The victory suit of modern day

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With World War II ultimately characterising much of the 1940s, at least from 1939 to 1945, Britain sought to fit around the needs of wartime, and thus the various rationing of food and materials.1940s fashion was characterised by scarcity, practicality and ingenuity. Unadorned styles, formed from rationed fabrics, and often older pieces from one’s wardrobe, created elegant and clean outfits that still inspire today’s fashion.

You might think that, considering its nonessential status, fashion took the biggest hit but rather the opposite happened.

The CC41 scheme was introduced in late-1941 by the Board of Trade, in a bid to improve the quality and affordability of war-time clothing. Clothing was now to be produced according to guidelines, which respected the frugality of the times, and the collective responsibility of all the nation for the war effort. Whilst the scheme wasn’t exclusive to clothing, it did indicate a huge shift in how clothing designs were to be approached and applied.

By 1942, guidelines stated that dresses ought to be simplified, in their number of buttons, seams and pleats etc. The moto of ‘Make do and Mend’ encapsulated the period, and inspired women across the country, many of whom were competent with a needle and thread, to make the best out of what they had available.

Thus, fashion did not meet its standardised end at the onset of war, but rather formed an entirely new style in its own right, one which we still see echoes of today.

1940s fashion was characterised by scarcity, practicality and ingenuity

Women for the first time were taking up positions all over the workplace, and they needed clothes that would enable their performance. The styles were structured and simple, with strong military influences. Think strong shoulders, and clean silhouettes. Skirts were shortened from the preceding ankle length versions, and shorter sleeves were introduced.

Many styles from this wartime period are still employed in fashion today. Think Hollywood starlet, and fashion rebel, Katharine Hepburn, and her iconic insistence on wearing slacks and suit trousers. This style became part of many women’s work uniforms, slowly creeping into their leisure time fashion. There are many Instagram influencers today who nonchalantly style them without a second thought. Hepburn’s insistence on wearing clothing in which she felt most comfortable, paved the way for a generation of women also able to express their style through androgynous clothing.

Midi skirts have made a resurgence as of late. They are reminiscent of a period where skirts were being shortened to knee length in a bid to use less fabric in dress designs. During the War, skirts often sinched at the waist to create an hourglass silhouette, whilst today they can often sit lower on the waist for more of a 90s look.

Focusing on a few simple pieces and styling them effectively

Still, the slightly modest length by our standards, was entirely new (and initially daring!) for the women adjusting to rationed clothing. The 1940s shirtwaist dress, or the tea dress, is another style that is yet to go out of fashion today. The dress buttoned up at the top, went in at the waist, and featured a knee length skirt. Simplistic, feminine and incredibly complimentary on all body types, it is not a surprise that women still pull them out in summertime today. Another modern similarity to 1940s fashions is the simplicity and minimalistic look of today’s designs. Examples like the ‘clean-girl’ aesthetic, and timeless capsule wardrobes donned by influencers such as Matilda Djerf exemplify this. Whilst the minimal designs of the 1940s were created out of a need for frugality, there is much to be said in favour of focusing on a few simple pieces and styling them effectively.

Amidst a period of deep struggle and loss, British women’s fashion did not suffer. It is a testament to the ingenuity of the women of the time. Not only did they maintain the war effort back home, but they did so with pride in their appearance. So much so, that we still sport some of their looks today. Can we please bring back the victory suit?

Illustrations:

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