Your Guide to 1940s Revival Fashion

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Tailoring was economical out of necessity, but 1940s silhouettes became iconic and gave women a freedom they hadn’t had before. Darts at the waist, narrow skirts ended just below the knee and short sleeves replaced longer ones. Silk, used for parachutes, was prohibited from being used in tailoring, and shoes had a maximum heel of two inches.

In 1941, the Chamber of Commerce introduced the CC41 label, which stands for Controlled Merchandise (more commonly known as Civilian Clothing), a government-controlled brand of utility clothing in a limited range of garments, styles and fabrics most often in cotton or wool. The government was convinced that fashion could help win the war and brought in top fashion designers to design a range of prototypes which were a huge hit and were even featured in vogue. Couture designers have followed suit, also adhering to CC41 codes.

Although these measures helped, they were not enough. In 1943, the Chamber of Commerce launched its Make-Do-and-Mend campaign. People were encouraged to get creative and make clothes last longer by mending, altering, knitting, and creating new pieces with old materials. Wedding dresses were made from parachute silk, bridesmaid dresses from curtains, and children’s coats from old blankets. In the Imperial War Museumthere’s even a bra and panty set made from RAF silk cards for the Countess Mountbatten.

While it’s easy to say the decade split neatly in half, with fuller silhouettes becoming popular in the second half of the decade, it wasn’t until Dior’s New Look of 1947 that fashion took off. saw an overtly feminine bell-shaped skirt flare out from a tightly cinched waist, which celebrated romantic styles of the past. “People were very excited about this flamboyant New Look which celebrated the end of austerities,” says Sue O’Donoghue, curator of theaters and costumes at Goodwood. But it was a silhouette that corseted women after a decade of relative freedom, in their family life, their professional life as well as their clothing choices.

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