Tuesday, 19 January 2016

1940s Fashion: From Siren Suits to the New Look [book]

I got this book for Christmas from my mum. I don't have that many books on vintage clothing, preferring to spend my money on novels and cookbooks, so it was fascinating and full of things I knew very little about.


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.

Rationing is a fascinating thing (when you don't have to live with it full-time, that is). The book states than an ounce, or 57 grams, of wool was one coupon. I can get a short-sleeved jumper out of about 250 grams, so it might just have been cheaper for someone my size to knit one rather than spend five coupons on it, though for a long sleeved cardigan, which takes me nearer 500g, I'd probably have spent the coupons. Of course, that's where Fair Isle comes in; with darning wool unrationed, you can take all those colours and work them into a pretty, coupon-stretching design.

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.

23 comments :

  1. This looks really good, and I didn't know about US rationing either! I think I would learn lots too x

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    1. It wasn't rationed to consumers, but manufacturers were given strict limits on how much of certain materials could be used - how much 'sweep' a skirt could have, for example.

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  2. That sounds like a really interesting book, I may have to add that to my Amazon wish list! It's great that it covers lots of different countries, rather than just the obvious choice of the UK.

    I first heard about US rationing when I went to the Julie Summers talk and she mentioned it had it's own name too, like our CC41, but for the life of me I can't remember it.

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    1. It's so good when stuff covers things internationally. I forgot to mention Italy, that's in there too as Mussolini had tried to create a fashion centre for Italy. Fascinating how clothing was so politicised.

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  3. Sounds great. I love the look of that brown jumpsuit with the blouse underneath. Is that a "Siren Suit"? Mum says she remembers her one that she had but she was only little. I only recently read about the "Zoot Suit" in France as a political statement. It really was a fascinating time but not one that I would like to relive. Xx

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    1. Siren suits were basically onesies - they were designed to be slipped on quickly during night-time air raids so you could pop off to the bomb shelter without showing your nightie or pyjamas to the world.

      Yes, the French equivalent of the zoot was a little different to the American one, according to the book - shorter trousers to reveal socks - and the girls also had their own style, complete with big pompadours.

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  4. Jonathan's blog is great too:
    http://kickshawproductions.com/blog/

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    1. Oh, cool - I hadn't seen that before. I'll add it to my blogroll.

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  5. That looks like a good book - reckon I'll add it to my Amazon wishlist.

    Another good book is 'Wartime Fashion - From Haute Couture to Homemade 1939-1945' by Geraldine Howell. I read it last year and although its rather weighty, I found it fascinating.

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    1. I doubt this one is as educational as the Howell, though I did like its global coverage.

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  6. Ooh, sweetheart brooches! I have some of those. One was broken so I suspended it on a chain, people adore it when I wear it xxx

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    1. Oh, that's a nice idea - better than it being abandoned for being broken.

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  7. Oh dear I really must finish reading this! I did start but somehow put it down and never went back to it!

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  8. This is, hands down, in my top three favourite books about 1940s fashions ever. I've had a copy for years and rarely go more than a few months between rereading it again. I never fail to both learn and be inspired all the more each time I do.

    ♥ Jessica

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    1. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it - it was far deeper and more interesting than I'd anticipated. It's definitely a keeper.

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  9. Sounds great - I like discussions about the history of clothing, it doesn't have to be scholarly, anecdotal is fine with me! I'll have to ask my mum about what clothes she had during the war and afterwards, although she is rather dismissive of fashion so she may not have cared that much! xxx

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    1. My mum loved the styles of her era (60s). I should ask her more about what she wore and liked. She'd probably be up for being interviewed for the blog!

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  10. You're right, it's so rare to see anything about global fashion trends... and if Jessica, above, is saying she learned something then crikey it must be packed full of interesting information!!

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  11. Mim,
    I have had, some long time ago, a post that featured a little booklet about 1940s style.. let me see if I can link you up.
    Aha:
    http://ruzicastapinkidusica.blogspot.rs/2014/03/international-womens-day-on-this-day.html
    There it is.
    Give it look, it's a lovely little booklet.

    Chilly hugs
    M.

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  12. I have this book but haven't read it yet, just had a flick through to look at the pictures. I'm going to move it higher up my to read list now!

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