“Many of haute couture’s wartime clients would be shot when the war was over.” – Christian Dior
Sad as it sounds it’s completely understandable. Who would understand putting all that money for fancy clothes when there are thousands and thousands of people dying? ( to be accurate 25 000 000 soldiers and 37 000 000 civils, which is together 62 000 000 human beings .)
It is difficult to appreciate the true explosion of post-war fashion without a brief look at what was worn during wartime. Wartime clothes on both sides of the Atlantic tended to be static and looked drab compared to the slinky, bias-cut glamour of 1930s Hollywood inspired styles.
World War II was very much a woman’s war and in Britain childless women were dafted into factories or other auxiliary jobs while many European women worked in the field at feeding stations or as nurses and ambulance drivers. Many were issued with uniforms while the rest wore practical, utilitarian clothes, especially suits, in austere, militaristic colours like blue, black or brown. They were cut straight and mannishly, with hemlines just below the knee and no-nonsense shoulder pads that gave off a brisk, confident air, well in keeping with the wartime woman’s role as a vital member of the workforce. Woodand cork-soled platform shoes literally raised her stature, and access to such materials was happily unrestricted.
On both sides the Atlantic the idea was to freeze fashion so nothing would get old before its time and factory space, raw materials, and labor could then be devoted almost totally to the essential business of war.
Before the war the Paris couture industry was still the dernier cri for fashionable women the world over and though Hollywood had started to generate its own style during 1930s, magical names like Chanel and Sciaparelli still held sway until the occupation of Paris in 1940. The occupation cut off all clothing exports, French Vogue creased production, and many pre-war designers closed their houses and fled. Others stayed, along with the head of the Paris couture association, Lucienne Lelong, and tried to preserve some remnant of this French industry but their only customers were inevitably the wives of collaborators and high ranking Nazi officers. For some designers this new, enforced clientele proved galling but when legendary couturier Madame Grés refused to sell to the Nazis, Goebbels dropped by with a squad of storm troopers and she was eventually closed down.
With Paris in a stranglehold, Americans finally turned to their own home-grown talent. Ready-to-wear designers like Claire McCardell and Tina Leser popularized a casual, distinctly American look using fabrics like calico, gingham, and denim cut in simple utilitarian styles. This pared-down style paved the way for the sportswear tradition that America made its own in the post-war episode.
Of course I should take along to the topic the New look, and what that produced. But I don’t, I did my best in keeping it to the wartime ( and in the pictures also).
The war pictures are from Wikipedia and the clothing pictures are from Rusty Zipper, vintage online store.