1940s Fashion period was one of the biggest turning points in the history of fashion. Ladies’ fashion trends draw a lot of influence from the social and economic scene. Thereby it would be fair to say fashion in the 1940s was ruled by Adolf Hitler. When Germany attacked Poland in 1939, it set in motion many of the events for the coming decade, including fashion.
Bombing of Pearl Harbor on the 7th Dec’41 coincided with the invasion of Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, France, Yugoslavia, and Greece. Since war had affected everything at a global level and the world was dealing with its impact, fashion had been pushed to the back burner.
Today’s generation may find it difficult to understand the effects of war on daily lives, having never gone through such suffering themselves. Suffice it to say war always carries its impact on not only the participant countries but also other countries. In the USA almost all women were associated in some way or the other with the men who had enlisted and this had its effect on female attire. A more utilitarian approach towards clothing was adopted as a gesture of support on a sentimental level as well as for practical purposes.
Changing fabrics as a result of war
All efforts on a national level had gone into war and this affected fabrics supply. Nylon and wool were redirected to war clothing and silk from Japan was banned post the Pearl Harbor attack. Rayon, a synthetic fabric that had been developed in the 1930s dominated the clothing scene.
By the June of 1941, Britain had also been attacked by Nazis and the clothing coupon rationing that had been set up, had been cut down to almost half by 1945. Since fabrics were required to make clothing for the armed forces, many Governments had placed major restrictions on use of clothing for any other purpose.
World War II Style Utility Jumpsuit
As London was being attacked, the major concern that people had been about the use of gas as this had been done in World War I. Harvey Nichols, a leading clothing shop offered jumpsuits made of pure oiled silk in a variety of colors. Ladies sported these Utility Jumpsuits, which were considered a great innovation. They could be donned in a jiffy in case of siren warning. Moreover the suit kept the cold out, was comfortable and had pockets that could hold papers and valuables.
The French lost their Dominance over Fashion
With war and its effects preying on their mind, many of the allied countries viewed the leading couture houses with disdain. This was more so due to their seeming alliance with the occupational forces. Moreover fashions in Paris advocated the generous use of fabric to add ruffles, huge ballooning sleeves, decorative buttons and fancy flaps which had no practical use. This was much in contrast with the spare fashions adopted by the rest of the war-affected countries.
Leading couturier Coco Chanel drove a lot of criticism and disdain for her association with a Nazi army official, in spite of having closed shop. She also became the object of dislike when she supported the hated Vichy regime and decried the French Resistance as criminals.
But the one interesting innovation that Paris came up with was when Le Theatre de la Mode, or the Theater of Fashion came up with the idea of displaying designer clothes on 200 two feet tall dolls.
Emergence of New York as a leader in Fashion
Keeping in mind the restrictions imposed by war and a overall disdain for Paris, the Fashion Industry shifted to New York, giving birth to the “American Look”. Claire McCardell, a designer, used textiles that were not needed by the armed forces. Cotton, denim, mattress ticking, gingham and calico were used for practical and comfortable daily use clothing. Clothing that was “War Wise” became the new trend with dull and patriotic colors air force blue, cadet blue, flag red, black, browns, greens, tan, and gray flannel dominating the scene.
With wool being redirected for use by the armed forces, wool blends along with rayon became the material of choice. Rayon ruled the garment scene as it was very versatile; it did not shrink, crease and was adaptable to being produced in light or heavy weights.