The slogan “If you don’t need it, don’t buy it!” may well have been familiar to a woman living in 1940s wartime Britain; a time polar to the opulence of my beloved 18th Century and yet a period that still holds an enormous sway over my own personal sense of style.
The real 1940s fashion decade was a tumultuous time, a now-forgotten casualty of war with scarce raw materials to work with and clothing factories that were turned over to military purposes. Of the Allied nations, for those on the Homefront, simplicity was paramount; simple designs, simple fabrics – limited to cotton, wool, linen and some synthetics, while households were given coupons which, when enough had been saved, could be exchanged, in the case of women, for a dress, stockings and other basic garments.
In Britain, the real 1940s fashion, saw restriction after restriction on what could be produced and yet more restraint was still needed. So British Austerity Regulations were introduced in 1942 which sought to narrow fashion choices further by introducing a set of rules for clothing –
- Jackets and Coats can have no more than 3 pockets
- Dresses may only have 2 pockets
- No metal or leather buttons
- No boys under 13 may wear long trousers
- No tail coats
- All braid, embroidery and lace are banned *
As a way to help people adjust to these limitations, the British Government also introduced the Utility clothing scheme in 1942 which offered to guarantee, price-controlled clothes affordable for everyone. Leading designers of the time established the London Fashion Group, who together with the Board of Trade, designed suits, dresses and overcoats, following the rigid regulations which restricted designers to use very specific amounts of fabric on each garment. The 32 designs turned out to be a surprise hit with the public and two looks emerged from these wartime confinements, a military – which consisted mainly of short jackets, knee length skirts, pant suits and matching head pieces, worn mainly by women who served in the war, while the alternative was a utility look with tailored suits being favoured.
By 1943, when austerity had reached its peak, the policy became “Make Do and Mend!” which was the title of a pamphlet issued by the British Ministry of Information that became hugely popular and useful with its tips on how to take care of clothes and make use of old garments. Readers were advised to create pretty decorative patches to cover holes in worn garments, unpick old jumpers to re-knit chic alternatives, turn men’s clothes into women’s, as well as darn, alter and protect against the ‘moth menace!’ Women also learned from the pamphlet that stockings that were very expensive and difficult to find could by created by drawing lines at the back of legs to look like stocking seams.
The seemingly endless rationing didn’t end with the war but was gradually eased, women were increasing desiring of a return to fashion that accentuated their femininity and it comes as no surprise to learn that “The New Look” of 1947 was a huge success, firmly placing designer Christian Dior at the forefront of the next fashion revolution with his use of sumptuous fabrics, fuller skirts that hung just below the calves and fitted jacket which emphasised a woman’s sexuality. To quote from fashion historian Jonathan Walford “Feminine luxury and elegance became a symbol of post-war prosperity and defined the silhouette of the coming decade”
1940s fashion was all about hour glass silhouette; broad shoulders, small waist and full hips. To create the desired look women wore –
- Wide padded shoulders.
- A-line skirts of knee length.
- Sleeves ending above elbow or full-length.
- Two piece suit consisting of skirts and a jacket with a flare at the bottom.
- High waisted, wide leg trousers worn for comfort favourite amongst movie stars such as; Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn. You can read more about the wide leg trousers here.
- Shirtwaist dress-buttoned in front usually with buttons covered in the same fabric as the dress.
- Button-down dress.
- Wrap dress-hugely popular in 1945.
“Forties Fashion: From Siren Suits to the New Look” Jonathan Walford
“The Impact of World War II on Women’s Fashion in the United States and
Britain” by Meghann Mason
* “How Clothes Rationing Affected Fashion In The Second World War”
By Laura Clouting and Amanda Mason
As a huge fan of and being inspired by 1940s fashion, always hunting for authentic pieces on Etsy and vintage fairs, I can tell you with all honesty that even with the surprisingly large amount of original clothes from that period of time available to buy, it still isn’t easy to find something that will be the right size or in preferred colour or good enough state to be worn on a daily basis. Sometimes then I have no choice but look for modern designer pieces that are inspired by 1940s fashion and one such gem that I’ve found is the Austrian designer Lena Hoschek, whose Autumn-Winter 2016/17 “The Brits” collection was inspired by 1940s fashion in Britain, or more precisely, the British countryside. “I treasure the British traditions and the flea market-inspired style that allows for a mixture of spectacularly elegant and cosy, quirky fashion” Lena Hoschek said of her collection. I love the Miss Marple and Sherlock Holmes reference so clearly visible in her designs and I’m more than excited to share with you all pictures from her latest look-book.
For the “1940s inspired fashion” look I opted for;
KOSSMANN Shirtwaist Dress
Genuine Russian WWII Military Pilotka hat which has been customised by me . The vintage numbers on the hat come from British Police uniform.