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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Psychology of 40's Fashion.

I've been reading so much, it seems an X-Ray would show my body filled with text - even swirling from my ears, nose, navel. Fashion history has been on my mind whenever time permitted.

I've had no time to sew test toiles. We've been out of the house and it isn't convenient to pack a sewing machine, whereas a book is portable. (My husband wants to buy for me a Kindle because he knows my reading passion, but I believe I would miss the heft and sound of a book - and the satisfaction of feeling the portion that's been read.)

The next toile will be a basic vintage costume pattern that is much like a 50's swimsuit...a one-piece woven. I'm testing it as an exploration in variations of that theme. After I construct the basic, I'll try adding seam interest, ruching, and possibly a skirted version. Here's a swimsuit along the same vein, from an advertisement in Holiday magazine of January 1951.

The carefree attitude portrayed above is significant as it represents a more positive mood emerging from the shadow of postwar mentality. A Utility Scheme was still in effect till 1952 - after the war - due to rationing and lack of goods. World War II began in 1939. During the World War II, which began in 1939,
many materials previously shipped from other countries - were limited due to risk of enemy attacks. Supplies were designated for production of parachutes, military uniforms and other war supplies. Near the end of 1941, the British Government introduced the Utility Clothing Scheme - a set of sumptuary laws regulating goods and construction - even prices. In 1942, a similar system was established in America.

Information above is from an Aberdeen City Council website for the Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums (in North-east Scotland, UK).

The French did not implement a utility scheme - and according to Paris Fashion: A Cultural History by Valerie Steele: "Whereas the British and the Americans hoped that saving material would help the war effort, in occupied France people tended to assume that the more material a garment used the less the Germans would get."

French manikins in Occupied France in 40's hats. Toile La La.
The photo above is from Life, September 22 1941 - titled " French Manikins in Occupied France Wear Latest Styles in Hats", with the caption: French Manikins at smart Paris Races wear French styles like those produced two months later by American designers. Hats tilt forward, use feathers. That difference in mental approach is very interesting to me. Reading about this period in history has been very interesting. Merely viewing the fashions of the times does not provide enough information. The most satisfaction has come from realizing the thoughts and events that produced the styles. The book Theatre de la Mode: Fashion Dolls: The Survival of Haute Couture is the spark that ignited my curiosity.

Read my review of the marvelous true story and awe-inspiring Theatre de la Mode: Fashion Dolls: The Survival of Haute Couture at this post. 

Pictured is one scene from the Theatre de la Mode exhibit housed at the Maryhill Museum of Art.
I will write more about Theatre de la Mode in a later post, but now...back to fashion psychology during wartime 40's.

Pauline Weston Thomas at www.fashion-era.com comments on the sumptuary (word sumptuary comes from Latin word meaning expenditure) laws set by the British government: It was "illegal and unpatriotic to spend time embellishing clothing for sale". The regulations eliminated "fancy trimmings, unnecessary buttons, extra stitching or tucks or pleats or pockets more than was essential to function."

The Encyclopaedia of Fashion by Georgina O'Hara Callan describes guidelines of the 1942 Utility Scheme and conveys some severity with this caption: "Wartime designers ignoring the utility scheme's guidelines get a dressing down from the British Board of Trade for wasteful use of fabric and buttons."

In view of this - it's odd to think how present society jokes about the "fashion police".

Wade Laboissonniere's Blueprints of Fashion shows a sewing pattern for recycling a man's suit nto a woman's - from the Make and Mend for Victory Booklet produced by The Spool Cotton Company.
Laboissonniere also describes the American version of the Utility Scheme - the War Production Board's General Limitation Order L-85, which "promoted national defense by eliminating non-essential details" and stipulated: "Short, narrow skirts with a hem circumference not exceeding 72 inches. Jackets not exceeding 25 inches in length. Hems not exceeding a 2" depth. No more than one pocket per blouse and no patch pockets on jackets of coats. No trouser cuffs or pleats. The elimination of vests from suits. Belts not exceeding 2" in width." Flamboyant sleeves and bias-cut ones were banned. Leeway was given to persons of larger size, brides, expectant mothers, designers of theatre and ballet, clergy, and the judiciary.

From Life September 22, 1941 is this letter with photo called Saving
Suits, "Sirs: To save precious clothing coupons, hundreds of British women are having thier husbands' civilian suits rebuilt to make coupon-free costumes for themselves... . The practice grew from the general belief that most men's suits left in wardrobes for the duration, would probably be useless after the war anyway."

From this recycling mindset, next post will explore the Vogue magazine September 2010 (USA) article "Royal Green" by HRH the Prince of Wales. I loved it. We are encouraged to "Look to your wardrobe to save the planet."