Review On Womens Fashion In The 1940s History Essay
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
Throughout the history of fashion it is known that every decade creates a symbolic fashion statement within that time period. In the early twentieth century, from 1914 to 1918, a devastating outbreak of world war took place, with the Second World War following soon after. This period of time saw not only cultural and social changes, but the effect of war on the design aspect throughout society. Fashion design was claimed to have had a large impact in World War 2, with a great influence on how people dressed and how it reflected their identity (Breward, 1995). The war created an end to extravagant clothing, jewellery and accessories commonly worn by women, and replaced by clothing that was more practical and durable to withstand the stresses of life during this period of time. The barriers between the different social classes were abolished, as all women in this time came together and were placed in the same attire, therefore removing any social status amongst them. Throughout this era there was a great majority of uniformity amongst the population all over the world. As the war became more dominent in the population’s daily life, the fashion amongst them started to evolve into a regular daily wear of a uniform, depending upon what profession they were placed in. The large majority of people in these forces were men, however selected women who joined the auxiliary forces had also appeared in very similar uniforms to those worn by the men (Sichel, 1979). The main colours that appeared on these structured uniforms displayed a dark and dull appearance using very limited shades of blues, greens and khaki (Sichel, 1979). After the First World War the fashion trend of military style started to become a popular look in the Second World War. The quality of material used in the inter-war period was far improved, with enhanced maker’s, uniforms were stronger and created better comfort for the customer (Brown, 2006).
The twentieth century has been seen as the century of ‘mass production’. Large quantities of products started to be produced and at a quicker rate, which lead to higher quantities of products being sold. As this development continued into the Second World War, production of clothing increased. Technology enhanced the clothing industry and with the improved quality of materials and fabrics, clothes became cheaper and were designed to be worn with added comfort (Breward, 1995). As this ‘mass production’ continued to grow standard sizes in clothing were being produced, with only the upper class being able to afford made-to-measure clothing. This standard clothes size production was known as ‘off-the-peg’ clothing, and with the greater scale of production it allowed the working class to buy products on a regular basis (Brown, 2006).
As the Second World War commenced rules were enforced upon the population that caused severe impact on their daily lives. Entertainment was stopped to prevent large scale casualties, and it was deemed as being unpatriotic to buy new clothes, wear new hairstyles and wear large amounts of make-up (Brown, 2006). It was only a few years later that these new rules were dismissed and fashion return to normal. One of the 1940’s biggest inspirations within the fashion world was the Hollywood effect. Cinemas across the country re-opened its doors and portrayed a brand new light on fashion style, with many women being able to see the designs and inspiring them to transform their own personal dress to a very similar look. However after the outbreak of war in 1939, appearance for people started to take a back seat and became less of a priority for many women. Rationing in clothes and materials came into law for Britain in 1940, whilst the French continued to cater for the rich of Germany and offering a wide variety of designs to the wives of Germany’s elite (Breward, 1995). War continued to create new problems in clothing producion as materials started to reduce in availability. Women continued to wear clothes and uniforms that had hung in their wardrobes for the past couples of years, and as the war progressed, this way of life for women continued to worsen with rationing coupons becoming less accessible.
The war played a huge part in how fashion transformed its image in the 1940’s, and placed a great burdened on textile and factory workers with large demands for materials and well made clothes. It became a struggle for women to keep up-to-date with fashion trends of the time, but meant that women had to become inventive in transforming existing garments and accessories to reflect new trends advertised in the media industry. Many saw it as a way to expose their skills in making and designing and being innovative that was individual to them. As the men went off to war women took advantage of rationing their clothes and re-creating new outfits for them and their children to wear (Brown, 2006).
Many designers saw the war as an opportunity for new design. They faced the challenge of recreating a new image within this era, however due their high profiles, initially obtaining materials and fabrics wasn’t as difficult as for the rest of the population. The French took this challenge and fought hard to keep their identity of a high class society within the fashion world, conversely as the war continued to grow this image of identity started to decline as the availability of expensive materials, such as silks and lace, was becoming less accessible (Polan and Tredre, 2009). Women maintained their role in the war years with work in the factories and the land army, helping Britain keep its independence. Women kept their own independence by adapting their own style, modelled on fashion in the media, especially cinema, ensuring they looked their best every day, a sharp contrast to the devastation that surrounded their lives.
