Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Wartime Effect on Fashion in 1940

This sweet little striped dress from 1940 is a perfect example of style for the American woman during the early years of WWII. Hemlines were much shorter than a few years earlier. Shoulders were widened with puffs or tucks, and the waist is emphasized with a waist seam and belt.

You can see the influence of wartime shortages on fashion here. The shorter length and the lack of fussy details points to the use of less fabric to make the dress. In the following year, the American government would impose restrictions on the amount and type of fabric that could be used for garments, and skirt widths would slim down from this look.

But a shortage of fabric doesn't mean a lack of style. The striped rayon fabric adds visual interest so that simple seaming and fewer pattern pieces can be used. The contrasting dark buttons and belt also add a design element. The white collar and sleeve cuffs are removeable for cleaning, but this can also change the look of the dress.

Even though the style is fairly simple and it was made of rayon, this was not an inexpensive dress. It sold for $19.95 in 1940. Using a CPI inflation calculator, $19.95 in 1940 equals $302.71 today - that's a hefty investment during a time of war. It's no wonder alterations are found so commonly in dresses from this era. Instead of throwing this dress away, the owner would have had the width of the skirt taken in and the large puffs at the shoulders slimmed down to stay in style as the decade progressed. And she would have saved the extra fabric to use for something else; perhaps a new hatband, or a fabric flower corsage. "Make Do and Mend" was the slogan of the day.

It will be interesting to see if the downturn in our current global economy will affect fashion as happened during WWII. Will designers use less fabric in their designs? Will we see shorter hem lengths? Fewer details? More synthetic? What do you predict?