Tag Archives: WWII

WWII English Siren Suit

A lot of the fashion origin stories one encounters are not entirely true, but the one about pants for women being popularized during the World War Two years is pretty much accurate. Many Western women had been wearing pants of some form since the middle of the nineteenth century, and as the 1940s approached, more women were wearing pants for sports, leisure, and work. But it wasn’t until war broke out that more and more women began wearing pants as they took over jobs traditionally allotted to men.

Women had been wearing pants as part of a pajama suit since at least the 1910s, but WWII brought a new nighttime pants suit to those in England and France – the siren suit. The siren suit was designed to go over one’s nightie in case the air raid sirens went off and it became necessary to head for the nearest shelter.

The siren suit (I’ve also seen it referred to as a blitz suit) was designed for speed of dressing, comfort, and warmth. The style above shows buttons or snaps, but most examples I’ve seen in photos show the suit as having a long front zipper. Most styles have multiple pockets in which to stow essentials that may be needed during the time in shelter. Many also had hoods, and were made of warm fabrics.

Which brings me to this garment, one of the newest additions to my collection. I recently was the high bidder on a few lots from an auction house that specializes in old clothes and textiles. I always enjoy this auction’s offerings, as they usually have nice sporting things. This last auction was no exception, so I sent in a few bids and crossed my fingers.

The jumpsuit was paired with a 1930s outdoors ensemble from the 1930s, consisting of pants, jacket, and matching hat. I wanted that set, and to be honest, didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the jumpsuit. It was described as being a 1940s one-piece ski suit.

When the package arrived, I acted like a kid on Christmas morning, and then got down to the work of examining each piece. When I picked up this one, I immediately got the feeling that this was no ski suit. Actually, I should have noticed this just from the photos, but like I said, I was distracted by the other piece.

On reflection, I realized that I’d never seen a photo of a woman’s one-piece ski suit from the 1940s. That does not mean this type was not made, only that if they were, they had escaped my attention in the many hours I’ve spent looking in fashion magazines and catalogs. Then I started thinking about the legs of my new suit. A ski suit has to have leg hems that are narrow, to keep the snow out. These are anything but narrow.

At this point I knew it was time to look at the details. First up was the center front zipper. The pull had an odd shape (not too unusual for earlier zippers) and I got out my new magnifier to read the brand name stamped on it. The brand is Lightning. This was the first clue this item was not manufactured in the US, as Lightning zippers were made in England.

There are also two zippers on the back, as this jumpsuit has a drop-flap to aid in the use of the toilet.  My apologies about this photo as it is upside-down, but it has a very useful patent number and the words “Made in ENG”. Actually the patent number, 472518, has escaped me, and I’ve searched both US and UK patents.

I put the patent search on hold and took another look at the interior of the garment. The edges were serged, or overlocked, but in a style of stitch with which I am unfamiliar. Again, this points to a foreign manufacture.

I finally began to see the light. Big, functional pockets, a front zipper, wide legs, and a drop seat all told me this was not a ski suit. The fact that it was most probably made in England pointed to the siren suit, a garment you’d not expect to see in the US.

As I stated, I’ve never seen a one piece ski suit for adults of this era. Women were wearing jumpsuits and overalls for work, and these, while not terribly common, are found in the US fairly easily. But they are made from cotton or lightweight gabardine of wool, sometimes with cotton mixed in. This is a nice, textured wool and is quite hefty.

The drop seat also makes no sense in a ski suit. After skiing where you get wet (and this fabric would really make the snow cling) and cold, and you would change into something dry as soon as possible.

A former owner had sewn the flap shut. I can see why, especially if it has been worn in recent years as a jumpsuit. There is a bit of a gap between zipper and buttons. There is also a bit of a belt loop that was hidden under the stitches. I’m assuming there was a matching belt.

And speaking of buttons – these are not the originals. They are modern replacements, and while they match nicely, the buttons on the flap are too large for the holes.

There are four roomy pockets, and this one on the chest has a bit of a pocket within a pocket. Could it be for eyeglasses?

The other pockets expand to hold things and each has a single button closure. If you were headed to the air raid shelter, these pockets would be very practical, and could hold everything from your identification papers to a snack.

But these pockets make no sense on a ski suit, where the patch pockets are not secure enough to keep things safe while hurtling down a mountain. Most ski pants and jackets have deep inset pockets, and these are generally zippered.

The presence of a hood certainly seems to say “outdoors wear” but this hood is quite loose around the head, and there is no way to secure it. A ski hood or cap would tie or fit snugly on the head.

It would be warm, though!

In spite of the wrong buttons, the missing belt, and the mis-attribution of the piece, I’m very happy with this purchase. I already have quite a few ski ensembles, but where would I ever find a siren suit?