Pre War Fashion
Before the outbreak of both the First and Second World War fashion remained to evolved at a steady pace. Materials and fabrics were easier to access giving the population of women in the lower classes the opportunity to explore and experiment with the fashion to which aspired these to. The early 1900’s was a style of elegance and tradition and is historically known as the Edwardian Era. However this image was only portrayed by the wealthy women of the aristocracies. It was women of these fortunate upbringings of wealth that were able to present this very short period of beauty and luxury lifestyles. As we entered the twentieth century lifestyles of the rich were a privilege and many enjoyed the social aspects that came with. Attending high class events, banquets and parties allowed the women to flaunt their elegant garments amongst each other. The Edwardian era was seen as a period where the rich were beginning to place themselves in a clearer class of higher society, whilst the rest of the population continued to adapt to differences in societies. Many are said to believe that fashion was dictated by classes, and styles were often created by the higher society, which later appeared on the lower classes (Ewing, Mackerall, 2005). It was only on the rich that expensive lavish materials were worn, and too many this was seen as a sign of wealth (Ewing, Mackerall, 2005). Many of these privileged women were fortunate enough to have their clothes personally made to measure by tailors and dressmakers. The less fortunate of the population could have very similar service at department stores, but were less exclusive and expensive (Byrde, 1986). It was in this early period of the twentieth century that department stores started to become more established along with the rise of new clothes, which increased sales within the fashion market (Byrde, 1986).
The early 1900’s showed no sign of development in the movement of fashion (Polan, Tredre, 2009). Dresses were made with a separate boned bodice, continuing to keep that slim curved line of the waist, and a skirt to be worn underneath which emphasised the tiny waist. The S-shaped silhouette was the new body figure introduced into the 1900’s, where the corset appeared with a long, straight, centre-front busk which created this curved figure. This characteristic feature of women was known as the Gibson Girl, an illustration that became popularly known, by American artist, Charles Dana Gibson (Sichel, 1978). However this iconic character didn’t become widely popular for her famous S-shape silhouette. It was her lifestyle and confidence that came with this outspoken style, which placed changes amongst women throughout the western world (Breward, 1995). Clothes became an important part in a woman’s everyday lifestyle. It was a way to express identity amongst the different classes, allowing women to feel empowered by their dress and giving them a sense of self independence to express within society.
Women’s dress in the early 1900’s consisted of two parts, the bodice, which became commonly known as the blouse, and the skirt. A corset was placed underneath the bodice and skirt to enhance a slim waist with an elegant rounded figure, and was pulled as tight as possible to create this unnatural look. During the first five years of the 1900’s the S-shape silhouette became popular amongst a woman’s dress. Continuing with the slim line drawn in waist, enhanced the bust and pushed back the hips to create a larger appearance on the lower body. Even though the waist had been reduced to a dramatic size, padding was placed on the bust and hips of the garment to create this petite image (Sichel, 1978). To form this unnatural mould on the woman’s figure, the corset had to be made with a strong sturdy material to insure the position to hold. Metal stays were placed in the front of the corset with hook fastenings. On many corsets lace was placed at the back, this would create even tighter pressure on the waist and as the waist gradually got smaller the lace would be pulled even tighter.
Corsets were a fashion statement, but during the early 1900’s very few people realised the effects that the corset was placing on the inner body. Major organs were placed with such pressure that later in a woman’s life it could have become life threatening. After 1905 corsets began to develop and gradually change into girdles that went from the waist down to the groin. Corsets were altered and gradually moved away from the S-shape silhouette and displayed a more vertical figure. This slim vertical line was inspired by the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century short-waisted dresses (Byrde, 1986). This took off pressure that was placed on the body and gave a comfortable posture for the women to display in everyday life. The corset was worn throughout the western world since early years up until the early 1900’s, and was seen as important part of a woman’s everyday dress. In comparison some women refused to wear the corset as it was seen as a garment that damaged the inner body and led to permanent health risk and in very severe cases even death (Steele, 2003). As the corset became recognised for its danger to the body, designers started to re-design garments and transform the woman’s body image. Paul Poiret was a designer in this period of time that wanted to abolish the complete use in women’s everyday wear of the corset (Polan and Tredre, 2009). Poiret bought a revolutionary new image to fashion which saw how he altered the elegant line of the late 19th century to a far more straight, up and down style in women’s fashion. It was Poiret that brought a stop to this unnatural form on the woman’s body, by which the corset became a lost garment and disposed of by many women (Wollen, 1987). Since the early 1900’s the corset became less of an essential in women’s dress and was seen as fetish uniform or an erotic piece of underwear which is only really seen within a woman’s private life.
