A few weeks ago I did a talk about fashion during WW2 and whilst researching for it I came across this amazing piece from Vogue November 1939 (i had scanned it whilst working at Hampshire Museums service and forgotten I had it!) Not only is it very informative as to attitudes towards war, but also the writing style is incredibly interesting. As someone who studied English at A-level I couldn’t stop myself from “lexical device spotting” as I read it.
Fashion meets the challenge of war
London, all set in September for a fresh fashion season of wasp waists and fragility, now, with the brilliance of an acrobatic somersault, turns a new fashion face towards the future. There’s immense chic in restrained evening elegance. There’s immense charm in the robustness and shrewd common sense of day clothes. New factors-new fashions. Playtime hours are 5pm to 11pm instead of 8pm to 2a.m. The Berkley has launched tea dances (shades of 1916). Afternoon dresses and hats are booming. Not black, with khaki- which conditions colour as clan tartans at peace-time balls. Besides, we’ve had enough black with black-outs. Instead raspberry, prune, cocoa and sage.
Cut off from the continent, isolated in our island, we have suddenly swung round to continental technique and, in London, dress more like Parisians than ever in Paris…For restaurant dining and dancing, we’re women of the world. If we dress at night, we dress down. Bright wool for warmth; jersey in silk or wool- supreme among fabrics- clinging to throat, wrist, ankle. Each diner dress with its own short jacket. Already a picture gown looks as démodé as a picture hat.
Town clothes tend towards the tweed end of the fabric scale. Nutria replaces Persia lamb. Coats are caught to swallow up suits without trace; loose sleeves, loose backs. Suits have an air of imperturbable ease. They don’t look lost the moment they leave town. They don’t look like country cousins up for the day. They are tough but not rough; chic but not slick.
Country clothes look as if at any moment they might bestride a bicycle, or walk over the hill to see a neighbour.
In town we walk- not totter, but neither stride- in solid-soled square heeled shoes; the curse has been taken away from the word “sensible” Shoes are built for business- and have therby acquires an integrity denied to the skeleton sandal of the summer.
Hats have put away foolishness- and fit. It’s part of a campaign for common sense- as distinct from dowdiness. A flighty hat, tugged by the wind, is as incongruous in town, with gas mask satchel and flat shoes, as it ever was in the country. Even fur hats (lively survivals of the pre-war mode) clasp the head with snoods.
We must have warmth. There is nothing so plain as a bluenose. We keep snug, even when fuel is rationed, with fleece line ankle-boots, cosy hoods, fur mitts, coddling the extremes.
“Fashion, like the woman it clothes, is proving no good-time girl, thrown into confusion by the shock of war, but a staunch support, an invaluable ally”