A couple of weeks ago we journeyed down the time tunnel to the 1950s and saw everything that decade had to offer for the warmer weather seasons. This time we're going a smidge further back to the 1940s.
The 1940s was a time spotlighted by one topic: war. Although the war finished in 1945 (75 years exactly before me writing this blog in fact), its shadow was cast over the entire decade in some form or another. In terms of fashion it was mostly by the means of rationing, a strong 'make do and mend' culture and recycling what they had. So, how did they incorporate all of that to create the fabulous style the vintage community is still so heavily inspired by today?
This was the decade when workwear became a fashion statement. Whilst men were fighting on the front lines, women took to the roles they left behind on the farms, in the factories and in the forests. My great-nan, Eve Sintra later Benson, worked in the Supermarine factories building Merlin engines for the famous Spitfires - a far cry from her domestic service during the 1930s! Skirts were out, and trousers were in. Tailoring became more traditionally masculine in shape and style was androgynous throughout. Trousers had been gaining popularity since the 1930s but it wasn't until the 1940s that they became the norm. In the summer, shorts were even becoming more acceptable. Styled more like culottes, teamed with sandals and often a light-weight cotton blouse, shorts were first more popular with our American sisters but they gained traction as the decade progressed.
Of course, dresses were still the most popular choice of garment in the 1940s summers. Due to the austerity that partners so well with war, as well as the imposed rationing in the UK, dresses were often recycled year on year and patched up with the iconic 'make do and mend' mantra. By altering small pieces of the dress, it could be revitalised to follow that season's trends. A shoulder pad here (shoulder pads were popular before the 1980s, y'know), a new button there, and a slightly altered neckline meant that year on year fashion was still evolving. This had a great lasting effect which basically meant that no two garments were ever the same. At least you'd never see someone else out in the same outfit as you!
Another way women found to get inventive was through our favourite subject...accessories! Lots of our collections are inspired by the Bakelite bangles, necklaces and earrings of the 1940s. The one most appropriate for the spring and summer seasons would be our Heavy Carved range which emulates the richer colours which were popular throughout the decade. Sunglasses were also very popular (as they had been throughout the 1920s and 1930s) but this time they stuck around. Raybans anyone? The aviator style sunglasses have reappeared in almost every decade since in some form or another. A really fun fact I found out whilst researching this article was the love of all things glow in the dark. Due to the blackout every night the British Government encouraged people to wear something white or glow in the dark so fellow pedestrians and motorists could spot them in the darkness. Everything from hair flowers to buttons was given the luminous effect. Glow in the dark bangles anyone?
Women could still buy new dresses, knickers and shoes but, due to rationing implemented in June 1941, fabric in the UK was scarce and clothes were issued on a points based system. Everyone was issued with a set number of coupons (the amount varied year on year) to use for their equal ration of new clothing. Each item had a different coupon value, for instance a new dress was eleven coupons and a pair of stockings was two. In 1942, the famous CC41 label had to be sewn into any new clothing. Utility clothing, as this was called, meant that all items were made by the same material, were uniform, and cost the same across the board. Utility clothing was very popular and stuck around until the rationing limits were finally lifted in 1952. Vintage collectors and enthusiasts out there will rip arms off for anything labelled CC41 so keep your eyes out!
I really wanted to talk about the beauty, hair and make up trends of the 1940s at this point but I think I'll save that for another entry. For now, I would just like to thank these women for keeping their spirits high during such horrendous times, and inspiring us not only in our vintage fashion tastes but via their courageous attitudes which we can use through our own trying time right now.