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Civilian Fashion

Style on the Sidelines and Trends of the Time

Red Crepe Dress

This red dress exhibits a variety of the trends which dominated fashion during the Second World War. Firstly, the color of this dress is bright, bold red—a blatant display of patriotism. Secondly, we note the dress’s length, which stops around the knee, and silhouette, which is tailored and close to the body. In an effort to reduce the amount of fabric used for women’s clothing, the War Production board issued Regulation L-85, which rationed different natural fibers and fabrics. Moreover, a shorter dress would use less fabric, as would a dress that didn’t make use of billowing skirts. The last key feature of this dress can be seen in the shoulder pads. Though we can tell that the design of the dress is feminine in that its waist is cinched by a decorative belt, the shoulders are broadened by shoulder pads. Shoulder pads were a manifestation of the masculine form of soldier, and women too adopted this silhouette because they too were making sacrifices for their country in order to emerge victorious.

War Bond Print Dress

This orange and white printed David Crystal dress appeared in a Neiman-Marcus advertisement in December of 1942. The dress is made of rayon as per the popularity and necessity of war-time synthetics. The pattern repeat is a corsage made of war bond stamps—an accessory women sometimes wear when selling War Bonds. War Savings Stamps were a program to help sell War Bonds to fund World War II. The dress appears to be a great demonstration of patriotism through consumerism, but this dress also suggests that regulation L-85 might not have been reducing the use of fabric for fashion as effectively as people thought it did. Moreover, this article advertises a way to support the war without actually supporting it through the conservative and practical shopping practices the war encouraged.

Adrian Skirt Suit

This grey-brown skirt suit of worsted wool fully lined in brown chiffon was designed by famed costume and film set designer Adrian Greenberg (also Gilbert Adrian). He started his career during Hollywood’s Golden Age and would go on to design costumes for high-profile actresses such as Katherine Hepburn and blockbuster movies such as “The Wizard of Oz.” This suit, on loan from the University of Northern Texas, was designed near the end of Adrian’s career, showcases the influence of the military aesthetic in high fashion. The gold buttons running down the center of the blazer resemble the layout of buttons that might be seen on a military uniform. The gray-white-brown color reinforces the ensemble’s chic yet utilitarian feel.

Polka-Dot Graduation Dress

Pictured here is a yellow and black polka-dotted graduation dress worn by Irene Ketcham in 1946 during her graduation from Cornell University’s School of Home Economics. Ketcham paired the look with a black patent leather belt. While this dress was worn a year after the war ended, it reflects the ethos of WWII era fashion through mending. Clothing conservation was critical, and mending could increase the lifespan of a garment. As per fabric rationing, people sought to repurpose or alter the clothing they had instead of wasting material by purchasing new clothing.