For many women in the Edwardian era it was commonly known to make a change of outfit during the day. There would be her day dress throughout the day and then changed into her evening dress for the social gatherings that took place at night. Day dresses would be less elegant and delicate than the evening dress, the costume would consist of either a two piece set (skirt and blouse), or a dress made all in one. The two-piece suit originated by Charles Worth, but it was French designer Doucet that produced many of these garments for the women (Sichel, 1978). Skirts were traditionally worn to floor length with petticoats underneath to flaunt a fuller figure on the woman, in contrast to the tiny tight waist that was presented on the upper body of the woman. The skirts became shorter to ankle length when women took part in sport activities, with stockings and long laced boots. The second piece of a woman’s day wear was the traditional Russian blouse that became popular at the beginning of the twentieth century (Sichel, 1978). Blouses were traditionally worn with high necked collars that were boned to create that straight robust image. The sleeves took on various different changes and styles within the Edwardian period. Sleeves were commonly wide and fitted to the elbows. However this style developed and changed as the sleeves were too long and became gathered at the wrists, making everyday life easier. Up until 1910 sleeves continued to keep its tradition look, with wide shoulders, gradually thinning out down the arm to the wrist. These fuller styles of sleeves were soft and light which in complete contrast to sleeves in the earlier period, which were made with more stiffness and weren’t as loose and flowing (Sichel, 1978). Majority of these garments elaborated on details with ribbons, jewels, lace, frills and embroidery, a fashion that became a very over-the-top image (Ewing, Mackerall, 2005).
After 1910 ready-made clothes, started to become a frequent appearance in small shops and stores. Women’s blouses started to lose their elegant image, and displayed a more traditionally simpler style, along with skirts that became plainer. Detail started to disappear on women’s garments and the robust stiff structure in these garments started to loosen. High collars on women’s blouses were a popular style up until 1912, when a softer V or round neckline replaced the traditional hard image of the high-collars. As years passed women’s dress bought changes to its style, with blouses becoming slimmer in its cut with the sleeves straightening out allowing more comfortable movement for the wearer. After 1908 women’s fashion started to adapt more to the women’s figure seeing transformation in the women’s silhouette, which started to straighten out and begin to lose their famous S-shape silhouette (Tyrrell, 2010). It appears that fashion was starting to enter a complete transform. Paul Poiret became widely known for his development and change into women’s fashion. This new look that displayed throughout the fashion industry gave a whole new idea of how to use colour and textures to decorate the woman figure. He used bright colours which replaced the dull pale tones that were vastly used in previous garment designs, and gave the body more room to move and dresses that draped from the shoulders down the body (Wollen, 1978). The clothes were designed to shadow the women’s silhouette creating this directoire look that would see a large population of women wearing throughout the early years of the 20th century. This movement in fashion saw how the dress moved from elegant style of the Art Nouveau and started to re-design towards the cubist movement, which considered the ideas of using a harder edge with a very structured form towards the figure (Byrde, 1986).
Fashion has continuously been depicted by art movements throughout the centuries and from the early twentieth century the world of fashion design has moved at a great pace. With help from the Cubist movement fashion transformed and emerged into designs that became related to art forms, with the figure becoming relaxed and showing off the woman’s body to how it is naturally seen. Not only did the silhouettes of women and the structure in the designs of garments change, but designers started to experiment using a wider variety in colours replacing the more subtle and soft colours with vibrant oranges and yellows and any other powering colours that inspired the designers of the early twentieth century. Fashion for many years before the twentieth century and beginning of the twentieth century has always been a judegment of status. However in the years to come it was the explosion of the catastrophic world war that bought a light to the world of fashion in both terms of look and status.
As war irrupted throughout the world, changes to lifestyle transformed the population’s day-to-day routine. The war brought strict rules to how people should inhabit their way of living, with many of life’s luxury’s being abolished and rationing of food and drink replacing the exquisite way of life that people were commonly used to. Not only did the First World War have an effect on the population’s daily lifestyle, but infected the world of fashion and culture. Within the Inter-War period many people were placed in a job, which meant an increase in labour in the fashion and textile industry. With the changes in society and the working environment, the manufacturing division improved its machinery creating a higher end of clothing. The chemical industry began to produce and experiment in new substances, allowing richer colours to be worn and giving a further step in the textile industry to experiment and allow the opportunity for new designs and ideas to be created and displayed to the public (Lipovetsky, 1994). However this new development too many people was shortly supplied, with the outbreak of the Second World War. Fashion was seen as a symbol of status, to defy the higher society from them who were less fortunate of a luxurious way of living. However with the coming of the 1940’s fashion began to see a new approach into displaying people’s wear.
