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FASHION: Forties flair was pure ingenuity.

BRITAIN had been at war for five long years and rationing was a way of life. But that didn't stop the women of 1944 pulling out all the stops to look chic and stylish.

As the 60th anniversary of D Day approaches, KAREN HAMBRIDGE revisits 1940s fashion.

FOR friends Lucky Lewis and Betty Goodenough, it was a time of austerity and sacrifice when make-do and mend were the watchwords of the day.

Glamorous images of Hollywood sirens such as Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable and Ingrid Bergman graced the silver screen, offering a welcome release but providing a stark contrast to wartime hardship.

Lucky was a landgirl and had to wear practical trousers and warm vests, while Betty wore a suit as a naval stores officer.

Yet inspiration from the movies did serve to inspire a female population determined to look its best, if only to keep up morale.

Materials were few and far between.

Clothing like everything else was rationed and you would have to save up your points to buy new or purchase fabric.

With amazing fortitude and ingenuity though all kinds of unremarkable raw materials were turned into fashionable garb.

Blankets were used for suits, parachute silk for knickers, and crochet filled the gaps when there wasn't enough material for a whole blouse.

Fancy trappings were a thing of the past as utilitarian clothing came into vogue and clothing patterns and shop-bought items all conformed to strict guidelines with limits on hems, pleats and turn-ups.


LUCKY LEWIS, aged 83, from Bulkington, was a Land Army girl during the war, working first in Scotland where her husband Alan, who was in the army engineers, was posted.

Originally from Portsmouth, she had met and married Alan while he was stationed outside Winchester and she was studying at agricultural college.

In 1943 he was posted abroad to North Africa and Lucky travelled down from Scotland to work at a farm in Fenny Compton to be close to his home town of Warwick.

The couple wrote to one another every day.

Being a Land Army lass meant long hours, hard work and a wardrobe of clothing any prewar woman would have baulked at.

But with tasks such as milking, tractor driving, hay making and hedge- laying to be done, practicality was the key.

"Our uniform was breeches, big woollen socks and boots laced up the front," remembers Lucky. "I even had dungarees.

"I had to knit my own vests, and in fact I didn't wear a bra until after I was wed.

"When you were in the Land Army though you needed a woolly vest to keep yourself warm. I made two, so it was one to wash and one to wear."

On joining up Lucky was issued with some regulation-style clothing to suit the manual duties she would be performing.

"We were issued with three shirts, two green jumpers, two pairs of breeches, one cord and the other gabardine, three pairs of woolly socks, one pair of shoes and a pair of boots.

"We also had a cowsmock, a headscarf, and gloves if we could get hold of them to keep our hands warm."

Her first job, as a milk maid, meant a crack-of-dawn start at 4.30am and a 10pm finish with a short break for lunch inbetween.

Only the odd weekend offered some respite, a chance to go home and show off more fashionable creations - often the result of great resourcefulness, huge imagination and not a little dexterity.

Lucky says: "We didn't change our clothes during the day, I'd be in my dungarees and wellies. We came home, had a wash and a meal and by the time we had written our letters it was time to turn in.

"I never had more than three dresses in my wardrobe. I would save up my clothing points and buy two lengths of material to make me and my two sisters in Portsmouth new dresses once a year.

"One I made had a royal blue top which came just below the waist with buttons up the front and a bottom which was pleated in cerise.

"Mostly women wore dresses, more than anything else. The hems were just below the knee and belts were very popular.

"I made one out of velvet, embroidering it and lacing it off at the front.

"I could wear it with anything. I made another one out of the stiff film that used to cover the cigarette packets too, crumpling them up and threading them on to fabric, then I put a nice buckle on it.

"You had to use everything you could get. I had one dress I wore before the war which was a bit shorter because I had cut the bottom off to make matching knickers.

"It was all make-do and mend. I used to make all of my clothes. I made a nice grey suit out of a blanket and I made some pyjamas out of parachute silk.

"My Alan sent the parachute back to me. And didn't I think I looked dandy in those pyjamas!"


