WW2: Rules, Wedges & Drawn Hosiery Seams & More – Part 3

Continuing with this very interesting look at the effect of WW2 on fashion and life, enjoy Part 3.

Italic  text indicates taken from Meghann Mason in her thesis which can be read in completion HERE.

Here in the USA…during WW2…..

United States: In December 1941 the United States officially entered WWII after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Fashion design came to a halt. “President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the War Production Board (hereafter referred to as WPB), whose purpose…was to regulate the production and allocation of materials and fuel’ (Board) to change the nation’s economy to better suit the war” . The U.S., having maintained a relative distance from WWI until the end of the war, was not as versed in war-time fashion changes as Britain. Maintaining beauty and allure were major war-time challenges faced by designers. American VOGUE magazine’s first cover for January after the U.S. entry into the war spoke of the new life American women would have to face and how to look gorgeous while doing it.

RULES Instead of CHOICES

Skirts, Skirt Suits and Play Suits: Hem circumference reduced from 81 inches to 78 inches for a misses size 16 made in non-wool fabrics or in wool fabrics of a 9 ounce weight or less.

-No culottes, reversible skirts, lined skirts, quilted skirts or skating skirts. -No waistband over 3 inches wide. -Dresses: -No more than 2 buttons and 2 buttonholes for each cuff.

– No quilting using more than 300 square inches.

-Evening Dresses: Sweep of taffeta, flat satin, and dresses of similar materials remains at 144 inches.

Civilians were limited to only 3 pairs of leather footwear per year.  Shoes were rationed because an uncontrolled demand would have been much greater than the supply which had greatly decreased, because of leather and manpower shortages as well as military demand.

“The shoe rationing program was a universal and systematic coupon program. By the use of stamps having no termination date, every individual was given the right to purchase a pair of shoes with each valid shoe stamp contained in his Ration Book

Shoe stamps were validated periodically. War ration shoe stamps were transferable between members of a family living together in the same household” (Kolkman). However, companies like Sears, Roebuck & Co. offered shoes for other rationing coupons. People could detach War Ration Stamp No. 17 from their War Ration Book No. 1 (sugar and coffee book) and pin it to their order.

Enter…the WEDGE Shoe Style

Other companies such as Lane Bryant ran advertisements for “Non-Rationed Shoes” which were shoes made of non-leather and were also of the wedge style or a combination of the two. Lane Bryant was a company offering practicality with a pleasant aesthetic. Alice Joyce Lee, who was 14 in 1942, recalled in my interview, that in Mobile, Alabama they were allowed 2 pairs of shoes per year. She had one pair for school and church and one for “bumping about” or play.

I personally remember during growing up (1950’s) that my parents always provided TWO pairs of shoes to us kids:  1 for school/play and the other kept for Sunday Best.  When the school shoes wore out, the Sunday ones (hopefully) took over for everyday and a new pair for Sunday were purchased.

The Wedge shoe is another article of clothing that came into immense popularity during WWII due to rationing. Originally created by Salvatore Ferragamo in 1935, it used cork for the soles of the shoes instead of leather. This was extremely useful during wartime; the wedges that were created had wooden or cork soles and had fabric or a natural fiber such as hemp to make up the upper part of the shoe. 

wedge_cork

 

 As in the allied countries, silk and rubber were not available as early as the fall of 1941 in the U.S. because the last shipments leaving Japan were in August 1941. Nylon served as a replacement for silk for a short time in 1939; however, it became needed for the creation of parachutes, so women resorted to drawing black lines on the back of their legs in place of actual stockings, along with leg makeup. “Here, 1942 Hollywood starlet Kay Bensel applied her faux stocking seams with a device ‘made from a screw driver handle, bicycle leg-clip, and an ordinary eyebrow pencil”.The shortage of stockings did increase the popularity of the trouser which was mostly adopted by young women and working women.

drawing_hosiery_seam

Pants

As stated earlier, women in Britain wore trousers as early as WWI due to their part in the workforce. The trouser as a regular item of clothing in a woman’s wardrobe was not readily accepted until WWII in either Britain or the U.S. Popular film stars Katharine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich wore them regularly in the 1930’s and Coco Chanel before them with much controversy in the media. To society and to the women who donned them, trousers were a statement of independence and equality to that of men. It was not until they were essential to war-time efforts and jobs that most of society deemed them acceptable, and even then, preferred them worn only at work.

Audrey Hepburn in trousers.

Hats

Because of the restrictions of L-85, American designers, although eager to make a place in the fashion world, were not allowed a huge margin for originality or drama in their designs. Millinery was not under ration and so many women sought their individuality using this accessory. Hats were at times whimsical and colorful and other times quite small, resembling men’s hats and tended to have a military look to them. Propaganda was a large part of accessorizing as well. Pins with patriotic messages were added to clothing, hats, and scarves to jazz up women’s outfits. These accessories helped maintain the united patriotic front encouraged by the government.

Coming tomorrow:  Part 4 – how the war affected even Hair and Make-up! PLUS – the Hollywood Reaction. 

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2 Responses

  1. Tamica says:

    Where did you find the picture of the propaganda? (the group of women photo)

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