Thursday, June 3, 2010

War Time Fashion

In this photo: Vintage Weldons Pattern, Circa 1942.

In response to the United States joining the attack against the Axis powers in late 1941, clothing designers began to create couture that reflected the country's strong sense of patriotism along with its dire economic situation. From 1942 to the end of the war, the American public rationed everything from food, textiles, paper goods, metals to paints. The U.S. Department of Agriculture established food rationing guidelines for the general public in an effort to help conserve food resources and reduce waste.

America's involvement in the war not only inspired rationing and fashion, it also paved the way for several innovations. For instance, some of the many food goods that were restricted were dairy products. Milk, buttermilk, mayonnaise, eggs, and butter were severely limited to the public. In response, scientists help develop certain food substitutes that were not only easy to manufacture but also proved very inexpensive! Two of these products that is still in existence today are margarine and Miracle Whip! Even though Miracle Whip was created during the Depression as a mayonnaise substitute, its popularity amongst American households skyrocketed during the war years.

Factories and most manufacturing plants reduced their use of metal and relied on “scrap.” Even household paint was no longer sold in can form. Instead, containers were made out of a special coated paper! When Battleship Row was bombed in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, many of the heavily-damaged ships that were either sunk or capsized were scrapped for their metal (only a few ships were able to be repaired and re-entered into service). Salvaged metals were used towards the fabrication of military equipment and some of the gun turrets and their ammunition were removed and reused on other ships. However, guns and machinery that were too damaged for safe use were eventually scrapped as well.

Textiles and fabrics were also limited, especially for public use. Cotton, silk, nylon, and rubber were heavily restricted. Nylon and silk went towards parachute fabrication and cotton was used for uniforms and the lining of airplanes. In 1942/43, DuPont halted production of nylon stockings. As a result, ladies began wearing white bobby socks and some even drew on fake back seams down their legs using India ink!

Due to the restriction of certain fabrics, rayon became a very popular textile for clothing. Rayon was an easily-made synthetic that held its shape well and proved to be quite durable. Rayon was soon seen in forms of dresses, blouses, and skirts.

Because most ladies were on a tight budget, they not only changed they way they dressed, they no longer spent hours at the hair salon. Between trying to maintain their households and working in factories for the war effort, ladies truly had no time to tend to hair! Subsequently, women often wore chic hair snoods to mask unkempt hair. Those working in military manufacturing plants also secured their long locks in bandanas to prevent hair from getting caught in dangerous equipment.

The overall mood of war time couture was that of utility and uniformity. Military servicemen in their uniforms were seen at most civilian social occasions from movie theaters, dances, baseball games, diners to USO events. It was virtually impossible to go anywhere without being aware of that our country was at war. Therefore, clothing designers not only considered the fact they had to work under heavy limitations, they also created styles that mimicked military fashion. Patriotic ladies wore dresses with shorter hem lines, jackets with strong padded shoulders and utilitarian pockets. Fabric colors were like those of the Armed Forces: blue, grey, olive, and green.

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