LUCKY'S experience contrasts sharply with that of Betty Goodenough, who was aged 21 in 1944 and lived in Sheffield at the time.

Betty now lives in Bulkington with husband Steve, an RAF pilot during the war, and is a member of Bulkington Women's Institute, along with Lucky.

During the war she worked for the admiralty as a naval stores officer, often visiting firms to hasten supplies for ships.

She wore a suit because she had to look smart for work, which began at 8.45am and ended at 6pm with an hour for lunch.

Then after work she might go to the cinema with friends rather than going straight home. Though times were lean, she was able to buy clothes and keep up with the fashions of the day, and had the opportunity to wear them.

She says: "We would be able to go to city hall at lunchtime and hear the philharmonic concerts. It was all free and you could come and go as you pleased.

"Or we would go shopping. Sheffield was a big city and we had a lot of shops, C&A and Littlewoods and Etam.

"I used to buy most of my clothes and underwear at C&A. It was very nice. You could get camiknickers in soft cotton or even silk.

"I never used to make clothes, I was never that good with a needle."

Despite the austerity there were little fashion luxuries which might be afforded from time to time.

Betty remembers: "I had a fur coat for my 21st, it was a lovely coat, and there were some beautiful fabrics around for your dresses.

"There were no man-made fibres, no polyester. We would have georgette, velvet, satin, cotton and pure silk. There was a lot of cotton about and you really used to have to stand and iron it and starch it."

Of course some luxuries simply went by the wayside unless you were particularly fortunate. Stockings were in short supply so inventive gals would improvise.

"Some people would use gravy browning," says Betty. "But we used to use tinted suntan lotion on our legs and then we used to stand very still while a friend drew a line with a pencil down the back of our legs to act as the stocking seam."

The trend for wearing hats meanwhile continued through the war years.

Men would look dandy in trilbies and suits, with a handkerchief popping up out of their breast pockets. Women would have hats or wear a scarf.

For the women who took to working in factories or who were in the Land Army the scarf was an essential item for keeping hair out of the machines.

Shoes came in a variety of styles, from fancy sandals used for dancing, to wedge heels to utilitarian flats.

Silhouettes were square-shouldered with nipped-in waists and flowing skirts, a feminine look which emphasised the female form.

Shoulder pads had made an appearance just before the war and the look continued.

But major developments in fashion were rare. And because of the circumstances of the time, the emphasis was on practicality.

"Very little changed during the war fashion wise," says Betty.

"It was after the war when people had a bit more money and the New Look came in that things changed. Longer hemlines came in then.

"We used to take inspiration from the film stars. That's where most of the ideas came from. We wore our hats and gloves and we carried on as we best we could even if we couldn't afford to buy much. We made-do and we did enjoy ourselves."

Betty and Lucky are members of Bulkington WI, which is on the lookout for new members. Phone 024 7673 0035 for details.


MUCH of the current high street fashion features inspiration from the 50s, but there are also some influences from the spirit of the 40s.

This black spot shirt (left), priced pounds 30, picks up on the fashion for polka dots during the 40s. The full pleated skirt is just the right length for the decade and costs pounds 35. Both from Debenhams Direct on 0845 6099 099.

Floaty georgette dresses were a 40s favourite. This blue and neutral spot print dress (right) priced pounds 39.99 from the Next Directory is a modern alternative.


D20329_5 NOSTALGIA: Lucky Lewis and Betty Goodenough remember the fashions of the 1940s. Picture by WILL BINNS; PRACTICAL ATTIRE: Lucky Lewis in breeches and long socks with Land Army pal Lillian Gamble. Land Army clothes were functional rather than the height of fashion and (above left) a poster for the make-do and mend campaign to help with the war effort; DRESSED TO IMPRESS: Walking along Blackpool prom Betty wears the just-below knee length dress with an emphasised waist that so characterised the shape of 1940s gowns. Here she is pictured with friend Mary Burrows on the left.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jun 1, 2004
Next Article:FASHION: EVERYONE'S TALKING ABOUT...: Needing more bank holidays.

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