Posted by Edelweiss Patterns on June 16, 2012
In recent weeks I have been feeling very inspired by the 1940s, and I am toying with the idea of making a WWII era outfit for the Fourth of July. While I love the big, pouffy skirts of the 1950s so much more than the tailored look from a decade before, there is still something very special about the years when America pulled together to win the war, even if it did relegate fashion to the proverbial floursack.
There was something so timeless and poignant about the way our nation sacrificed personal dreams and goals to ensure our freedoms would continue for generations. While we may be many years removed from WWII, we can still connect with the feelings of the men and women who waved goodbye so that the family life they had known would go on. For some reason WWII is really the only war of American history that I feel I can connect with in this way. Perhaps it is the fact that we have so much of that grand swing era on film, or perhaps it’s because our own grandparents lived through those years and have the stories to prove it. Was it the genuinely family-centered environment that makes us yearn to have lived in the “good old days”, or is it those charming images of soda fountains and swings dances that evokes a sense of compassion for the boys who fought in WWII (and their sweethearts back home)? Whatever it is, I can’t help but feel that the sacrifices they made should not be forgotten, nor should the principles they died to defend be tossed out the window or erased from our government’s laws.
Fashion on Ration!
Of all the fashion items that girls had to part with during WWII, I think silk and nylon stockings were the hardest! Women had become inseparably attached to them in the 1930s when those shorter skirts (compared to earlier decades), necessitated finely made stockings. One article published in 1941 reported that stockings were “the American women’s most characteristic article of clothing”, and went on to claim that they were “consumed at an annual rate of 47,000,000 dozen pairs“.
So when all nylon and silk was designated strictly for the war effort by the War Production Board, what was a girl to do? Out of sheer necessity ladies took to either wearing cotton stockings, using eyeliner to draw on the supposed stocking “seams” up the back, or going without “pantyhose” at all!
There are many articles about how 1940s fashion meant short straight skirts, tailored jackets, and recycled wedding dresses, but I wanted to share some pictures from this remarkable era that you aren’t likely to have seen anywhere else. The reason for this is because many of them come from old magazines in my collection or from my grandparents’ photo albums! I’m sure if each of us were to search through the family album archives we would all run into at least as many wonderful pictures!
A 1940s Couple
This photograph shows my paternal great-grandparents in the early 1940s. Her outfit is rather typical of the era, with wide-legged trousers and a button down blouse, but the overall appearance is anything but plain thanks to her fabulous curly hairdo! Her name was Margaret Abrahamson, and I think she looked like such a sweet girl! Unfortunately I never got to find out for sure because she died while giving birth to her third child, but at least we still have pictures of them.
Here’s another photo of the Abrahamsons, and I wish I could have seen what color of velvet trimmed her tweed overcoat! My guess is that is was chocolate brown velvet on tan wool tweed, but I could be vastly mistaken. This was one man who never got drafted for the war for some reason, maybe because he would have been in college at the time?
Switching to the other side of my family, we see the fashions of a rural Tennessee family in 1941.
The above photograph is not the best quality, but I wanted to share it anyhow. My paternal grandfather was just a little boy in this picture, but grew to be a rather salty character in his teenage years and beyond! By the time I knew him he was the kindest grandpa anyone could wish for, but boy did he have the stories to tell! Looking at this photograph, I’m wondering if they had just been to a wedding since five of them have floral corsages.
In this picture his two teenage sister were wearing highly fashionable 1940s suits and sporting bouffant hairstyles. Barbara (on the far left) is apparently the oldest as she has graduated into pumps, whereas her sister Jean is still wearing ankle-high socks and Mary Jane flats.
I think this is such a charming vintage photo! Not only does it showcase the conservative fashions so typical of their day, it also highlights a wide variety of 1940s hairstyles. I love the big sausage rolls on the girl’s hair in the middle.
While the styles worn in the 1940s would probably not have been women’s first choice, it did serve a useful purpose in budgeting America’s resources. Nor were the fashions without good memories! From the wartime wardrobes of the Andrews Sisters to the sweetheart-necked wedding dresses of World War II brides, the otherwise plain styles were immortalized by the events surrounding their heyday.
Women and Children First
And if there was one thing that kept the men on the battlefield fighting, it was the thought of the women and children back home. Pictures of mothers with their babies were widely publicized on war posters, and I found a couple similar pictures from old magazines I have.
The WWII Heroes
And thanks to the sacrifices that the soldiers and their families made, America as they knew it was able to continue.
I think of the young man who was engaged to marry my mother’s grandmother. He went off to war – and never came back. Countless thousands of America’s finest never had families of their own, so that those who remained might live in freedom.
Sometimes when I think back to that era, it saddens me to see how far America has fallen. Back in the 1940s (according to those who lived back then), small-town America was a place where you could leave your doors unlocked and let your children play outside by themselves without fear of their getting abducted. Most young girls were protected by their daddies from any “bad guys” and were rarely left in dangerous situations. Back then girls were ladies and boys were men, and they both seemed to enjoy their roles while dressing the part.
Those were the days when the prospect of having a baby was anticipated with glee and ecstasy, and when you didn’t have to monitor what came across the airwaves when your children were around. Yes, those were the days when young girls waited four or five years for their fiancees to return home from war without running off with another boyfriend. Heeding the words of the classic song “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree with Anyone Else But Me“, these girls promised their future husbands to wait till their safe return to get married, and they meant it! Long before the days of Skyping your loved ones overseas, they spent their days working, saving, and writing letters to their men on the battlelines while praying for their safe return. And when at last they did return, many of these girls were in their late twenties, but couldn’t have been happier when the soldiers came marching back to town!
And when their children were grown in the 1960s and after, those kids seemed to forget all the sacrifices their parents had made for the future generations, nevermind all the boys who never came home from war! In today’s society where “old” people are locked away in retirement homes and little children are hurried off to daycare, America seems to have no respect for the values this country has always stood for. Today, more American lives have been lost through babies being “disposed of” in the last fifty years than all the men who ever died in all of America’s battles put together. Unthinkably, more American women and children are currently being “trafficked” right now than the number of slaves at the time of the Civil War.
The most basic American ideals – faith in God, love of family, and loyalty to country – have been written off as old-fashioned ideas not “relevant” to this culture where the family model has virtually been torn apart. Looking at where we are today, I hate to think where we will be in twenty years from now.
Call me old-fashioned if you like, but to me the 1940s means more than just a fashion decade or Hollywood movie. It stands for an America that loved truth, righteousness, purity, and justice, that had compassion on the hurting and valued life even at its youngest stage. In the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If My people, who are called by My Name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My Face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. ” Our only hope lies in returning to the God who made this nation great, for only then will we see the culture turn around for the better. Will you join me in praying for this?
God bless America!