Proof that you can’t keep a good designer down.
Last time I talked about my favorite designers of the 1930s. Today its the 1940s. To buy any of my Vintage Fashion Illustrations as collectible postcards, just click on the images.
1940s fashion is all about balance between austerity and hope.
In 1939 war came to Europe. A gap opens between the European and American fashion industries, harmonizing is required. 1940s fashion designers had to contend with strict rationing and the need for individuals to “make do and mend”.
New rules were enforced to control what they could and could not do in their designs even down to how many buttons a jacket may have or how many pleats are permitted in a skirt, continuing long after the war finished in 1945.
All sounds a bit depressing doesn’t it? How can fashion survive under such restrictions?. Well it seems fashion is stronger than anyone might have expected.
Vintage wartime fashion art – 40’s pinup postcard by Lillylie
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Women’s wartime workwear
During the second world war the fripperies of 1930s fashion (as austere as it could be in comparison to the 20s) with their luxury fabrics and long hemlines were now thought of as very bad taste and even unpatriotic.
The 1940s fashion silhouette for women became much more specific. No longer the flowing shimmering seduction in satin of the decade before, now shapes were minimal, boxy and practical. Defined by shoulder pads, shorter straight skirts and a belted waist. The clothes had to be practical in all work environments and allow free movement as well as last.
Uniforms were seen everywhere, worn in all social situations from weddings to a night at the cinema. It wasn’t possible to go anywhere without seeing both men and women in uniform, so naturally this too was an influencing factor in the style .
RATIONING AND CC41
With silk and high grade rayon needed for parachutes, wool needed for military uniforms, and basically every type of fabric in short supply worldwide, material was heavily rationed….it had to be.
Vintage Fashion Illustration – 1940s daywear Postcards by Lillylie
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Typical ladies day wear – a wrap top with shoulder-pads and a pencil skirt just below the knee.
Many people out there are fascinated by WWII, and I must say that I am one of them. But it is not the battles or the machines of war that interest me, it is the “home front”. My main interest in this terrible event in our collective history is how people at home coped, had they not coped our society could be a very different one indeed. And I must state for the record that I believe the contribution of the 1940s fashion designers and pinup artists to the ‘war effort’ is one that is sadly overlooked.
In the UK rationing was most strict and severe. That’s not to say the USA was unaffected, their L-85 regulations (introduced in 1943) had a rule stating that ladies shoe leather could only be made in 6 colours.
The British government introduced a coupon system for clothing that started on Sunday the 1st of June 1941. It was not ended until 1949, with some forms of rationing even continuing until 1952!. Even french designers of the Paris fashion houses were producing more restrained clothing to comply with the social/economic atmosphere.
The coupons system worked like this; clothing and shoes were rationed, women were forced to use outfits they already had and only add what they really needed. The coupons dictated how much new clothing you were entitled to purchase as an individual, however money was still required to actually do so, so for many poor families the coupons were of no use at all really.
The number of coupons issued changed as the war years went on, meaning women could get less and less.
In an attempt to boost morale, the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers led by Captain Molyneux, Norman Hartnell, Digby Morton, Victor Stiebel, Angèle Delange, Peter Russell, Madame Bianca Mosca and Hardy Amies created 34 Utility Clothing designs in 1942.
The designs were officially approved and bore the now famous, and even desirable, ‘CC41’ label. CC41 stands for “Clothing Control 1941” and the iconic label was designed by artist Reginald Shipp.
The ‘Utility’ clothing designs defined the 1940s fashion trend while sticking to the rigid rules of the CC41, those rules included;
•minimal cloth usage
•no turn ups
•maximum button limits
•no more than 2 pockets
•no more than 4m stitching
•And certainly NO unnecessary decoration!.
Plus much more
Despite all this the Utility CC41 label clothing did become a fashion icon that continues to collect more devotees to this day.
Vintage Fashion Ilustration – 1940’s dress Postcard by Lillylie
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Despite all the austerity people still knew how to have a good time in WWII. This is a 1940s evening dress. Something like this may have been modified from a 1930s dress.
