Type: History
Pages: 10 | Words: 2775
Reading Time: 12 Minutes

Fashion is fickle and undergoes changes under the influence of many factors, such as politics, economics, the situation in the country and the world, culture, science, and the development of new technologies. The concept of “fashion” means a process of changes in the style of clothes and a person’s image.

Looking at people’s clothes styles, it is possible to reveal their social status, moral values prevailing in society, and their cultural background. Through fashion, one can reflect on all the achievements of mankind, its progress, and regress. Nobody denies that fashion is more than haute couture and exclusive and expensive clothes. Fashion is the ability to pick up the right style and to put on the clothes that bring pleasure to its owner and people around.

Fashion reflects the spirit of society and is influenced by wars, laws, religion, arts, conquests, and even the changes in the seasons of the year. Some fashion critics affirm that fashion is imposed, irrational, absurd, frivolous, paltry, tyrannical, and even immoral. The opponents of fashion suppose that people who follow fashion are like sheep because they have enough clothes but are always searching for new ones.

Fashion is like art, unusual, eccentric, and beautiful. Indeed, fashion is a decorative or applied art because clothes express the inner world of the personality, his/her style, life experience, status in society, etc. Fashion as art can reflect what people put on at various periods. It decorates a person. Fashion is based on art’s principles: creativity, singularity, and originality.

Some people do not understand art paintings, yet they want to have them at home because they were created by famous artists. These people want to boast before friends. The same is true for fashion because it is difficult to understand. Fashion is indeed a kind of art that reflects creativity, beauty, culture, and life.

Even after World War II, Paris remained the center of high fashion. The rhythmic changes of fashion trends were interrupted by the war. In the war period, fashion development came to a standstill. However, World War II added new motives to the fashion industry and changes in the styles of clothes. Without a doubt, fashion is dynamic, variable, and changeable. It is like a sponge that absorbs all events and reflects them in clothes. Fashion expresses society’s social, economic, political, and cultural spirit.

Concerning British fashion, it is necessary to mention that British people have always looked elegant and conservative, whether in the war or post-war. Their aristocratic and conservative mentality influences their style of clothes. London is still the capital of British fashion. British fashion is the integration of international and British styles. Traditionally, the British style is characterized by smartness and elegance (Mendes 1990).

However, nowadays it is unconventional and combines traditionalism and modern techniques. Moreover, it is a vintage style used now as British stylists suppose that the mix of the old and the new creates a bohemian, unique, and aesthetic fashion. The most famous British designers are Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, etc. Without a doubt, some factors have influenced British fashion. There is a thought that it was the period of World War II that had a great impact on the present fashion.

The Changes in Clothes Brought by World War II

World War II was a cardinal revolution in politics, society, and fashion. The fashion of that time reflected the events happening in the world. World War II was a motive power for future designers and the science of fashion. Fashion was influenced and changed due to many restrictions and limitations imposed by World War II. Fashion influences our entire lifestyle, but at the same time, lifestyle determines trend colors, silhouettes, details, and texture.

World War II was a bombing attack on economics. That is why it was not strange that synthetic fabrics appeared as they were not expensive. There were used “drip-dry”, orlon, and dacron nylon that retained heat-set pleats after washing. It was very convenient as people were busy with rehabilitation after the war. It seemed that fashion was the last thing they were interested in. However, the quick speed of life and intense business incited people to find textiles suitable for use. In 1950, the clothes were made from polyester, acrylic, spandex, and triacetate.

London was bombed by the Germans, who used a gas attack. That is why clothes designers created protection suits made of oiled silk in bright colors. People were afraid, and their only desire was to survive by all means. The Nichols fashionable store in London created such an innovation as a jumpsuit with many pockets that was warm, protective, and comfortable. It was important that people in all branches tried to do their best to defend the country.

Besides, looking at a person’s clothes, it is not difficult to notice what social values prevail in society. If, at the beginning of the 20th century, women wore corsets, long gowns, and skirts, which were more feminine and discreet, World War II completely changed the situation in Great Britain. The image of a woman was cardinally different, and the ideal of a stylish woman faced noticeable metamorphoses seen not only in the clothes but also in moral values. World War II had brought not only damage and death, but the revolution of British fashion as well. It was the birth of a new culture and new fashion trends that took the world by storm.

