1940s dresses 👗 || fashion history || vintage aesthetic || 20th century clothing || old fashioned

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by Old-fashioned Agnes

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05.14.2024



‘Outside of France, fashion during the war was dominated by rationing. Utility clothing and uniforms were the most ubiquitous forms of “fashion” during the war. Utility clothing could be bought with ration coupons. For example, the British Utility dress seen in figure 5 cost 7 coupons. Both Utility dresses and uniforms adopted similar design elements: “The look was simple but stylish, with good proportion and line. It incorporated padded shoulders, a nipped-in waist, and hems to just below the knee,” writes James Laver in Costume and Fashion: A Concise History (253). By 1943, even non-Utility clothing, like the Molyneux design for Bergdorf Goodman (…), followed these same lines. The suits were quite boxy and had rounded collars, as seen in the variety of suits in figure 6. Tweeds and plaids, popular in the 1930s, continued to be used in Utility clothing, as did bright colors and patterns which helped offset the – literally – utilitarian pieces.

Furthering the fashionability of Utility garments in the UK was the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers or Inc. Soc. for short. Designers such as Norman Hartnell, Hardy Amies, and Edward Molyneux submitted designs for the scheme. Fashion historian Jayne Shrimpton writes in Fashion in the 1940s, “The [Utility Clothing] initiative might never have succeeded had the government not taken the inspired decision to involve leading London couturiers in the design of Utility clothing” (31). So, while the look of Utility clothing may have been simple, it had the cachet of being designed by leading London designers and the Utility suit by Hardy Amies (…) demonstrates how these suits were styled with aplomb.

In the US, clothes rationing never became quite as severe as it was in the UK. This, along with the lack of French designs coming out of Paris, allowed American design to thrive during the war, especially ready-to-wear (Fig. 8). Two designers emerged on the American scene developing simple, casual styles that proved trendy and popular: Norman Norell and Claire McCardell. Norell’s high-quality designs filled the void created by the absence of designs coming out of occupied Paris. By using unrationed sequins on his sheath dresses starting in 1942, he added sparkle to the otherwise bleak atmosphere brought by the war (Fig. 9). McCardell’s designs were sporty, casual, and practical, much like the dress worn by the woman in figure 8. She deftly navigated rationing restrictions and produced designs that went on to be classics. When wool and silk were limited in 1942, she looked to denim, seersucker, and jersey to create classic dresses and separates.

In 1940, McCardell introduced her “Popover” dress (…). Though the wrap dress was originally introduced as a $7 Utility garment, it quickly became a staple in her arsenal. Seamwork’s Betsy Blodgett writes of the dress,

“McCardell came up with a denim wrap-front dress. It was simple, chic, and even came with an oven mitt… A version of the Popover wrap dress was included in collections for the rest of her career” (Deconstructing Claire McCardell).”

Source of the quote: https://fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu/1940-1949/

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