As the Second World War proceeded into the 1940’s, America’s entry into the war saw a significant change into the design world of fashion. Not only did this change bring an enormous advantage to the countries forting against the enemies, but it brought a new light into the design and inspiration of fashion. The dawn of the Americans encompassed inspiration from many of their traditions and cultures that enthused admiration from all those who bought a creative insight into the lifestyles of the people (Olian, 1992). Many of the inspiration were from a creative form with Aaron Copland and Ferde Gorfé interpreting their own approach to design with the use of American music, and well known artists that collectively made life more exciting in the design world with a wider array of ideas and concept.
Throughout the First World War, pressure was placed upon women to take over roles in the work force, factories, and within the land army to help maintain life during the war years. This lifestyle continued into World War 2 with many women seeing it as their duty to uphold their status in these works that were assigned to them, to keep the nation together and support their husbands and families that were forting against the enemy. Along with their role in supporting the nation, women continued to represent themselves through the use of fashion. Lifestyles changed as the years went by, but fashion played a large part in the influence of signifying the changes which the war placed upon them (Buckley, Fawcett, 2002). During the inter war years many throughout the country suffered effects of the First World War, which infected the minds of many and even lead to depression for some. However for a majority of people the First World War brought determination and strength to combat the traumatic years of the Second World War.
As the war moved into the 1940’s women continued to keep positive, along with the influence of representing themselves through the use of fashion. The 1940’s saw not only a change in the social and cultural aspects, but a change in women’s dress. Women’s style started to transform from the elegant sophisticated dress to a plain, simple style that would associate more to the military style (Brown, 2006). Fashion was put on hold throughout the whole of the UK for the coming years of the last stages of the Second World War, which led to the destruction of any development in furthering new designs and production within the fashion industry at that time (Byrde, 1986). One of the wars largest turning points during these years was the introducing of rationing amongst food and clothing. It was throughout these years that materials and other consumer goods were controlled by the use of coupons (Sichel,1979). As the war increased with more allies joining the Germans more men and women were asked to give their co-operation in fighting for their nation, increasing the amount of military uniforms that were needed. Manufactures were told to decrease the producing of clothes that were worn for style, and to focus their ideas onto providing well made clothes for the military and work forces, (Brown, 2006). Women used fashion as a way of expressing their identities, a way to represent them throughout society and to depict their status amongst other women (Buckley, Fawcett, 2002). However with the introduction of the Second World War this way of justifying a woman’s life began to deteriorate and it was becoming less of a statement in presenting themselves through the use of fashion.
Materials throughout the world were becoming in short supply, rules were being brought in to restrict the amount of fabric being used to make personal clothes for the higher society and a greater use of material in the making of military wear. Women’s fashion became less of a unique fashion statement and moved more towards a functional attitude, with simple designs conveying the movement in women’s dress. The shape of fashion has continually changed throughout the decades, with the exclusion of the sharp straight angular silhouette transforming to a softer delicate figure allowing the woman’s image to appear more relaxed, back to the simple ornamental style. The 1940’s shape was the renowned for its style of a more angular line and with sharp fixed shape. This severe shape, however it may have been seen as the popular style to promenade in throughout their usual daily occurrences, they had very little choice in choosing their own personal image, as the clothes were usually made to benefit the women of the forties for practical reasons to last longer within the years of such destructivity (Lehnert, 2000). As the war progressed, more women were being called upon to take on a role to honour their country to victory. Women were seen performing tasks which breached their usual day to day responsibilities. The women’s usual daily tasks were being replaced to drive large motors, spending long hours performing a role in the land army and even taking on the position to help in the production of new aeroplanes and tanks. With the coming of these new roles women’s clothes moved through a transformation to a dress that became a common occurrence throughout the women’s population of the Second World War (Summerfield, 1998). This new responsibility for many women became a natural instinct in becoming part of the aid to fight for their country, however some felt it hard to leave their previous lavish lifestyles finding the loss of their own personal statement and status through the use of fashion.