The changes in clothes seem worth accentuating. Contemporary fashion critics exaggerate that the war has caused the simplification of fashion and lessened the variety of styles. On the contrary, British designers of clothes were very creative. Concerning skirts, their length was different depending on silhouettes and styles. It was not strange that the government regulated British fashion even though fashion in wartime suffered from stagnation in styles. However, Christian Dior and his New Look made the revolution in the post-war time. The gowns of that time were reaching the knee and created a lean and boyish image of a woman.

There was no difference between the breadth of the waist and hips, and breasts were hidden. Shoes were with a strap, high-heeled, and four inches high. Hairstyles were bobbed under the small shallow hats with upturned brims. In 1931, a dress was belted, and skirt length was to the calf, and they were worn with belts. A boned brassiere was created to underline = breasts. The attention was paid to more feminine and natural beauty. At any time, women wanted to be fashionable and have extravagant, optimistic, bold, and stylish clothes.

As to men’s fashion, it was changing very slowly, which was noticeable in the thirties. Suits were pleated, with wide and padded shoulders, and trousers were with cuffs. In the mid-thirties, trousers with cuffs changed into the wide ones with a high waist. Such a style of trousers was popular among young men. British men wore wool sweaters, pullovers, cardigans, suits, vests, and always polished shoes. However, even nowadays it remains the traditional clothes of British men.

Women, as well as men, were conservative and simple. Before the war, women wore nylons, but wartime was hard, and women had to refuse nylons, drawing a line on each leg with their eyebrow pencils to create the vision of nylons. A scarf was also an important accessory for women, which they wore to keep their hair out of their faces. At that time, suits, hats, and sundresses were in fashion.

As to children’s fashion, it is necessary to mention that everyday clothes include T-shirts, coveralls, and plain shoes with very hard toes. Children had special clothes for the Sunday church service and going out.

Looking at the fashion magazine of that time, it is not difficult to admit that today’s British clothes and those of wartime had only some stylistic differences, but they were generally the same. In Britain, people wore special overalls for protection at work.

 In Great Britain, post-World War II fashion was not only dictated by famous designers but also by film stars. Their bright styles influenced the development of new fashion trends. At that time, such adjectives describing clothes were used as “glamorous”, “striking”, “and dramatic”. However, post-war time was a difficult time for the British nation. That is why only the middle class could afford new fashionable clothes and copy the expensive styles of famous stars.

In conclusion, it is necessary to admit that the changes in clothes brought by World War II were visible. The accessories used in wartime, such as military-style jackets with belts and large side pockets, are spread in today’s fashion. Regarding military colors, one should say that grey and khaki are always in trend. Indeed, if one studies the history of fashion, one may notice the great impact of war on clothes (ex., roomy jackets, hip-length battle jackets, trench coats, etc.). Despite any social problems, fashion has never stopped and continued to develop under the influence of military, political, economic, and cultural situations in Great Britain.

British Governmental Restrictions on Fashion

As pointed out, World War II was not new for British women (like in World War I). They had to work at plants and factories while men were battling. Uniforms for women were similar to the men’s. Women wore trousers as their work became harder and the work conditions were difficult. Norfolk jackets created for men were tailored for women. There were no social limits for women like during World War I when women had worn long skirts. At the beginning of World War II, women’s wartime uniforms were adapted and more comfortable because women wore trousers or shorter skirts instead of long skirts.

Before England declared war on Germany, the British government had been preparing for the upcoming problems and shortages the country might face during the conflict. The British government passed bills that limited fabric usage and rationed clothing items to save wool and silk used for making uniforms and parachutes. Ordinary people could not buy high-quality clothes and shoes. Indeed, the government set very tight and severe limits on buying clothes and shoes.

The British Board of Trade introduced the Utility Scheme in 1941, which regulated the quality and costs of fabric in England. The government planned to stop changes in fashion to keep clothes stylish for a long time and save clothes for sewing military uniforms. The most successful British countries joined the Society of London Fashion Designers. The head of this Society was Edward Molyneux, who advocated for designing elegant clothes.

The British Utility Scheme imposed restrictions on men’s clothes that nowadays seem ridiculous and funny. The trouser openings were 19 inches, and the pleats and cuffs were forbidden for cloth saving. Trousers were made of wool, i.e., the less quality fabric combined with synthetics. Even the colors of trousers were defined by the British government. These were such colors as black, navy, and brown. Double-breasted coats were not permitted, and collar widths were also regulated. There were imposed restrictions on the number of buttons and pockets on garments. Everything demanding additional cost was banned.

