| World War II and British Fashion Essay
Fashion is a fickle thing that undergoes changes under the influence of many factors such as politics, economics, situation in the country and in the world, culture, science, and the development of new technologies. The concept fashion means a process of changes in the style of clothes and image of a person.
Looking at the styles of clothes of people, it is possible to reveal their social status, moral values prevailing in the society, and their cultural background. Through fashion, one can reflect all the achievements of the mankind, its progress, and regress. Nobody denies the fact that fashion is much more than haute couture and exclusive and expensive clothes. Fashion is the ability to pick up the right style and to put on the clothes that bring pleasure to its owner and people around.
Fashion reflects the spirit of the society and is influenced by wars, laws, religion, arts, conquests, and even by the changes in the seasons of the year. There are fashion critics who affirm that fashion is imposed, that it is irrational, absurd, frivolous, paltry, tyrannical, and even immoral. The opponents of fashion suppose that people who follow fashion are like sheep because they have enough clothes, but are always in the search of the new one.
Fashion is like art, unusual, eccentric, and beautiful. Indeed, fashion is a decorative or applied art because clothes express the inner world of the personality, his/her style, life experience, status in the society, etc. Fashion as art can reflect what people put on at various periods of time. It decorates a person. Fashion is based on the same principles as art: creativity, singularity, and originality.
There are people who do not understand art paintings, yet they want to have them at home because they are created by famous artists and these people want to boast before friends. The same is true for fashion because it is difficult for understanding. Fashion is indeed a kind of art that reflects creativity, beauty, culture, and life.
Even after World War II, Paris remained the center of high fashion. The rhythmic changes of fashion trends were interrupted by the war. In the war period, fashion development came to a standstill. However, World War II added new motives into the fashion industry and changes in the styles of clothes. Without doubt, fashion is dynamic, variable, and changeable. It is like a sponge that absorbs all events in the world and reflects them in clothes. Fashion expresses social, economic, political, and cultural spirit of society.
Concerning the British fashion, it is necessary to mention that British people have always looked elegant and conservative, no matter whether in the war or post-war period. It is their aristocratic and conservative mentality that influences their style of clothes. London is sill the capital of the British fashion. The British fashion is the integration of international and British styles. Traditionally, British style is characterized by smartness and elegance (Mendes 1990).
However, nowadays it is unconventional and combines traditionalism and modern techniques. Moreover, it is a vintage style that is used now as British stylists suppose that the mix of the old and the new creates a bohemian, unique, and aesthetic fashion. The most famous British designers are Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, etc. Without doubt, there are some factors that have influenced the British fashion. There is a thought that it was the period of World War II that had a great impact on the present fashion.
The Changes in Clothes Brought by World War II
World War II was a cardinal revolution in politics, society, and fashion. The fashion of that time reflected the events happening in the world. World War II was a motive power for future designers and the science of fashion. Fashion was influenced and changed due to many restrictions and limitations imposed by Word War II. Fashion influences our entire life style, but at the same time, lifestyle determines trend colours, silhouettes, details, and texture.
World War II was a bombing attack on economics. That is why, it was not strange that synthetic fabrics appeared as they were not expensive. There were used drip-dry, orlon, and dacron nylon that retained heat-set pleats after washing. It was very convenient as people were busy with the rehabilitation after the war. It seemed that fashion was the last thing they were interested in. However, the quick speed of life and intense business incited people to find out textiles suitable for using. In 1950, the clothes were made from polyester, acrylic, spandex, and triacetate.
London was bombed by the Germans who used a gas attack. That is why, designers of clothes created protection suits that were made of oiled silk in different bright colours. People were afraid and their only desire was to survive by all means. It was the Nichols fashionable store in London that created such an innovation as a jumpsuit that had many pockets, was warm, protective, and comfortable. It was important that people in all branches tried to do their best in order to defend the country.
Besides, looking at the clothes of a person, it is not difficult to notice what social values prevail in the society. If at the beginning of the 20th century women wore corsets, long gowns, skirts, were more feminine and discreet, then World War II completely changed the situation in Great Britain. The image of a woman was cardinally different and the ideal of a stylish woman faced noticeable metamorphoses that were seen not only in the clothes but also in moral values. World War II had brought not only damage and death, but the revolution of the British fashion as well. It was the birth of a new culture and new fashion trends that took the world by storm.