During World War 2 fashion was dominated by necessity rather than the luxury of buying clothes. Their wardrobe were kept to a minimalist of extravagant fashion and increased on their practical side of fashion to keep them versatile for the long days of hard labour, (Mendes, De La Haye, 1999). Many designers were faced with the challenge of adapting there designs and transforming them into clothing that was to benefit the women. The siren suit was a popular garment that was popularly worn amongst the women, with Digby Morton adding a zip and hood which gave warmth and comfort when worn in the evening. Siren suits were typically worn throughout the evening when vacating to the shelters, however many started to customise their own with extra detailing or making use of old materials that were being un-used. As the Germans continued to bring destruction to the world, they moved their way into France’s fashion house bringing international domineering style to an end, and would serve to a German based clientele. Many designers left Paris and moved overseas to the busy livelihood of the American nation. Large quantities of luxury goods were imported to the Germans, along with high quality materials and accessories, and despite the shortages of materials throughout the world a lavish style still continued throughout the German population (Mendes, De La Haye, 1999).
With the rise of prices on clothes and materials shortages became common, and with the government placing an austerity on luxurious materials and garments, meant that women had to create their own style with the help of fashion advertising. Not only were materials rationed, but rules were put in place on how many pleats and tucks were placed on a garment, the length of a hem on a skirt or dress, and even cut back on the amount of buttons used (Brown, 2006). With such materials disappearing designers had to turn to an alternative material, and even so many used cellophane, wood shavings, and braided paper for a replacement of felt and feathers. The population throughout Britain began to suffer with the new rise of rationing food and clothes, with some failing to survive such harsh shortages. In February 1941 rationing coupons were brought into action with families given limited amount to survive on throughout and certain time period. With each piece of clothing being given a certain amount of coupon, it meant even people who were used to affording clothes on a regular basis, were limited to purchasing very few clothes for the year (Mendes, De La Haye, 1999).To many people it became an easy acceptance, and realised that rationing helped the progression in the war. Clothes rationing became very server, when the population were only limited to 66 coupons throughout the first year allowing only one set of clothes to buy for them to change into on a regular basis. In today’s society the thought of not even being able to change clothes for two days is very hard to believe, but throughout the 1940’s the population adapted, and learnt how to except the rationalisation of clothing. Even though to many companies throughout the country rationing lead to closures in businesses and even some very high profile names suffered to the new system, there was an increase in profit for the smaller retailers. Second hand shops began to see a rise in their customers and their profit with each day going by, and even repair shops for shoes and clothes began to appreciate the boost in sales (Brown, 2006).
Following on from the introduction of the rationing system, came the Utility Scheme. This was a scheme which was brought into the 1940’s society to help decrease in the amount of fabrics, which many manufacturers were focusing on into producing a higher quality of products to benefit them in higher profits. However this was placing more strain on the rest of the population who were unable to afford higher priced products, which meant a new scheme had to be placed upon the production of clothing goods. This new system involved a range of clothing products to be manufactured with simpler ideas and made to a basic style, but still displaying a unique style to the clothing, making sure the garments were still appealing to the customers. Specifications were the key to keeping the utility scheme moving, and as years passed the specs became more accurate and the designers were becoming aware of the strict specific details which had to be placed on the garments. Many designers changed from their high class designs to the restricted style which was to dominate the population of the UK. The government approached eight high profile designers, to help create the new range of clothing that was to replace all previous designs and styles. Digby Morten, Worth, Hardy Amies, Norman Hartnell, Bianca Mosca, Peter Russell, Victor Stiebel and Creed, were allocated to re produce outfits that were to be practical as well as appealing for the public. Thrity-two outfits were made and it was between these designs that a selected few were to be mass-produced.
As the new regulations were put in place to decrease in the amount of material and clothing being used and produced, many of the population of women turned to their own knowledge and skills in making clothes from old pieces of material and fabrics that were lying spare around their house. Many also took to buying wool and material with their coupons instead of buying clothes and ready-made necessities, as you were able to make more clothes out of the materials that you purchased. This new craze became known as ‘Make do and Mend’. Re-making old clothes into new styles became a hobby too many women, and it was seen as an enjoyable task in devoting their own time into re-designing fashion and picking up on the inspiring habit. However for the upper class it wasn’t an easy task to manage. Before the beginning of the Second World War the higher society were never placed in a world to mend clothes, and had very little knowledge on this new rule (Brown, 2006). With the realisation of women from the middle and upper class knowing very little on mending clothes, gave way to campaigns being placed up around the country to help guide women into utilising their old torn clothes into new and stylish garments.
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