Thanks so much to Jonathan Walford at the Fashion History Museum for the help. Also, the photo of the pattern is not mine, and since I found it on Pinterest, I can’t locate the origin. My apologies to the owner.

UPDATE: The pattern belongs to Miss Rayne, and she has graciously agreed to let me use it.

 

 

 

 

13 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Proper Clothing, World War II

Women Airforce Service Pilots

Last fall I was on Topsail Island, NC when my fellow museum-loving friend and I stumbled across the Missiles and More Museum.  Despite the unappealing name of the museum, we decided to check it out, and we were so glad we did. To me, the most interesting display was one on the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs. The exhibit was there because nearby Camp Davis was one of the 120 bases that utilized the services of the WASPs.

The WASPs came about in 1943 because there was a shortage of male pilots. Women were recruited in an effort to free up men for combat flying, as the women were to do domestic, noncombat flying only. They ferried planes and military personal from place to place, and they towed targets used in artillery practice.

At Camp Davis the WASPs towed targets behind their planes as they flew over Topsail Island where men were learning how to shoot at a moving target.  It was very dangerous work. Over the two and a half years the WASPs were activated, thirty-eight of them were killed.

 

In order to become a WASP, a woman had to be between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-five (later lowered to eighteen and a half), be at least five feet tall, already have had flight training and be an experienced pilot. After the program was announced, over 25,000 women volunteered, but most were not qualified. 1,830 were accepted, with 1,074 actually finishing the training and becoming WASPs.

Probably the most surprising thing I learned was that WASPs were not technically in the military. They had all the training an Army pilot had, wore uniforms, marched, and did daily calisthenics. They were military in everything except name.

It meant that when the WASP was disbanded near the end of the war, the women were not entitled to any recognition or benefits. It was not until 1977 that President Jimmy Carter signed a bill sponsored by Senator Barry Goldwater that the WASP was recognized as a military division.

I love that the WASP had their own mascot, Fifinella. This was a product of the Walt Disney Studios, who supplied quite a few cartoon characters as military mascots.

Today there is a National WASP World War II Museum in Sweetwater, Texas, where most of the WASPs received their training. Friend Lynn at AmericanAgeFashion sent their 2018 calendar to me. It’s full of both vintage photos of the women, and photos of the surviving WASPs today.  This museum is definitely on my list of things I need to see.

In the July 19th issue of 1943, Life magazine did a feature on the Women’s Flying Training Detachment, which a month later became part of the WASP. The cover girl was Shirley Slade of Chicago. (Love her little horse pin!) You can see this feature at Google books. Many of the most commonly seen photos of the WASPs came from this Life article.

If you want to know more about the WASP, I suggest you listen to the two-part episode on Stuff You Missed in History Class.

 

10 Comments

Filed under Museums, World War II

1940s Hat with Everything

So when the mood of today’s hats seem frivolous it may be a kind of singing in the dark, the expression of an effort to put a bit of gaity into a world burdened with problems.

It might seem that the above words could have been written today, but actually the year was 1943.  The world was embroiled in a horrible conflict that required the citizens of the world to be brave, and to present a brave face even in the midst of fear.  Teacher and writer Grace Margaret Morton wrote the words in her book, The Arts of Costume and Personal Appearance.  They sum up perfectly the view many women both in the US and Canada, and in Europe took in response to fear and grave danger.

I’ve spent a lot of time the past several days looking at fashions from the 1940s, with a focus on the top and the bottom – the hats and the shoes.  By 1943 women’s shoes were terribly practical, with oxford styles and mid to low heel heights prevailing in the fashion magazines.  Colors were very limited, with most styles available only in black and brown.

Hats, on the opposite end of the scale, were fanciful and they varied widely in style.  Most prevalent was a modified form of the fedora, but women could buy hats in almost every shape and form imaginable.  Berets and turbans, tiny tilt hats that hovered over the eyes, and towering toques that had to be shaped on a stiffened form were available.

The difference in shoes and hats was based somewhat on the materials used to make them.  The leather for shoes was in short supply, but hats could be made in many different fabrics, most of which were not rationed.

As a sportswear collector, I do not seek out fancy and elaborate hats and accessories, but when I run across something really great, that I feel helps tell a story, then I can’t resist adding it to my horde.  Such is the case with this hat.

It has a little bit of everything.  The general shape is that of a Juliet cap, a form that was popular with young American women and teens.  But the creator didn’t stop with the addition of sequins and ribbon.  To the lower back of the cap, a looping fringe was added, perhaps simulating longer hair.

But what really sold me on this hat was the cut-out heart on the back of the cap.  This hat was a real attention-getter!

