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Monday 09 January 2012
Words Spindle

Little darling, here comes the war. And boy, did the fashion world feel it. As men were sent off to war, women were left behind manufacturing war materials to help their beloved other halves. Not sure how ‘beloved’ they would have remained when the women realised that all forms of extravagance were ripped from their precious clothing to provide for the men at war.

Oh yes, fashion was as conservative as David Cameron. Strict material rationing gave rise to dresses without collars, buttons, or even cuffs. Women adopted practical, mannish clothing and suits as they enrolled in hands-on work. The androgynous trend has shaped 21st century, just look to Preen’s S/S 2012 pastel trouser suit. The period of 1940-1945 was defined by dull colours, shoulder pads, shorter, straighter skirts, belted waists and uniforms. The ‘uniform-inspired’ trend has resurfaced frequently during the 20th century; 70’s punks sported swastikas reminiscent of the Nazi era and the Burberry 2010 collection featured military coats and aviator bomber jackets.

Many fashion houses (particularly Parisian) were forced to close for the war period, including Chanel. Vogue noted in 1942 that ‘buying was edged out by recycling’. Hats and clothes were remodelled, handbags were revamped and stockings were restored. The new mantra was ‘it looks wrong to look wealthy’ –imitated today in the ‘oh I just threw this together’ intentionally scruffy street style. Our present-day economic and environmental crises nod back to this wartime austerity. Not only has garment recycling been encouraged (and named ‘vintage’), but environmentally friendly clothing has been launched, such as biodegradable shoes!

Possibly the most iconic piece from the 40’s was stockings. The rarity of stockings made them the most sought after item of the ‘40s, giving rise to manic ‘nylon riots’ upon delivery.  Stockings were so unattainable that women stained their legs with gravy browning, and then drew a line up the back of their legs with eye pencil to create the illusion of seamed stockings!

By 1947, fashion began to get its full-on mojo back. Christian Dior launched his ‘new look’, which, despite being heavily frowned upon for excessive fabric use (McQueen anyone?), went down a storm. People were sick of rations and fell for the tiny waits and full skirts swelling beneath bodices. This marked the entry of fashion into an experimental phase of back-dipping skirts, uneven hemlines and buttons, buttons, buttons!

The war-torn decade of the 1940’s gave rise to some of the most influential military-themed and minimalist clothing of the past 50 years, continuing to inspire to this day. However, please be vigilant when selecting the trends from which you draw inspiration; going out with gravy-smothered legs just might not have quite the same effect it used to!