Friday, 3 April 2015

Fashion on the Ration

I tend to think of WWII as being a lot more 'ration' than 'fashion'. Utility clothes, hair nets and industrial boots tend do away with any sense of high fashion. And old black and white photos do little to dispel that image of dull and dreary dresses. But Julie Summers', in her new book 'Fashion on the Ration', depicts the Second World War as a moment awash with personal style, inventiveness and the unstoppable force of Vogue magazine.

Going along to the book talk for 'Fashion on the Ration', which also lends it name to a new exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, I made my way to Oxford Literary Festival. Sitting in a lecture theatre in the middle on Corpus Christi College, (and feeling pretty high brow!) I listened along with a group of other attentive ears to hear Julie explaining the inspiration behind her book and some of the stories of those she met in the process of writing and researching. 

Julie talked us through some of the real life stories found in her book. From women making nighties out of unwanted silk parachutes, to altering coats so that they mimicked the emerging 'New Look' fashions, she demonstrated that sense of creativity and desire for personal style despite the relentlessness of rationing.

The idea of 'Beauty as Duty', one of the chapters of the book, was particular interesting in that it showed a woman's duty to appear primped and primed to perfection in order to send a message to the enemy that everything would continue as normal. Although, I found this whole notion more than a little uncomfortable, and from a feminist point of view this leaves a lot to be desired, there is something powerful in our use of 'war paint' as a means of warding off dull days. And it's fascinating to look at the effort that went into dabbing on a dash of red lipstick and perfecting that wave of hair as a powerful way of refusing to give in, especially in a time where clothes scarce and were re-worn year after year.

The book also discards that notion of the 1940s as being a time of drab frocks and tea dresses. As Julie, wearing an original rayon dress in fabulous terracotta, told us, the fabrics, scarves, hats and accessories of the time were often full of colour. As shown in the book, wartime adverts see women with bright greens and yellows, pinks and magentas, which were all available to buy in shops or imitate through dress patterns. I love the uplifting quality that these images produce, evoking a world where street style was perhaps more colourful and individual than it is today.

What really comes across in the 'Fashion on the Ration' is that, despite having often been denigrated as frivolous and trivial, fashion meant so much to these women. The efforts that they went through to keep their sense of style and to keep up with fashion, be it through saving up ration cards or creating new dress patterns, is pretty impressive. And it was interesting to learn that the revered pages of Vogue where just as treasured in times of war. Despite a number of setbacks, including having to relocate its London offices due to air raids, Vogue never stopped printing during the years '39-45 and steadfastly provided women with the latest trends from Paris, as well as ways to 'Make Do and Mend', giving women at home a little bit of hope and inspiration during times of such uncertainty.

I really enjoyed learning more about fashion from a historian's point of view as well as hearing about what my grandmother might have worn during WWII. If you have any interest in 1940s fashion I would highly recommend picking up this book, or heading over to the IWM in London to see some of the outfits for yourself! Have a lovely Easter! xx

1 comment :

  1. Girls fashion and their age are always inversely proportional. You have fantastic stuff on this blog that keep the girls young and beautiful with you fashion tips. Being a fashion artist I really appreciate your efforts and work.
    Love from Royal Lady