Governmental restrictions affected British men as well as women. They were not allowed to wear jackets with double-thick cloth, and the number of pleats on a skirt was also limited. For making skirts, one could use only 2.5 yards of cloth, and hems were two inches.

In terms of shoes, those were wedgies on wooden soles used to save leather. Silk was limited, so women’s silk stockings were forbidden. Soon, nylon hosiery disappeared for economic reasons. Moreover, zippers on both men’s and women’s clothes were banned.

The government tried to reduce fabrics and furniture to a minimum and control the smartness of people, making them pay for clothes with coupons. It was ridiculous, yet people could not get these coupons for clothes as a double-breasted coat cost 16 coupons, a man’s suit cost 26 coupons, a hanky cost 1 coupon, and a woolen dress was 14 coupons. One could get supplemental coupons if he/she got married or had a baby. Unbelievably, one got parachute silk to make a dress or underwear. In 1941, each British man or woman got 66 clothes coupons, which was soon reduced to 48. Such tight governmental limits made British people care for their clothes, mend them and even alter the old ones.

All people were given a special clothing book containing coupons for different colors. Every item of clothing was valued in coupons, and people gave their clothing books to a shopkeeper to buy anything. A person cut out one of the coupons and received money for the purchase. This pay system gave the possibility to buy clothes one time per year. The British government gave the book with coupons. It was a form of total control from the government because coupons were of different colors to not allow people to use them all at once. Moreover, the government decided when it was necessary to use another coupon.

Even the government tried to slow down the development of fashion, control the costs of clothes, and restrict the innovation of style. The British government intended to be the only power force in any change, as changes in clothes and styles meant changes in people’s minds and lives. Fashion meant freedom and independence from stereotypic and conservative views. However, the British government wanted to choose everybody with its politics.

 “Make Do and Mend” Campaign

Clothes rationing was included in the war effort, make-do-and-mend action, and rationing books. It was popular in 1940. The sudden outburst of World War II forced the British government to start a severe rationing program that changed the lives of all people. Britain suffered from the war and was weak in economics. As a result, the imports were reduced and the recourses of fabrics were shortened.

World War II demanded the nation’s costs and forces, which is why women had to work hard. The class difference was almost unnoticeable, and even people from high society were compelled to dig beds, no matter how strange. The black-and-white pages of Vogue showed how Lady Diana Cooper fed the pigs.

Due to restrictions and limitations on clothes, the government introduced the campaign “Make-do-and-Mend” to encourage the British people to make clothes from old ones instead of getting new ones. Oliver Lyttleton proved that when you are tired of your old clothes, remember that by making them, you contribute some part of an airplane, a gun or a tank.

The government organized the distribution of posters and leaflets with thoughts, ideas, and advice on how to make the new clothes. The government created evening classes that taught people to make new clothes out of the old ones and not to throw them out with the purpose of economy. C.Sladen proved that women were spending more time on repairs, alterations, generally making do, and visiting more jumble sales and clothing exchanges than pre-war; they also expected, once the war was over, to dress more simply and buy for quality rather than for show.

Indeed, the war provoked a lack of fabrics and clothes. That is why prices were high, and all the fabrics were used for making uniforms and parachutes. At first, clothes rationing was presented in 1941. “Make-Do-and-Mend” was the wartime slogan that stimulated people not to waste old clothes. It was a very good idea from the government’s side to make people reuse old clothes, curtains, furnishing fabrics, blankets, and shoes that were sometimes available to sew coats from old blankets, children’s clothes from pillowcases, and paint the soles of shoes with varnish. One more lesson given at such classes was how to knit.

The women were busy knitting socks, gloves, scarves, cardigans, and pullovers knitted with crepe and wool and were very fashionable in the 1940s. However, crepe and wool were inaccessible to poor women. It was very hard to knit a cardigan as being very persistent and patient was necessary. Women also unraveled and re-knitted old jumpers to create more necessary things. Adornments and trims were used very rarely. Women were forced to recycle even cellophanes, pipe cleaners, and household items during holidays to create a festive atmosphere.

Young people always found time to go to movies and dances and used accessories like plastic box bags, clutch bags, and jersey gloves. Young people did their best to look fashionable. Therefore, they wore scarves and gloves to brighten their image.

Nowadays, these wartime problems with clothes may seem funny and ridiculous. However, they were a hard and strict experiment for the British people. Moreover, these rationing and “Make-do-and-mend” campaigns were powerful forces that stimulated people to do everything by themselves and not be afraid of reusing and mending.

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