Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Style on Trial: The 1940's Part 1 - The War Years and Utility Wear

I'm soo happy this week as after a year of searching I finally managed to get my hands on a copy of the UK TV series Style on Trial. Style on Trial is a BBC show presented by Stuart Maconie and Lauren Laverne where every week a panel of experts make a case for why their chosen decade was the most stylish.
The 1940's
The series kicks of with the 1940s with a guest panel consisting of burlesque beauty and showgirl Immodesty Blaize, interior designer Laurence Llewelyn Bowen and Guardian columnist Annalisa Barbieri. The programme is essentially split in to two sections - the first focusing on the war years and utility wear and the second on the launch of Dior's "New Look".
In the first part of the 1940s Britain was at war so fashion focused on practicality and functionality. Women were liberated from their corsets as the could not comfortably wear them whilst working. Rationing was in place and material was rationed so outfits were kept fairly simple with no turn ups on trousers or double breasted jackets. Hemlines on dresses and skirts went up as material was at a a premium. There were even regulations on the amount of buttons and pockets that could be used. In 1941 the Government started rationing clothes and brought out a line of utility wear under the CC41 label. There where 26 outfits that were given the CC41 label showing they made optimum use of fabric. These were designed by the top British designers of the day such as Hardy Amies .When rationing first started people were given 48 coupons for a year, a coat would be 16 coupons and a suit 12 so people had to spend their coupons wisely.
The government also brought in the concept of 'Make Do and Mend'. This was by no means a new idea for the working classes who had to do it out of financial necessity but for the middle classes who had the money before the war to buy new outfits when theres had worn it gave then new skills such as sewing, knitting a darning. Exhibitions and talks were set up for middle class women to show them how to make best use of their garments during the war years. Such as this one set up by the Board of Trade at Harrods:

As clothing and material where both rationed in the war women had to come up with inventive ways to add their own style to their outfits. They often did this with a striking hat and accessories as these weren't rationed or with their hairstyles. Hair had to be practical as many women were working in factories so it couldn't be long. Veronica Lake was ordered by the US Government to cut of her much copied peekaboo style.

Women sported such hairstyles as the 'Vingle' and the 'Liberty curl'. Hair washing and styling was a big ordeal and most women had hair washing day once a week. It took a while to heat the water to wash and set hair so many women made their own entertainment by staying in Friday nights to wash and style their hair for the week. Thus these eccentric styles were adopted as the stay better with slightly greasy hair. Women also used scarves or turbans to cover hair to keep it out of the way of machinery in factories or to hide it if it was slightly grubby.

Many products were hard to come by in the war such as cosmetics and stockings so women had to come up with ingenious solutions to ensure they looked their best. Keeping up appearances was important for national morale. Women used gravy browning or tea to stain their legs if they couldn't get stockings.

In May 1940 Paris fell to Nazi forces. French Vogue shuts down to avoid Nazi censorship. As do many couture houses as most were run by Jewish families. Chanel stays open but Mme Chanel herself disappears to a hotel with her Nazi lover. Most of the couture houses that stay open only get business by dressing the Nazi Officers Wives. This is something that many have to answer for after the war. The state in their defense that they used up fabrics that would otherwise belonged to the Nazis and made the wives look ridiculous. A few cases of patriotism occurred but were quickly quashed by the Nazi's such as Madame Grays red, white and blue collection that was shut down by the Nazis.

Milan, London and New York all vie to establish themselves as the new fashion capital but after the war all eyes go back to Paris.

1 comment:

  1. How did you manage to get a copy of this? im a fashion student and it would really help!