The Fashion of War
The mark bellicosity put on clothing
(War creatures, great and small [I])
The wars that our parents and grandparents fought and died for in the last century drastically changed the people’s minds and views in regards to many aspects, from creating special rules for the conduct of war to reaching goals through peaceful means rather than through the barrel of a gun. War not only affected the economies of the world, but also the wardrobe of the people, changing the clothing industry in a blink of an eye, causing uproars that led to the modern fashion of clothing.
With men being sent on the front lines, fighting and risking their lives for their loved ones and country, the women that were left behind needed to take up their places in the work industry, in order to ensure that the state won’t fall victim to lack of resources and plummeting economy. But this required drastic changes in the conservative appeal and look of women’s clothing, since now they will need to do the “men’s job” and get their hands dirty.
This was a time when females threw away their body-forming corsets, their luxurious dresses and eye-catching accessories, and replaced them for bosom-supporting bras, comfortable pants and protective gear.
Discarding the tight corsets was mainly due to lack of steel, one of the main resources for battle. According to NPR reports, the so-called “War Industries Board’s corset ban” managed not only to make women breathe easier, but also collect the materials used for the making of the corset, which are roughly estimated to be around 28,000 pounds of steel (or 12,700 kilograms)! With this much material, the military could allegedly build two battleships.
Dresses were replaced by more modern everyday clothing attire, simply due to lack of fabric, which was needed for war. Women also needed to undertake demanding jobs like mechanics, drivers, telephone operators, and so on, and help as much as they could in the battlefield – or behind its lines, as nurses and switchboard operators, which couldn’t have been done in dresses nor corsets.
Bathing suits for women became quite the scandal during the 1940s. With the abovementioned restrictions for fabrics, many designers took advantage of this rationing during WWII and created the two-piece bathing suit – the bikini, or as the French say it – le bikini. Louis Reard, although not the founder, remained in history as the Frenchman that popularized the bikini due to his outrageous choice of model – the former nude dancer for Casino de Paris, Micheline Bernardini (simply because no respecting French runaway model would show herself in it)!
With the World Wars taking place, the creativity of the fashion industry knew no bounds, even though at that time it was at the blink of ruin. The industry managed to take over the market while also obeying the strict restrictions, and create diverse attires with the limited amount and range of fabric available. While many clothing brands were struggling during the war, the Capital of fashion, Paris, was flourishing during the years of intense global battle.
Coco Chanel, lover of Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage and accused of helping the Nazi, was able to live in luxury in hotel Ritz. Her fame was born during the flames of the war, for she drastically changed the fashion industry for women, heavily inspired by the men’s wardrobe, thus focusing on creating clothing that shows elegance.
Louis Vuitton benefited most from the war, for it was the only fashion designer and producer which was able to keep its stores open and even increase their numbers. The brand flourished due to the aid to the Germans during the war, being able to also run a store in the same building where the government was meeting.
But what about the German fashion at the time? It is no wonder that due to the catastrophic effects the Nazi had on the world, the mere mention of them can be considered as a taboo. But there is one thing we can all silently agree on, the Nazi uniforms, more specifically the SS uniforms, were dreadfully iconic, both then and now. With their threatening aura and deep black colour, these uniforms still bring fear into the hearts of people. These “suits of death” were manufactured by Hugo Boss, but designed by the relatively unknown Nazi sympathiser and later on SS officer – Karl Diebitsch, with the help of Walter Heck. Nazi “fashion” remains a popular trait in today’s cinema, being portrayed as the villains clothing. A popular example are the Star Wars movies, with the Imperial officers’ uniforms and Darth Vader’s helmet having close resemblance to the Nazi members during WWII.
Trends are caused by specific events that trigger a chain-reaction onto people, causing them to act or look in a specific way. With Hitler being a big follower of the Aryan ideals, he believed that a “a pure, un-scrubbed face” was the ideal and he heavily disliked red lipstick in particular. This gave the Allied countries an idea – they enforced red lipstick, and embedded in the people’s minds that it represented women’s strength and their opposition towards fascism. The British began a propaganda campaign under the slogan “Beauty is your duty”, whereas in the US, it (red lipstick) became mandatory for military women.
Fashion isn’t a mere industry that simply produces, it curves and morphs into what is wanted by the wearers, while also making a statement for its time. From dresses that hugged and put emphasis on feminine features to uniforms that incorporated pure evil and fear, fashion has followed the history of people and adapted itself to it, in a way that impacts us and yet remains hidden from our eyes. For fashion is merely a costume worn on the stage of life, with the people playing the events of the current times.
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