The changes in clothes seem worth accentuating. Contemporary fashion critics exaggerate that the war has caused the simplification of fashion and lessened the variety of styles. On the contrary, British designers of clothes were very creative. Concerning skirts, their length was different depending on silhouettes and styles. It was not strange that the British fashion was regulated by the government in spite of the fact that the fashion in the wartime suffered from the stagnation in styles. However, it was Christian Dior and his New Look who made the revolution in the post-war time. The gowns of that time were reaching the knee and created a lean and boyish image of a woman.
There was no difference between the breadth of the waist and hips and breasts were hidden. Shoes were with a strap, high heeled, and four inches high. Hairstyles were bobbed under the small shallow hats with upturned brims. In 1931, a dress was belted and skirt length was to calf and they were worn with belts. A boned brassiere was created in order to underline = breasts. The attention was paid to a more feminine and natural beauty. At any time, women wanted to be fashionable and have clothes that were extravagant, optimistic, brash, and stylish.
As to men’s fashion, it was changing very slowly and these changes were noticeable in the thirties. Suits were pleated, with wide and padded shoulders, and trousers were with cuffs. In the middle of the thirties, trousers with cuffs changed into the wide ones with a high waist. Such style of trousers was popular among young men. British men wore wool sweaters, pullovers, cardigans, suits, vests, and always polished shoes. However, even nowadays it remains the traditional clothes of the British men.
Women as well as men were conservative and simple. Before the war, women wore nylons, but the wartimes were hard and women had to refuse from the nylons drawing a line on each leg with their eyebrow pencils in order to create the vision of nylons. A scarf was also an important accessory for women that they wore in order to keep their hair out of their faces. At that time, suits, hats, and sun dresses were in fashion.
As to the children’s fashion, it is necessary to mention that everyday clothes included T-shirts, coveralls, and plain shoes with very hard toes. Children had special clothes for the Sunday church service and going out.
Looking at the fashion magazine of that time, it is not difficult to admit that today’s British clothes and those of the wartime had only some stylistic differences, but in general it was the same. In Britain, people wore the special overalls for protection at work.
In Great Britain, the post-World War II fashion was not only dictated by famous designers, but also by film stars. Their bright styles influenced the development of new fashion trends. At that time, such adjectives describing clothes were used as glamorous, striking, and dramatic. However, post-war time was a difficult time for the British nation. That is why, only the middle class could afford new fashionable clothes and copy expensive styles of famous stars.
In conclusion, it is necessary to admit that the changes in clothes brought by World War II were visible and evident. The accessories used in the wartime such as military-style jackets with belts and large side pockets are spread in the today’s fashion. When it comes to the military colours, one should say that grey and khaki are always in trend. Indeed, if one studies the history of fashion, one may notice the great impact of war on clothes (ex. roomy jackets, hip-length battle jackets, trench coat, etc.). In spite of any social problems, the fashion has never stopped and continued to develop under the influence of military, politic, economic, and cultural situation in Great Britain.
British Governmental Restrictions in Fashion
As it has been pointed out, World War II was not something new for the British women (like World War I had been). They had to work at plants and factories while men were battling. Uniforms for women were similar to the men’s. Women wore trousers as their work became harder and the conditions of work were difficult. Norfolk jackets created for men were tailored for women. There were no social limits for women like during World War I when women had worn long skirts. At the beginning of World War II, womens war-time uniforms were adapted and were more comfortable for wearing because instead of long skirts women had trousers or shorter skirts.
Before England declared the war on Germany, the British government had been preparing for the upcoming problems and shortages the country might face during the conflict. The British government passed bills that limited the fabric usage and rationed clothing items with the purpose to save wool and silk used for making uniforms and parachutes. Ordinary people could not buy clothes and shoes of high quality. Indeed, the government set very tight and severe limits on buying clothes and shoes.
The British Board of Trade introduced the Utility Scheme in 1941 that regulated the quality and costs of fabric in England. The government planned to stop changes in fashion in order to make clothes stylish for a long time and save cloth for sewing military uniforms. The most successful British countries joined the Society of London Fashion Designers. The head of this Society was Edward Molyneux who advocated for designing elegant clothes.
The British Utility Scheme imposed restrictions on men’s clothes that nowadays seem to be ridiculous and even funny. The trouser openings were of 19 inches and the pleats and cuffs were forbidden with the purpose of cloth saving. Trousers were made of wool, i.e. the less quality fabric that was combined with synthetics. Even the colours of trousers were defined by the British government. These were such colours as black, navy, and brown. Coats that were double-breasted were not permitted and collar-widths were also regulated. There were imposed restrictions on the number of buttons and pockets on garments. Everything demanding additional cost was banned.
