Why World War II impacted Fashion
World War II was a fascinating Era in Fashion. This Era made its mark on future designers. Fashion and costume design were influenced and changed due to the many limitations imposed by WWII.
It was a time of restrictions, starting with raw materials and continuing with the ban of some imported materials. A big change had to be made, so man-made fibers were created and popularized. The impact of the war was seen not only in fabric choices but also in the style and silhouette of the clothing.
Because women now were left dealing with the family, the household finances, they had new needs in terms of clothing: a new simplicity was demanded in women’s clothing that required designers to tap into their imagination and make the government mandates fashionable.
The silhouette lines of the clothing produced in this period are still found in clothing today, as are the man-made materials which were developed during the war. Because of rationing and unavailability of materials, the differences in social classes were not as visibly noticeable, as the dress and style of all women became similar under government mandates. This was reflected in the style of dress for work, formal events, and on the silver screen in Hollywood.
The beginning of the sizing system in Fashion
During the Industrial Revolution Era, a clothing and textile revolution began in Great Britain in the early 18th century. Using cotton and wool as their major textiles, these mechanical innovations brought about an unprecedented industrialization of clothing manufacture, and soon it was estimated that over 25% of exports from the country were clothing and related textiles.
The need for uniforms in the U.S. Civil War was the catalyst for men’s ready-to-wear clothing in the 1860s. Millions of measurements were taken from the Civil War soldiers which allowed a ready-to-wear sizing system to be more available. In time, women’s sizing was also developed.
1920’s – Les années folles !
Still, at the beginning of the 20th century, most clothing was still either made at home for those in the lower classes, or custom made for those of the upper classes. Fashion and trend traveled quicker due to international publications of magazines such as VOGUE. Originally founded in the U.S. in 1909, by 1920, VOGUE had international publication in Britain and France.
Transportation was a major influence in the changing fashions in the beginning of the 20th century. With bicycles becoming popular for leisure activities in the early part of the century, and automobiles gaining popularity after 1908 (when Henry Ford introduced the automobile assembly line), clothing adapted accordingly by making ensembles to accompany the new forms of transportation.
At the end of the 19th century, in 1855, Viscose was created. It was the first “man-made” fiber and was patented in 1892. Viscose is not an entirely man-made synthetic. It is a semisynthetic, made of wood cellulose, mixed with chemicals to produce a fiber that could be used in textiles. Viscose was commercially produced in the U.K. as early as 1910 and it became commercially produced in in the U.S. in 1924.
In France, Fashion was relocating to seaside resorts, creating opportunities for designers such as Gabrielle Chanel, opening the first CHANEL Boutique in Deauville in 1913, where she would sell not only her hats, but also a new concept in women’s sports attire including Jumpers, Jackets, Sailor blouse and skirts, all made of tricot knit, a soft fabric, coming from British Fashion.
This generated a public dispute between Coco Chanel and Paul Poiret who accused her of turning women into little undernourished telegraph clerks.
However, these comments seemed to have little effect on consumer attitudes and the standardisation of fashion proved irreversible.
The World War II impact on Fashion worldwide
Maintaining beauty and allure were major war-time challenges faced by designers. American VOGUE magazine’s first cover for January after the U.S. officially entered the war, on December 1941, spoke of the new life American women would have to face and how to look gorgeous while doing it.
Fashion in the years following World War II is characterized by the resurgence of haute couture after the austerity of the war years. The new fabrics created during this time are still used today in clothing, household, mechanical, and everyday items.
Before WWII began, most of the famous designers in Europe were located in Paris – the fashion capital of the world and created couture, or custom-made, clothing for the most prominent figures in society. They are: Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel (1883-1971), Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973), Adrian (1903-1959), Mainbocher (1890-1976), Arnold Lever, and Edith Head (1897-1981).
The demands of wartime life meant that more people needed clothes that were fit for purpose, most especially for war work. As women were conscripted into industrial work from 1941, factory safety became a big issue.
Accidents caused by long hair getting caught in machinery became too common, so headscarves – or turbans, or ‘glamour bands’ – were adopted by many.
While in Paris, Christian Dior launched the first collection of the House of Dior on February 12, 1947, called the “New Look”, in U.S., Claire McCardell launched her own label, creating the “Pop-Over” dress for only 7 $ – 70.000 models were sold, hitting a big succes in the 40’s and 50’s.