My new hat has three labels – the size, the store, Scherman Fifth Avenue, and a New York Creations label.  I could not find any concrete information about Scherman, but most of the hats I found for sale with the label were from the 1940s and early 1950s.  There was also a hat label for Eugene Scherman from the same era.  In addition, I located a reference to a E.H. Scherman hat shop located on West 37th Street in 1922.

I have no way of knowing at present if the three different references are related, but the search continues.  I would appreciate any information any reader might know or run across about Scherman.

 

The most extreme hats of WWII were those worn by French women.  To learn more about how the French used hats as a protest against German occupation, listen to this Missed in History podcast with fashion historian April Calahan.

 

13 Comments

Filed under Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing, World War II

1940s White Stag Belt with Pouch

I just could not bring myself to call this a fanny pack, and it would have been wrong of me to do so.  The pouch on a belt concept really caught on sometime in the late 1980s (if memory serves me correctly) but this pouch on a belt dates to probably the early 1940s.  It’s a great example of a find that I didn’t know I needed until I spotted it on Etsy.

 

 

I’ve based my dating on two things.  First, the label is very similar to one I found as part of a 1941 White Stag ad for ski clothing.  After WWII, the White Stag label in ski togs was red with white lettering.  The only time I’ve seen the above logo which is so similar to my label is in that 1941 ad.

Just as important is the Alpine folkloric motif embroidered on the belt.  I’ve written about this in the past, and the next few paragraphs are adapted from an old blog post.

Even though the US was inching toward war with Germany in 1941, there was a vogue for clothing decoration that was similar to that of German, Bavarian, Tyrolean or Swiss motifs. This has always struck me as being a bit odd, especially after it was clear that the US was going to war with Germany, and these clothes were so reminiscent of German folk dress.

In his book Forties Fashion, Jonathan Walford explains that in the 1930s, the Nazi German leadership actively encouraged the wearing of  Germanic folk costume, and the dirndl-wearing blonde German ideal commonly appeared in German propaganda images.  The use of Alpine-inspired details even appeared in Paris in 1936.

In looking at American fashion magazines, I’ve seen Alpine fashions featured as early as 1935.  Most often I’ve seen clothing from the Austrian firm, Lanz of Salzburg, used. Lanz was started as a maker of traditional Austrian folk costumes  in Austria in 1922 by Josef Lanz and Fritz Mahler.  By the mid 1930s they were exporting clothing to the  US, and in 1936 Josef Lanz opened a branch of Lanz, Lanz Originals, in New York.

As  the US moved toward war with Germany, these clothes continued to be popular.  Interesting, Lanz advertised in magazines such as Vogue and Glamour throughout the war, but in their ad copy, there is never any reference to the fact that the clothes are so similar to German folk dress.

But why did this style continue to be so popular in the US?  I  have some theories.  First, “ethnic” fashions of all kinds were gaining in favor in the late 1930s.  Magazines did features on South American clothes, and Mexican and tropical prints were popular.  The dirndl skirt was used with lots of prints, not just with Alpine embroidery.

Also, these fashions were already in women’s and girl’s closets.  It stands to reason that in a time of shortages that a garment that would “go with” what the shopper already had would be desired.

If you want a deeper explanation, then you might consider the theory that enemies tend to copy their foes in dress, a form of cultural imperialism.

But all historic and cultural explanation aside, I wanted this because I have a small capsule collection of the Alpine motif garments, and this was a nice addition to that group.  I also have a 1940s gray with red trim ski suit.  What luck!

Thanks to IKnowWhatImWearing on etsy for such a great addition to my collection.

29 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Winter Sports, World War II

Alpine Fashion: From the 1940s to Chanel 2015

photo copyright Chanel.com

 

Once a year Chanel takes their show on the road with what they call the metiers d’art pre-fall show.  This year’s show took place in Salzburg, Austria and was a tribute to the Alpine look.  According to Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel got the idea for her 1950s jacket from the bell boy jackets at a Salzburg hotel in which she had stayed.

I’d wondered how Karl was going to make edelweiss chic, and you can see the how of it in the photo above.  By combining the trademark Chanel quilting pattern with the flowers at each point you can see how he took his bag of Chanel tricks, threw in the Alpine clichés, and came up with a collection that was uneven but interesting.  Some of the pieces were stunningly beautiful, as one would expect from Chanel.

As with all Chanel collections, the jackets and sweaters are my favorite pieces.  It has occurred to me that to replicate the look, it would be cheaper to fly to Munich for a week during Oktoberfest and do your shopping in one of the many trachten ( folkloric clothing) stores.  Or you could visit a button seller for edelweiss buttons to replace the buttons on a jacket you already have.  Either way, for less than the cost of a Chanel jacket you and a friend can enjoy one of the biggest parties in Europe.

