Monday, December 11, 2017

Fashion of the Forties at Kent State Museum of Fashion

~My grandmother, US Coast Guard, 1943~
One of my favorite eras in fashion history is the 1940s. Especially during WWII, where again, we see practical and necessary adaptions in women's clothing when the United States enters the war in 1941, and the women who manage the home-front quickly occupy the thousands of positions left vacant by the men and women who enter the armed services. 

While the United States did not suffer the level of economic hardship which impacted Britain and Europe, those goods and services necessary for war and military function were rationed, including the raw goods consumed by the fashion industry. President Roosevelt ordered the War Production Board (WPB) in 1941 to assess and implement critical changes in the nations' consumption habits to better equip the war effort. Rubber was the first non-food related good to be rationed, alongside large scale organized drives for rubber recycling. The Japanese had seized the rubber plantations in the Dutch East Indies, which supplied about 90% of rubber being used in the United States. 

Stanly Marcus, later to become the president of Neiman Marcus after WWII, was the head of the textile division of the WPB. He developed the yardage regulations imposed on clothing manufacturers, restricting the amount of fabric that could be used per garment. Because the military's need for fabric, especially wool and cotton, was a mandated priority over civilian clothing, those manufactures who exceeded the yardage limits set by the WPB were slapped with hefty fines or their officers imprisoned. Eventually, the military's demand for leather restricted civilians to three pairs of shoes per year, but these shoe rations were transferable to other members in a shared household. As the war wore on, more and more shoe manufactures adapted their products and began constructing shoes from heavy fabrics, cork, and wood as leather became scarcer. 

Of course, the fashion industry, after the rationing and hardship of WWII, took a decidedly bold and refreshing turn when the fashion houses of Europe reopened and Dior dazzled the recovering world of fashion with his New Look spring collection in February 1947. Gone were the conservative and masculine looks which had dominated female fashion during the war years and in were the voluminous skirts, tiny waists, and sexy bust-lines that would shape the female silhouette into the early 1950s. Fashion of the Forties: From WWII to the New Look at the Kent State Museum of Fashion highlights this transitional phase in women's fashion particularly, and features beautiful extant examples of service wear, civilian wear, sportswear, intimates, recycled clothing, and gowns from Dior to Charles James. 

Here is a sample of a few of the garments featured in the exhibit...


Beige cotton corduroy skating costume, c. 1940-1945

Blue Lastex knit bathing suit (Jantzen), c. 1940s

Maroon wool knit two piece bathing suit (Halle Bros. Co.), c. 1940s

Sweater knitted from unraveled wool knitted socks, c. 1939-1945

Wool sweater with knitted airplane and parachute designs, c. 1935-1945

Accessories and Intimates

Cream silk slip with lace trim (Heavenly Lingerie by Fischer), c. 1940s

Gloves and Shoes


Navy and white straw hat with grosgrain ribbon and silk flower, c. 1945-1949

Peach corset made from jacquard, elastic, lace, and boning, c. 1946

Silk jacquard pajamas (George Shaheen), Hawaiian, c. 1940s

Silk jacquard pajamas, Chinese (made for American market), c. 1940s

Tan plush wool felt hat with feathers (Leslie James), c. 1944-1948

Service Uniforms

American Boy and Girl Scout uniforms, c. 1940-1943

American Naval uniforms, c. 1940-1945

American Red Cross Nurse's Aid Uniform, cotton, c. 1943

Service jackets, American, c. 1940-1945

Wedding Gowns

Cream flocked satin wedding gown, American, c. 1940

Cream silk satin wedding gown, American, c. 1947

American Wedding Gowns

Fashion of the Forties: From WWII to the New Look at Kent State Museum of Fashion continues until March 4, 2018. For additional photographs of the exhibit, please visit my Pinterest page.

Blessings and happy sewing!

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