The war years also had a major impact on menswear during the 40’s with rationing enforcing restrictions on materials that could be used for clothing. For those men returning to manual work after the war utilising ex Ministry of Defence clothing which was hard wearing, warm, comfortable and available was very popular. So thick wool ex army coats, wool navy pea coats, naval duffle coats, leather jerkins, donkey jackets, and army trousers commonly known collectively as workwear appeared on construction sites and in factories across the country. The standard issue de mob suit, was a pin stripe, double breasted wool suit which was the often the only suit men possessed after leaving the army. Rationing of cloth had caused the disappearance of the waistcoat.
A more superior suit was being manufactured in the mid 1940’s by high street tailors such as Montague Burton, still producing menswear today. After the end of rationing Montague Burton re introduced the three piece suit known as the ” full Monty ” an expression still used today to describe a full collection of something. The first major influence on fashion in the Uk from the black culture came with the arrival of the ex troop ship Empire Windrush in the late 1940’s bringing a West Indian workforce to these shores. Their smartly tailored and bright clothing, including the influence of zoot suits, colourful wide ties and the inevitable trilby brought a welcome new look following the austere war years.
The war years meant that many clothing materials like silk and wool were in short supply which is why many clothes from this period are manufactured in man made materials such as Rayon and synthetic jersey. Hand knit wool jumpers were often made from reclaiming the wool from other jumpers and re styling them it really was the period of make do and mend. However, the tailoring during the war years was magnificent – every garment was designed and manufactured to last several seasons. Even after the war fashion was slow to develop as rationing was still in place it wasn’t until 1947 with the launch of Christian Dior’s new look range that changed forties fashion dramatically.
The overall female silhouette changed during the Second World War and became vertically exaggerated as women wore their hair piled high and adopted platform shoes. The lengthening of the silhouette was further emphasised by the narrowness of the skirts and box shape of their jackets.
The ladies suit was a popular item but the design and construction still reflected the shortage of materials monochrome colours were often used to reduce wastage, and jackets were often unlined. Sharp edged shoulder pads and a boxy shape were fashionable styles for Bolero jackets which were kept short to save on materials, even the number of buttons were kept to a minimum, three or less and covered in the same material as the jacket. Skirts again, reflected a need to minimise on materials, tailored and narrow over the hips, they often had a front and back pleat to save on material as the the decade progressed tiny kick pleats were introduced to soften the straight skirt. By way of controlling the use of materials during the austere period the Board of Trade worked with several leading designers, including Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies to design a range of 34 Utility outfits each of which adhered to the strict use of materials and was identified with a CC41 label. Although materials for this range were limited each garment was beautifully manufactured and designed to last. For day wear dresses sported military belt detailing sometimes with a detachable top which could be combined with another skirt, sharply cut little black dresses were sometimes decorated with white collars and cuffs. Fly front button through dresses could be worn on their own or open as a coat over another dress for a more versatile look.
As in the twenties the shorter skirt showed more leg but with silk and nylon in short supply stockings became a luxury item and so women would improvise by colouring their legs with cocoa or gravy and draw on a back seam.
As women became used to wearing trousers at work this led to the acceptance of wearing tailored slacks outside of work.
Rayon print dresses were popular for day wear often from colourful prints as were the jersey shift dress introduced by American designers. Blouses with pussy cat bows became the latest design feature. Fur was still popular for jackets, hats, mufflers, boleros and stoles.
Headwear would have often been made at home and scarves would have doubled up as turbans, this look was often adopted by the land army and factory girls to control their hair whilst working. Scraps of materials were used to create miniature doll like hats which were perched on the head, feathered headbands, hairnets and snoods were all fashioned into hats and decorated with motifs. The pill box shape hat was a fashionable style of the time.
In 1947 when Christian Dior’s New Look burst onto the scene fashion once again began to take on a more glamorous look. Embroidered and sequinned Evening wear took on a softer more feminine feel, evening gowns showed a much tinier waist and more flounce. The sloping shoulders and deep plunging necklines showed off the rounded female body once again and the war time silhouette had gone for good.