fashion history

WWII Era Fashion – Ingenuity During the Time of a Crisis

Fashion during the WWII was a manifestation of patriotism and resourcefulness. Crissy Burgstaler of How Sweet It Was Vintage explains why the topic is actual again.
WWII Era Fashion – Ingenuity During the Time of a Crisis

During the WWII, materials for clothes were rationed and garment factories were being converted to making wartime supplies. (Sounds familiar?) It took nearly two years after the war until things got back to normal in the US.

The restrictions had profound impact on the fashion of the time. It also changed the way people reused materials and got creative with their styles.

Crissy Burgstaler of How Sweet It Was Vintage explains why the topic is more actual than ever.

“I think of the 1940s WWII era as a time in history when people banded together, made sacrifices, and modified the way they lived for a common cause. These sentiments definitely show in the fashion of the time.

Actual government-imposed rationing had a huge impact. You simply could not get your hands on the materials that, up until then, made the items people wore. Wool supply was strained from the manufacture of uniforms, silk was no longer being imported from Japan, nylon was needed for parachutes, leather reserved for combat boots and bomber jackets. The list goes on. As a result, any stylistic choice that required extra fabric was eliminated: think generous pleating, extra pockets, cuffs, ruffles, voluminous skirts, bias-cut anything.

Patriotism was huge in the 40s. Aside from the obvious red, white, and blue color schemes and “V” for victory jewelry; the very act of getting put together and being cheerful was an act of patriotism. Women’s suits were versatile and sensible with those iconic broad shoulders meant to emulate the military uniforms of the time. The neat and practical style of the woman’s suit not only obeyed rationing restrictions; but also conveyed the patriotic notion that now there was work to be done and celebratory excesses would have to wait.

WWII era parachute silk wedding dress from Wayward vintage store

I love creative responses to the WWII era restrictions. We start to see dresses made of materials not rationed, such as rayon. Who doesn’t love a good 40s rayon dress?

Wedding dresses made of old parachutes (see the photo above)! The yardage required for the typical wedding dress of one’s dreams was unattainable at the time. Brides would either borrow a dress, wear a practical suit or for those who had paratroopin’ sweeties… make that classic dress with the ample amount of fabric from his parachute.

Gem Story image

In footwear, designs incorporating materials such as canvas, mesh, and reptile skin; elevated wood and cork soles substituted for leather and rubber soles proliferate. Shoes which use no leather (and therefore no ration points) such as espadrilles become popular. In the photo here, the shoe style was sensible with a low, practical heel but also you will notice the mesh in response to leather rations.

Clothes were of course mended multiple times; adults’ clothes were made into children’s and so on. It is so special finding a vintage repaired piece. My mind is often blown by the quality of the repairs. The time and pride put into restoring a piece is something we don’t see anymore. Back then, people didn’t have these huge disposable wardrobes we have now. Typically you had only a few key pieces for each season. If it became damaged, you most certainly found the motivation to repair it.

With the global health crisis we face right now, many of us are having to make concessions in our lifestyle for the first time ever.

The mood will be different on the other side of this event. How that will manifest itself in fashion remains to be seen but I’m already seeing some super cool quarantine styles emerge on social media. And it will only get cooler and weirder the deeper we get I suspect.

I hope the world learns to be more resourceful from this experience. I live in such a bubble with vintage lovers who are already on this tip, valuing items that already exist. But to me, an important take-away is that style and creativity don’t need to go out the window during trying times. Historically it hasn’t.

This is a wonderful opportunity to get crafty while we are stuck at home. Re-invent pieces we already have by styling in different ways. Women of the forties very much implemented this type of resourcefulness, sewing with fabric remnants on hand and re-working pieces already in the wardrobe. And whereas we may not be able to show off our innovative outfit creations in person right now, we can still treat ourselves to the joy of getting ready, post a pic, and connect in that way.”

Historical photos: Laura Loveday, Imperial War Museum, Wayward Collection, How Sweet It Was, Crush Vintage, Get Shredded Vintage.