World War II impacted virtually every aspect of American life and fashion was no exception. In 1942, the United States imposed a rationing system similar to the one Great Britain had implemented the previous year, limiting, among other things, the amount of fabric that could be used in a single garment. Materials including wool, silk, leather and a fledgling DuPont Corp. invention called nylon were diverted for use in uniforms, parachutes, shoelaces and even bomber noses.
Jackets could be no more than 25 inches in length, pants no more than 19 inches in circumference at the hem, belts no more than two inches wide and heels no more than an inch in height. Hemlines rose to the knee in an effort to conserve fabric. Buttons, cuffs, pockets and decorative details like ruffles and lace were used sparingly. Women wore shorter, boxy jackets for a V-shaped silhouette reminiscent of military uniforms. Even Hollywood traded elaborate costumes for simplified designs, a move many claimed lent movies a new air of realism.
As soon as it was introduced in 1938, women embraced synthetic nylon as a replacement for silk stockings. In the early 1940s, however, with silk already diverted to the war effort, the government recognized similar uses for nylon and commandeered it as well. Women responded by coating their legs in tan makeup and drawing lines up the backs of their calves to mimic seams. By the time the war ended and stockings returned to store shelves, nylon had become a generic term for hosiery.
The swing skirt had a round cut designed to look best in full jitterbug twirl. Swing skirts were a common sight on USO dance floors as young women danced with uniformed men to the jazzy horns that characterized the Big Band Era. Housewives were known to wear a more conservative version of the swing dress, sometimes in polka-dot or tiny floral prints.
Hats became one of the few ways to express individual style with minimal resources. They were worn in a wide range of styles and personalized with scraps of foil, sequins, netting, paper and string.
Hair and makeup:
Hairstyles became more elaborate as women sought ways to contrast their dull wardrobes. Shoulder length or longer hair was rolled into complex shapes and secured with bobby pins. Screen sirens like Lauren Bacall, Veronica Lake and Rita Hayworth popularized side parts and finger waves. Makeup was dramatic, characterized by matte foundation, powder, heavy brows and bright scarlet lips.
The wartime shortage of leather and steel forced shoe designers to get more creative and, as a result, shoes were cobbled from materials ranging from crocodile hide to cork. Shoes were more utilitarian than stylish, with low heels and limited color choices. By the mid to late 1940s, platform pumps with high heels in T-straps, ankle straps or open toes had replaced the dowdy wedgie with its flat shape and thick cork soles.
Menswear as womens wear:
A number of men may have …