shirt tails flapping, became a common sight. In 1949, Esquire promoted a new look by labeling it “the bold look”. Its characteristics were a loose fitting jacket with pronounced shoulders. Other style changes included single-breasted jackets with notched lapels and three buttons. Henceforth, peaked lapels were reserved for double-breasted jackets. These jackets also included a center vent. The end of the decade saw American men home from the war and craving a new look, tired of uniforms. American designers left their mark on the world with sportswear. Europe now looked to the United States for trends in sportswear. For the first time in history, young people were setting fashion trends and older people were following.