Tuesday, 19 January 2016
1940s Fashion: From Siren Suits to the New Look [book]
One thing I liked about 1940s Fashion from the moment I opened it was the fact that it talks about fashion from many parts of the world. France, global leader of western fashion in the 1930s, was obviously affected by the war, and American designers suddenly had a chance to shine (I hadn't realised clothing had been regulated in the US too). By the 1940s Germany had already undergone a process of 'Aryanising' fashion (though chic German women weren't taken with the dirndls and plaits of the Alpen maiden look) and had started rationing clothes in 1939, while Britain began rationing in 1941. There's a whole chapter on 'Pacific Fronts' nations - Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Perhaps not leaders of Western fashion, these nations nonetheless supplied silk and wool, and had their own trade affected by the war, with a resulting change in their clothing.
There's a lot about the symbolism of clothes, from the sweetheart badges worn by the girlfriends of servicemen, to Jacqmar's patriotic scarves, to the rebellious zoot suit and French tricolor designs.
The postwar period is covered in less depth, but the New Look was in many ways a kick back against previous regulations and rationing, and was revolutionary, so can't be omitted. The landscape of fashion had changed: American had discovered pride in its designers, women worldwide had discovered the joy of more practical clothing (as well as the awfulness of not having any choice), and fashion would never be the same again.
I think what I really got out of this book was how much I didn't know about 1940s clothing - simply watching Hollywood movies hasn't taught me anything about the nuts and bolts. When I unwrapped the book, I anticipated nothing more than pretty pictures and some general waffle. It's not what you'd call a scholarly work on 1940s fashion, but for people like me who want to know a bit more without recreating accurate looks, it's really useful.