The early 1940s were dominated by WWII. ‘Making do’ with old clothes was necessary as rationing only allowed for a certain number of clothing purchases per year. The uniform played an important part in 1940s attire for many women as they went out to work for the first time, some in auxiliary army units, some in factories, and many more in various other occupations once filled by men. Uniform styles spilled over into everyday wear, with boxy jackets and skirts in simple designs becoming everyday attire. Skirt hemlines moved up to rest at mid calf again, largely as a result of fabric shortages. Natural fibres still reigned supreme, while nylon, acetate and rayon were also used. Excess decoration was minimal during the 1940s, and as a reaction, individualised hats became very popular.
WWII ended with a dramatic change in clothing style, as had WWI. This time, however, women were tired of dressing in a ‘mannish’ fashion and wanted to return to femininity, unlike the post-WWI flappers who had chosen a dramatically boyish style. Christian Dior’s ‘New Look’ of 1947 took the United States and Europe by storm with its return to a feminine, narrow-waisted look, reflecting a desire to escape the serviceable styles that had lingered for years. In New Zealand, however, supplies of fabric were still very limited and extravagant outfits were not an option for much of the population. In 1949, New Zealand women’s clothing was described as ‘dreary, monotonous and at times verging on dull mediocrity’ to the outrage of many women, starved of inspiration from overseas.
The garments included as highlights of the 1940s collection show that although ‘making do’, local women were still showing some flair with their clothing.
Click on the dresses for larger images and information
Nurses Cape Evening Gown Wedding Gown Evening Gown & Jacket
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