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Essay: Influences on fashion from World War I to the late forties

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  • Published: 15 October 2019*
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  • Words: 1,553 (approx)
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  • Tags: Fashion essays

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Fashion has been, and continues to be influenced by everything from the availability of resources to environmental necessity. While being reflective of culture the two play off one another, each impacting  the other.

After World War I, there was a significant social and political change, which lead to the time period called the “Roaring Twenties”. During World War I, there were many restrictions on what Americans could buy. The prices of everyday necessities were exceptionally high and prevented people from buying luxury items. World War I also made a distinct change in fashion. The metal that was used in women’s corsets had to be limited because they needed to use the  metal for the weapons during the war. The limited amount of materials forced fashion to quickly adapt to what is available. Once the war was over in 1918, the materials that were once rationed are now available and affordable. This new found freedom was thought of as a new era for the Americans.

During World War I, War time efforts required the manufacturers to produce clothing more efficiently. The complex dresses that women wore before had to be simplified to reduce the amount of textiles and certain types of fabrics being used. Wool became a valuable material that was reserved for the production of the uniforms for soldiers. Because of the elimination of wool, substitutes had to be created to replace it. Serge fabric was the knock-off of wool to keep people warm during the winter time and cotton fabric was used as a lighter option for the warmer days. Along with the change in fabric, women’s fashion had less detail and embellishments. Instead of pockets being stitched on the interior to be concealed, they were stitched on the outside of women’s skirts and coats. With the absence of corseted dresses, women’s dresses no longer accentuated their waist. These changes in fashion led to women feeling indifferent to men and leaving them feeling like they had no chance to use fashion as way of freedom.

When the war was over, an era called “The Roaring Twenties” began. It was the beginning of a prosperous and free time.  Usually, when a country is no longer in war, the government and citizens in the country do everything they can in order to aid and help improve the economy to get out of war debt. It is the hardest and most frustrating time for the economy. This was not the case for the 1920’s. Although many things were done to recover quickly from the war,  it was easier than ever. People during this time, were never concerned about the sources of money. Instead, people became focused on drinking, parties, music, and fashion.  When World War One ended in 1918, Society has never seen so much life and freedom. The “Flaming Youth”, as they became known, felt that they needed live their life while they have all these freedoms and luxuries, because they had a feeling that this excitement will not last for much longer.

Fashion played one of the biggest parts in this new era. The new trends in fashion were dropped waistlines and lifted hemlines in skirts and dresses. No longer did women try to accentuate their waist, instead they tried to mimic a masculine figure by lowering the waistlines. Most would think that since womens fashion resembled aspects of mens fashion, that they were trying to become more equal to men, but in fact, they were trying to appeal more to men. Coco Chanel was said to have been the one to have redefined what was called “fashionable” when she wore a man’s sweater with no shape. She had no intention of forever changing what fashion is. When women started to rebel against the status quo, fashion changed along with it. Fashion started adapting to the women’s fast pace lifestyle of moving around a lot and going to parties. The material that was being used for clothing became lighter to give the women more flexibility to more around. Women were no longer willing to immobilize themselves by wearing the corsets and crinolines that were accustom for women to wear during the Victorian era. Instead, women wore fashion that was accommodating to them and their needs.

One of the greatest economic downfalls occured in 1929. Beginning on October 24, known as Black Tuesday and continued until October 29, known as Black Thursday, the stock market went through a dramatic crash that started an era known as the Great Depression. Millions of investors panicked as billions of dollars that they invested were lost, causing the stock market to crash leading to an economic disaster. In contrast to the Roaring 20s, which was a time of prosperity and economic glory, October 24 was the day where it all changed. Once again, fashion was affected because of limited amount of resources and limited amount of money able to be spent on the making of clothing.

The Great Depression was not in anyway a short recession. Beginning its crash in 1929, it continued up until the 1940’s. Banks were failing all over the country and left  over fifteen million American unemployed, setting the rate higher than it has ever been before. This tremendous change in the economy impacted all aspects of life and forced unwanted adjustments that people made in order to support themselves. The Stock Market Crash negatively altered the production of clothing and the rate of merchandising. People were no longer focused on how they presented themselves and led to a significant alteration in fashion for the decade ahead. The American lifestyle is no longer dependent on consumerism and this became evident in the economy as well as the fashion industry.

Instead of taking advantage of the materials that were available like in the twenties, people had to think innovatively when it came to fashion in the thirties. Women used their resources wisely and began reusing material to make their own clothing. The fashion industry went through many changes in response to the severe economic hardships occurring. When garments weren’t made at home, they were being mass produced in factories. Factory-made clothing became desired because clothing could be mass produced for a significantly less amount of money than the made-to-order custom clothing.

During this era, many modifications were made in order to make the clothing and accessories that were worn as affordable as possible. Similar to the replacements that were made during World War II, adjustments were also made to details during the Great Depression. Zippers were used instead of buttons as a way save money but still accomplishing the same purpose that buttons had.  Beige and white were the colors that were resorted to in order to save money when producing fabrics. The bright and unique colors that were used for clothes during the twenties became irrelevant and extraneous. In a Winnipeg Free Press fashion catalog, “Brown and White- Unite for Chic”, are the words used to promote the use of brown and white fabrics.

Although purchasing clothing that were made in factories was ideal for some, most found it more inexpensive, efficient, and resourceful to sew their own clothing or to even upcycle existing garments to make new ones. “Repair, reuse, make do, and don’t throw anything away” was a expression that most lived by during era of the Great Depression. When potatoes and flour were delivered in fabric bags, women would use the fabric to make dresses and clothes for her family.

Once the depression was reaching coming to an end, trends were slowly incorporated back towards a more feminine look. Stars in Hollywood became the source of inspiration for women seeking style. Late 1930s fashion was fueled by the glamour of hollywood stars like Margaret Sullivan to Barbara Stanwyck. While fashion was heavily influenced by Hollywood’s glamour, day-wear was still attempting to be practical. Hollywood star, Katharine Hepburn embraced the sportswear look while women like Carole Lombard was known for her glamorous gowns. Hollywood’s influence on fashion made it clear that America was entering a new era of glamour and financial consciousness.

In 1939, World War II began, but fashion still had its place. As America entered the war, fashion responded to the economy similar to how it reacted during the first world war. In the meantime, the dullness and consistency of clothing was inevitable, as people were encouraged to make do with the clothing they already owned and upcycle whatever old pieces they had. Fashion was influenced and changed because of the limitations that were brought by the second world war. Because of the restrictions that were put on materials that were imported, fabric substitutions were popularized. As well as the changes in fashion that were made in World War I, details in fashion were modified to be as cost efficient and simple.

By the late 1940s, designers had grown tired of the uniformity of minimalist clothing during the wartime era. Women were yearning for luxuries that most have not been able to afford since before the Great Depression. Clothing began to be lined with expensive fabrics again, and flashy accessories became must have items that made an outfit complete and fashionable. Although many voiced their opinion on how they feel about women wearing extravagant garments while rationing was still mandated, women throughout the country desired to revitalized femininity.

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