Pretty and Patriotic

Jennifer M. Mower, Elaine L. Pedersen
2013 Dress  
approved: ______________________________________________________________ Elaine L. Pedersen The War Production Board issued limitation order 85 in April 1942 in order to conserve fabric and manpower needed for the war effort. The L-85 order froze the silhouette so no major style changes in women's wear would occur during the war. It is clear that on the one hand the United States government hoped to curb, at least temporarily, the purchase of apparel and other goods to help support the war
more » ... t by restricting those materials needed for the war; on the other hand, the apparel industry was one of the leading consumer industries in the United States and putting it on hold was not only impractical but could potentially be harmful to the domestic economy. The United States apparel industry even marketed goods as patriotic to stimulate, not curb, consumer spending. This creates something of a dilemma. What we do not know is how consumers of women's apparel felt about the regulated apparel styles. The purpose of this research is to examine how female consumers of women's apparel were influenced by the federal regulations of women's apparel and adornment during World War II. To learn how wartime affected women's purchase and use of apparel styles, patterns, and fabric, I asked thirty women who were at least 13 years old in 1941 about their purchase of these items and to discuss their feelings about the government regulation of dress and adornment under the limitation orders. Extant wartime garments were also examined to evaluate their adherence to the order. This sample of thirty women were not explicitly aware of the federal limitation orders on apparel. However, some remembered that wartime apparel styles were shorter and plainer than pre-war styles, and that there was a drastic change in styles after the war. Like many women during this time, many respondents made or their mothers made many of their clothes, and apparel purchases were generally fewer in number and often memorable. Memorable purchases related to changes in the body due to a pregnancy, a special occasion like a wedding, a dance or Easter, purchased for a new job, made while traveling or purchased with wages earned during a summer job. As indicated during their interviews, their purchase and use of apparel appeared to be more influenced by the prewar economy, their age, their or their parents income, and whether they worked, went to school, raised children or a combination of these factors. This study makes it clear that not all consumers were aware of the L-85 orders, and as illustrated by the extant garments examined for this study, the orders weren't that limiting. Extant garments had style details like raglan and leg-of-mutton sleeves, allover pleats, pin tucks, wide pant legs, French cuffs, wide sweeps to name a few of the details that either stretched the limits of the L-85 order or outright violated it.
doi:10.1179/0361211213z.0000000010 fatcat:mqehqgtg2jbl7disjaen2gjsea