War and Dress: Couture Austerity

As women in Britain displayed their mandatory utility garments, not by choice but by government requirements, women in the United States wore similarly styled clothing. Bothe designs incorporated the austerity nature of dress popular during this period of conflict.

Gilbert Adrian, a famous American designer, first introduced the Victory Suit concept in the 1930's when dressing Joan Crawford for her independent nature. This popular tailored silhouette, with broad shoulders, a nipped in waist, and narrow lines, suited war time restrictions. Very minimal in style, the Victory Suit, used button closures at the waist, modified pockets, limited cuffs, and, if present, a little collar of lapel detail. Jackets differed in length but usually did not extend beyond the torso.

Lasell Fashion CollectionSince wool was controlled during the 1940's, suits were made of a thick and heavy rayon material or synthetic jersey. Because the British were faced with a more difficult time and there were greater restriction, utility dresses outnumbered suits as they used less fabric. In addition fashion designers were sponsored by the government to create enticing utility lines.

Looking and feeling drab wasn't an option in Britain during the war as spirits needed to stay lifted in order to support the troops who were fighting for freedom. A whimsical way to revamp clothing from previous years was featured in magazines and additional print materials. Articles provided do-it-yourself tips such as altering a men's suit into women's wear by reconstructing silhouettes, adding pleats, and creating designs that even would appeal to high society.

In London, fashion designers such as Captain Molyneux, Hardy Aimes, Norman Hartnell, Digby Morton, and Bianca Mosca created collections based on four basic styles, which included coats, dresses, suits, and blouses. Finally, Berketex a British clothing firm, hired Hartnell; soon his utility suits and dresses became a necessity for society. Having designers create top of the line utility wear lightened the mood, while maintaining strict military regulations. These stylish and streamline garments integrated designer names into fashion labels and created a sense of couture for everyday attire. Along with the garment, each designer gave an authentic signature to the piece raising its value even more, making 1940's vintage a current commodity.

Fashion Collection at Lasell College

  • Fashion Collection at Lasell College
  • Fashion Collection at Lasell College
  • Fashion Collection at Lasell College

Faculty Profile

Anne Bernays TrevenenAssistant Professor of FashionAnne Trevenen  

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