Women’s War Fashions
By Carrie Lofty
I like a good, dry, informative WWII text as much as the next history-lovin’ nerd, but I’m also crazy mad for the fashions of the era.
Although movie stars such as the amazingly gorgeous Lauren Bacall epitomized high style, they were rarities. Fashion magazines instructed readers on how to transform their husbands’ disused suits into military-inspired women’s clothes. The production of dyes and cloth were restricted to only those needed by the military, which meant in the face of adversity, fashion adapted.
Look at this group of women who worked at an aluminum factory in Canada. Most of the colors are simple: gray, blue, black, white—and that’s not because it’s a black and white photograph! Even the names of the dyes were given patriotic names such as “victory gold” and, ta-dah!, “navy blue.” The uniformity of their appearance reflects just how many sacrifices had already been made to the notions of propriety and conservation. No skirts too long. No garment too full and “wasteful” of materials.
But, well, a girl needed her pearls! (They were probably fiercely guarded heirlooms!)
Even USO performers had to make do. Women who traveled the USO circuit were given a ration of sequins and glue. The gowns they wore were gorgeous from a distance—probably the most ostentatious clothing anyone in the audience had seen for some time—but up close, even this Rita Hayworth gown might be patched together as many times as a kid’s breeches.
Accessories were even less important than clothing, but women are ingenious creatures. This adorable little item is owned by my friend, Molly Maka, who’s also a romance writer and WWII re-enactor. Most people think it’s a lunch box. But no, it’s a vintage purse made of scrap aluminum. Just think about it as the ultimate in recycling. (We were on a war era B-17 bomber when I took this picture. Extra vintage!)
Then there’s the symbolic accessory of the era: the nylons. I couldn’t escape a romance set in WWII without mentioning nylons! Here the heroine of HIS VERY OWN GIRL, a British civilian pilot named Lulu Davies, is getting ready to head out dancing with her beau, Joe Weber, an American medic paratrooper. She needs his help with a finishing touch…
“Unfortunately,” she said, “this doesn’t solve the dilemma of my stockings.”
From there on the floor Joe had the best view of her legs—swear to God, eight feet long. “You don’t need them. You’ve got great gams.”
“Thank you again,” she said, almost blushing this time. “But you could help me, you know.”
She pulled a tiny stub of kohl pencil from her toiletries bag. “Use this to draw on the seams, like seams on a stocking—well, as close as we can get these days. I can’t draw them straight by myself.”
The erotic and the surreal mashed together. “You want me to draw on your legs?”
“It’s not art. Just two straight lines. Not so challenging if you can keep your hands steady. You can manage that, can’t you, Doc Web?”
“I don’t know.”
“At least you’re honest,” she said with a giggle. “Give it a go. Worst case, I’ll have to wash up again, but I’ll make you help.”
“That’s no incentive.”
“You’re right. Well, then, don’t waste my kohl. This is the last pencil I own. Even if I were rich as Croesus, I doubt I’d be able to replace it.” She arched one of those decadent eyebrows. “You game?”
“Give it to me.”
So in all my research, I think our impressions of wartime fashion have become dramatically influenced by the movies of the era. Not every woman could pull off military-inspired pantsuits and peek-a-book hairdos. Not every woman had the resources. What they did have was ingenuity, a collective spirit of making the best of a bad situation, and a little good old fashioned vanity. They’d look good, darn it! After all, the boys in blue would be coming home any day, and a dame wanted to look her best!
Summer has been a blast! Available now from Pocket Books are three Christ Family [http://carrielofty.com/Books.html] romances. FLAWLESS kicked it off with a tale of an estranged couple’s search for love. The 99¢ tie-in novella, “A LITTLE MORE SCANDAL” follows two aspiring lovers to London. And the Scottish-set second novel, STARLIGHT, was an RT BookReviews 4½ Star Top Pick. “Richly nuanced characters and a superbly realized Victorian setting come together brilliantly.” ~ The Chicago Tribune
I’ve also launched a co-written pseudonym, Katie Porter [http://www.katieporterbooks.com], with my long-time friend and critique partner, Lorelie Brown. Our “Vegas Top Guns” series of contemporary erotic romances launched from Samhain with DOUBLE DOWN and INSIDE BET, both of which were RT BookReviews 4½ Star Top Picks: “This racy, raunchy, hella good read…will move Fifty Shades of Grey to the children’s section of the bookstore.”
Where to find me:
GIVEAWAY ALERT: I’d like to give away a digital copy of HIS VERY OWN GIRL in any format. Just answer: Which fashion icon from the 30s, 40s, or 50s, is your favorite?
Thanks again to Book Binge for featuring His Very Own Girl!
Thanks to Carrie Lofty for joining us here on Book Binge today and for her gracious giveaway. Make sure to get those comments in and good luck! We’ll run the giveaway for a week and announce the winners shortly after, please don’t forget to include a valid email address with your comment.
-Rowena & Holly