MAKE DO AND MEND
Some items were not rationed however. They included ribbons, haberdashery supplies, mending wool, mending silk. This encouraged the mending of existing clothes.
Women were encouraged to “make do and mend” during the rationing period. A “Mrs. Sew and Sew” was featured in magazine and cinema advertising campaigns. These short propaganda films promoted the ethos of fabric recycling, which for poorer women who had always had to make do and mend was really rather patronizing.
Make do and mend could be anything from sharing wedding dresses between family members to making skirts from men’s old plus fours (stupid baggy trousers from the art deco years) or french knickers from pillowcases. Adult family members cast-offs could be made into children’s clothes, and tired looking items could be updated with added collars and trims.
Women who could actually sew dresses from scratch couldn’t find suitable fabrics so had to make do with strange combinations like window blackout fabric and parachute nylon. Old blankets could be used to make winter coats. Nothing was ever wasted, all possibilities were explored leading to some unique 1940s outfits.
In today’s economic climate the make do and mend philosophy has allot in it we can use. In fact I first became interested in it when I started learning to make my own clothes, which I did because I couldn’t find what I was looking for in the shops. Many of the ingenious ways women remained fashionable with such limited resources really inspired me to try out more unusual ways to get the looks I wanted.
Visit your local charity shop/thrift store/vintage seller and experiment with altering and customizing an outfit with whatever you have around the house…you could be pleasantly surprised and it will actually be more 40s authentic than any modern replicas.
Stockings were by no means a new thing in 1940s fashion, but it was their rarity that made them the icon of the age. All types were scarce not just silk ones. Women were encouraged to wear socks of all things!…I mean Kittens what would you prefer?…exactly .
Hence the fact that they were highly prized on the black market, but if you couldn’t get hold of a ‘Spiv’ or an American GI round your parts then the only thing to do was to stain the skin of your legs with cold tea or gravy browning and have a good friend with a steady hand draw a line up the back of your legs with an eye pencil. That or join the WRNS,(Women’s Royal Naval Service) who continued to issue them in a cunning aid to recruitment.
WHEN THE WAR WAS OVER
During the war current up to date European fashions were not available to women in the United States. This led to the rise of American fashion designers, who had long been overlooked in favour of Paris and London . These designers became increasingly popular in their home country and as a result of the special relationship between Hollywood and the fashion industry, the look would soon spread.
It was in fact these American 1940s fashion designers who went on to contribute to the standardizing in dress sizing and began to use fiber content and care instructions on labels. The Americans were developing a look of their own mainly around the designer Claire McCardell. This style movement would take the world by storm in the 1950s.
Back in Europe though, its 1947 and Christian Dior’s “New Look” is back (remember it was first seen in the late 1930s but the war put pay to its rise)
This stunning style was frowned upon by both the US and UK governments and they attempted to dissuade their people from wearing fashions that “wasted” so much fabric.
When Dior visited America he was picketed by the absurdly named “just below the knee brigade” who apposed the lowering of the hemline. Needless to say they all failed. The people had become resentful of continued rationing, especially the British who were left flat broke after the war so almost everything we made was marked for export to raise the bank balance while the people continued to suffer shortages. When the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret started wearing the New style the floodgates opened and the 1940s fashion designers, so well behaved for so many years, gave the public what they wanted with gusto. Very soon the utilitarian 40s fashion was consigned to the history books.
Vintage Fashion Illustration – 1940s day dress Post Cards by Lillylie
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This day dress is from the late 40s. You can see the shapes changing, more fabric in the skirt, non-functional details, longer hem length.
40s fashion fact…
This is a great quote from a fashion magazine of the 40’s, which is something to remember in today’s financial troubles.
“Every fashion-conscious woman takes pleasure in transformation. A seductive game of using her clothes to hide or reveal. Ration cards have made this game more difficult to play but surely that’s no reason to give up!”
Have a victorious day Kittens xxx
If you like this post you may also enjoy this …
1930’s fashion – the glamour of the inter-war years. My favorite designers of my favorite decade and how they shaped today’s fashion world.”