Governmental restrictions touched British men as well as women. They were not allowed to wear jackets with the double thickness of cloth and the number of pleats on a skirt was also limited. For making skirts, one could use only 2.5 yards of cloth. Hems were two inches.
In terms of shoes, those were wedgies on wooden soles used in order to save leather. The limits were imposed on silk, in the result of which womens silk stockings were forbidden. Soon, nylon hosiery disappeared with the purpose of economy. Moreover, zippers on both men and womens clothes were banned.
Government tried to reduce fabrics and furniture to a minimum and control the smartness of people making them pay for clothes with coupons. It was ridiculous, yet people had no possibility to get these coupons for clothes as double breasted coat cost 16 coupons, man’s suit was 26 coupons, hanky cost 1 coupon, and woollen dress was 14 coupons. One could get supplemental coupons if he/she got married or had a baby. It was something unbelievable that one got parachute silk to make a dress or underwear. In 1941, each British man or woman got 66 coupons for clothes, but soon this number reduced to 48. Such governmental tight limits made British people take care of their clothes, mend it, and even alter the old ones.
All people were given a special clothing book that consisted of coupons of different colours. Every item of clothes was valued in coupons and people gave their clothing book to a shopkeeper in order to buy anything. A person cut out one of the coupons and received money for the purchase. This pay system gave the possibility to buy clothes one time per year. The book with coupons was given by the British government. It was a form of total control from the side of the government because coupons were of different colours in order not to allow people to use them all at once. Moreover, it was the government that decided when it was necessary to use another coupon.
Even government tried to slow down the development of fashion, control the costs on clothes, and restrict the innovation of style. The British government had the intention to be the only power force of any changes as changes in clothes and styles meant changes in mind and life of people. Fashion meant freedom and independence from stereotypic and conservative views. However, British government wanted to make the choice for everybody with its politics.
Make Do and Mend Campaign
Clothes rationing was included in the war effort, make-do-and-mend action, and rationing books. It was popular in 1940. The sudden outburst of World War II forced the British government to start a severe rationing program that changed the life of all people. Britain suffered from the war and was weak in economics. As a result, the imports were reduced and the recourses of fabrics were shortened.
World War II demanded the nation’s costs and forces. That is why, women had to work hard. The class difference was almost unnoticeable and even people from the high society were compelled to dig beds, no matter how strange it was. The black and white pages of Vogue showed how Lady Diana Cooper fed the pigs.
As a result of restrictions and limitations on the clothes, the government introduced the campaign Make-do-and-Mend in order to encourage the British people to make clothes from the old ones instead of getting the new ones. Oliver Lyttleton proved that when you are tired of your old clothes, remember that by making them do you are contributing some part of an acroplane, a gun or a tank.
The government organized the distribution of posters and leaflets with thoughts, ideas, and advice on how to make the new clothes. The government created evening classes that taught people to make new clothes out of the old ones and not to throw it out with the purpose of economy. C.Sladen proved that women were spending more times on repairs, alterations, generally making-do, and visiting more jumble sales and WVS’clothing exchanges than pre-war; they also expected, once the war was over, to dress more simple and buy for quality, rather than for show.
Indeed, the war provoked the lack of fabrics and clothes. That is why, prices were high and all the fabrics were used for making uniforms and parachutes. At first, clothes rationing was presented in 1941. Make-Do-and-Mend was the wartime slogan that stimulated people not to waste the old clothes. It was a very good idea from the side of government to make people reuse old clothes, curtains, furnishing fabrics, blankets, and shoes that were sometimes available in order to sew coats from old blankets, children clothes from pillowcases, and to paint the soles of shoes with varnish. One more lesson given at such classes was how to knit.
The women were busy with knitting stocks, gloves, scarves, cardigans, and pullovers that were knitted with crepe and wool and were very fashionable in the 1940s. However, crepe and wool were inaccessible for poor women. It was very hard to knit a cardigan as it was necessary to be very persistent and patient. Women also unravelled and re-knitted old jumpers to create more necessary things. Adornments and trims were used very rarely. Women were forced to recycle even cellophane, pipe cleaners, and household items during holidays in order to create a festive atmosphere.
Young people always found time to go to movies and dances and used such accessories as plastic box bags, clutch bags, and jersey gloves. Young people did the best to look fashionable and stylish. Therefore, they wore scarves and gloves to brighten their image.
Nowadays, these wartime problems with clothes may seem a bit funny and ridiculous. However, they were a hard and strict experiment for the British people. Moreover, these rationing and Make-do-and-mend campaigns were a powerful force that stimulated people to do everything by themselves and not to be afraid of re-using and mending.
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