Last week French television aired a program about Nazi collaborators who were artists and prominent people.  Coco Chanel was the star of the show.   The House of Chanel released a statement to the effect that there was nothing new in the program.  True, as Hal Vaughan published this information over two years ago.   Still, I find it a bit odd that the new collection has such a strong Germanic bent.  Perhaps Salzburg was chosen as the venue as Berlin or Munich would have made the connection clearer.

It will be interesting to see if this collection ends up sparking a trend in the way that Alpine inspired looks were a trend in the late 1930s and into the 40s.  To look at that trend, I’ve reprinted below a post I wrote four years ago about the Alpine trend during the 1940s.   I’m sorry the photos are not up to the standards here, but you can see how I’ve improved them over the years.

In the late 1930s and all during WWII, clothes with an Alpine (or Bavarian, or Tyrolean) flavor were very popular.  This has always struck me as being a bit odd, especially after it was clear that the US was going to war with Germany, and these clothes were so reminiscent of German folk dress.

In his book Forties Fashion, Jonathan Walford explains that in the 1930s, the Nazi German leadership actively encouraged the wearing of  Germanic Folk Costume, and the dirndl-wearing blonde German ideal commonly appeared in German propaganda images.  The use of Alpine-inspired details even appeared in Paris in 1936.

In looking at American fashion magazines, I’ve seen Alpine fashions featured as early as 1935.  Most often I’ve seen clothing from the Austrian firm, Lanz of Salzburg, used. Lanz was started as a maker of traditional Austrian folk costumes  in Austria in 1922 by Josef Lanz and Fritz Mahler.  By the mid 1930s they were exporting clothing to the  US, and in 1936 Josef Lanz opened a branch of Lanz, Lanz Originals, in New York.

As  the US moved toward war with Germany, these clothes continued to be popular.  Interesting, Lanz advertised in magazines such as Vogue and Glamour throughout the war, but in their ad copy, there is never any reference to the fact that the clothes are so similar to German folk dress.  From a 1943 ad:

Lanz faithful, classic suit of long-wearing, all-wool tweed, with warm boxy coat to match.  Colorful applique adds that gay spice for which Lanz is famous.

But why did this style continue to be so popular in the US?  I  have some theories.  First, “ethnic” fashions of all kinds were gaining in favor in the late 1930s.  Magazines did features on South American clothes, and Mexican and tropical prints were popular.  The dirndl skirt was used with lots of prints, not just with Alpine embroidery.

Also, these fashions were already in women’s and girl’s closets.  It stands to reason that in a time of shortages that a garment that would “go with” what the shopper already had would be desired.

If you want a deeper explanation, then you might consider the theory that enemies tend to copy their foes in dress, a form of cultural imperialism.

Whatever the reason, Lanz and other companies produced some really cute things.  I realized that I have a sort of mini-collection of these 1930s and 1940s Germanic fashions:

This label is from the dress at the top of the post.  Mid 1940s, made in the US

Early 1940s Jacket, with its label below

Made in Austria embroidered gloves

Unlabeled Jumper with embroidered trim.  This style jumper was very popular during the war.

Embroidered and appliqued belt, late 1930s

This vest was bought in a London department store, and is labeled Swiss Style.  Love the Edelweiss!

13 Comments

Filed under Designers, Viewpoint, Vintage Clothing, World War II

Ad Campaign – Daniel Green Slippers, 1941

Do your Christmas shopping Easy

It’s all done as easily as this… Stop at any slipper counter or department.  Ask to see the new Daniel Green slippers for Christmas.  You’ll be in for a style treat!  And a color thrill!

This ad was written just before the US entered WWII, and while slippers made from cloth were not rationed in the States, I imagine that the pretty colors became a bit hard to obtain due to the scarcity of dyes.  I’ve read that many wartime brides wore white satin slippers because they were the only new – and appropriate for a wedding – shoes to be had.  I can picture a bride wearing the beautiful Militaire slipper at the top of the display.

I’ll be telling the fascinating story of another slipper company tomorrow.  This was a story that has been right under my nose, and it was just brought to my attention.  Some stories are worth the wait.

13 Comments

Filed under Advertisements, Shoes

Ad Campaign – Cutex Nail Polish, 1943

To Wear in your Country’s Service Cutex Presents “On Duty”

Dedicated to you thousands of WAVES and WAACS, Canteen Workers and War Factory Workers, Ambulance Drivers and Nurse’s Aides who are working for your country…

Is it just me, or do those nails look like weapons?

6 Comments

Filed under Advertisements, World War II