Memorial Day and the Fashion Influence of WWII

Caroline Graham Swann

Caroline Graham Swann

Memorial Day is certainly a special time to remember our military veterans. A time of gratitude, pride, sadness, and nostalgia.  As a child my father and his brothers, with the exception of one, were serving in World War II.  There was great stress in our home; my mother and I lived with my grandparents while my father and his brothers were serving our county in dangerous warzones.  One never knew what news going to reach home each day. Are they all safe, still alive, missing, or wounded?

I only knew my father from a large photo of him in his military uniform and hearing about him from my family.  He was in my life through my grandparents, mother, and Aunt Miriam; I had no physical contact with him from the age of 9 months until I was almost 4 years old. Our days and nights were spent surrounding the radio in the living room, the adults anxiously awaiting every bit of news about the battles and where throughout the world they were being fought. Supplies of basic needs were short, red coupons were given out for sugar, meat, and a Hershey candy bar was a long awaited treat.

The fashion world began to reflect the changing mood of the nation, and of the empowerment of women, in particular. The women wore dresses with the hem line at a very specific area of the knee – sort of in the middle –  which was actually very flattering, but fabric choices were limited as our military needs for clothing came first in the USA. Nylon hose were almost impossible to find and  were a great treasure to the female population. Hair styles were swept away from the face, long or short. There was the trend of pulling the hair from above the ears back with barrettes or hidden bobby pins, as they were named during this time.  Pumps of about 3 inches were the style and not easily available.  Gardenias were worn in the hair for special occasions.

Hollywood can be easily identified with a War World II style: sultry black and white photos of stars were the rage.  Glamorous designed gowns, slinky and sensuous, were featured in movies – picture Rita Hayworth.  The Hollywood stars and personalities were sent to base camps all over the world to boost moral for the troops.  Pinup girls were captured in photos for the troops to keep in their barracks, fox holes, and bunks on land or water.  Betty Gable in a one-piece swimsuit wearing pumps and looking over her shoulder was a famous shot.

Women were very active in playing their part during this angry and scary time of battle. Nurses were sent to battlefields and base hospitals, sacrificing their lives alongside those who fought. On the home front, the convenient supplies were sacrificed without complaint and women went to work in factories, manufacturing weapons for the war effort.  This industrial push gave birth to a legendary female symbol: Rosie the Rivator, who became an important symbol for the patriotic women at home devoting their efforts for the troops.  Dressed in masculine clothes with a red bandana tied around her head, ready to work, the American woman also became a hero in the public eye.

May we always remember the whole effort our country gave to this war, and above all the military veterans of every war fought  for the freedom of our great America.  I have supreme gratitude for all veterans from every war. This Memorial Day is for our fallen heroes.