The Second World War had been underway four months as the new decade began. For the first 8 months it was referred to as the phoney War as there was limited military action. However, the effect on fashion was to stop it in it’s tracks. The 1930’s surge in knitting and crochet halted and the frilly pompoms and bows were replaced by much more severe and practical designs. The effects on fashion design were felt from a number of areas. The invasion of Paris by the Nazis in June 1940 tightly controlled the remaining fashion houses from which the rest of the world took inspiration. Other designers had fled France prior to the start of the war. In the US Public Law 85 defined what materials designers could use, as more plentiful materials were reserved for the war effort in Europe via the Lease Lend arrangements. Silk for civilian use was banned in 1941, as it was required for the manufacture of parachutes.
But the biggest effect on fashion came in June 1941 with the introduction of clothes rationing in Britain. This led to the storage of formal gowns and dresses or even recycling them into more useful everyday wear. Practical clothing such as sweaters and slacks or a kind of jump suit became the norm. The pressure to dress up was removed much to the relief of less well off ladies who now found themselves fitting in to a more utilitarian society. Clothing for work, such as overalls, attracted more ration points and so coveralls became popular not only in the workplace but socially also. Maternity wear was not covered by ration points so conventional clothes had to be adapted for pregnancy.
As women increasingly joined the war effort fashion followed, with sweaters and jackets being padded and squared at the shoulders reflecting their male counterparts. Skirts were replaced by trousers, and when worn, hem lines were just below the knee. Practicality was the order of the day and a scarf tied around the head, turban style or a knitted snood kept hair secure during working hours. The sweater was little changed for the duration of the war and was worn outside of slacks with a squared off neckline and long sleeves. Gone were the pleats and bows of the ’30’s and the only concession to style was perhaps a small button down collar.