Fashion of a certain period of time can tell a lot about the predominant social views of the time and the political and historic events of that period. During World War II, governmental regulations dictated men and women fashion, however, referring to the war period as stagnation in clothing style would be a mistake.
A decade before World War II, drastic changes took place in women’s fashion. Just in a span of ten years, women’s clothing style went from a “lean, boyish silhouette” of the beginning of the 1930s (Olds) to natural, womanly dress styles. By the mid 1930s, wider-brimmed hats became popular, and hemlines dropped to the ankle, with more emphasis put on the chest and torso area (Olds). By the end of the decade, the silhouette was more feminine once again. Clothing catalogs featured pants for women, however, they were not worn in public, but prevailed during sports events (Old).
Once World War II burst out, clothing style was no longer a mere fashion whim or an indicator of the woman’s social class. While their mothers and grandmothers had only witnessed World War I for a year and a half, four long years of a national crisis was to be endured by American women of the 1940s (Hill). Naturally, many women were forced to join labor and military forces, which was not an easy ordeal. Women were often deprived of even utmost necessities and witnessing the horrible things the war brought in, and, as insignificant as it might be seen at the time, fashion was deprived, first of all, of silk and rubber (Hill). All the clothes and shoe makers during the war were operating with the Government’s approval, encouraging people to buy the clothing necessities, since it would otherwise dislocate the economy (Hill).
Of course, many women were ready to dress themselves in sackcloth if this were needed to help with the war, however, apparently, it was not a worthy extreme. War regulations spread on corsets, the manufacture of which was to revert back on the methods it used before elasticized corsets were made (Hill). Also, the period of war was marked by a great variety of ladies hats with fanciful, original designs (Olds). Accessories were also then made with a wide range of alternative materials, as the U.S. War Production Board “set strict guidelines for the kinds and quantities of materials that could be used in almost every category of apparel and accessories” (Hill). This war regulation was mainly triggered by the necessity to standardize apparel silhouettes to conserve materials, prevent material shortages, and eliminate the need to readjust manufacture to newly occurred clothing style. Certainly, manufacture of the war time had war interests in priority, therefore, the regulations had to be introduced.
Other regulations included limitations on fabric usage and rationing clothing items, mainly due to necessity to save materials such as wool and silk, as these were needed for making parachutes and uniforms for soldiers (Olds). Pants became popular in the workplace, as women replaced men at the manufactures while men served at war. Another interesting and, at the time, shocking fashion modification was the introduction of two-piece bathing suits, as the amount of fabric previously used for one-piece bathing suit had to be reduced.
Compared to the United Kingdom, women’s fashion in the United States had less transformations during the war period, and was less affected by war regulations, mainly because Britain was at war longer than the United States. Still, the regulations and limitations in the world of women fashion were present during the war time, and so were new innovations in the nature of women clothing.