marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

Forties Fashion

Forties Fashion:  From Siren Suits to the New Look by Jonathan Walford

Fashion in the world at war.  A "siren suit" is something you grab to throw over your nightgown or pajamas while bolting for the air-raid shelter.

Indeed, there's a lot about the war in here.  It starts with the late 1930s -- the Nazi glorification of a healthy, blond, tanned young woman who wore traditional clothes and no make-up, and was scorned by high-society women, including the wives of high-ranking Nazis as "Gretchen" -- folk-inspired haut couture -- the last fashion exhibits, with corsets and bustles.

But then it's of and into the war.  Ration books, synthetic fabrics, restrictions on styles (to cut down on fabric), and colors (for chemicals).  Lots of interesting tidbits.  American shoes were limited in colors as much to restrict buying as to save chemicals.  The difficulties of wooden soled shoes.  The laws against using parachute fabric; it was supposed to be turned into the authorities for investigation.  The brides who wore their mother's made-over wedding gowns, or one of lace (luxury item, not subject to ration, but the bride only pulled it off because in WAF, she had been able to save the money), or one collected in the United States for the benefit of British brides.  Both Great Britain and Germany were exporting materials and clothes for the money entailed.  Paris's efforts to keep the business going, justified by the need for employment -- the rest of France had it harder.  Italian objections to neutral Nordic shades for dreary, snowy cities; they needed sun and color.  The zoot suit as a symbol of unrest, leading to trouble when it was also a symbol of draft resistance.  How American designers leapt at the chance to avoid French competition.

The last chapters cover the period when the war's effects were being shaken off with the New Look, and is much more heavily concentrated on fashion that the rest, which is full of fascinating stuff about everyday life.  (Though it mentions that after the hunger of the war years, the models needed padding to fill it out, and it was deliberately heavy with fabric.)  Those who read this solely for the clothes will no doubt like that, too.  The rest is interesting to anyone interested in World War II stuff.
Tags: history reviews: post wwii, history reviews: world war ii era

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