Tag Archives: WWII

Currently Reading: Slacks and Calluses

Slacks and Calluses was the result of two high school teachers who decided to spend their summer vacation in 1943 helping out the war effort by working in an aircraft factory.   Constance Bowman Reid was an English teacher, and her friend Clara Maris Allen taught art, and in their spare time that summer they worked together to produce this delightful little book.

When I found this book, I assumed it was a  memoir, written by the pair many years later, but instead they  put the finishing touches on their work after they returned to school that fall, and they were lucky enough to get the book published the next year.  As a result, the book has a freshness and humor that goes with the very recent retelling of a story.

Along with the amazing descriptions of how a giant airplane assembly line actually worked, Slacks and Calluses has a lot of insights as to the fashions of the day.  Most interesting are the attitudes toward women wearing what was still considered in most situations, men’s clothing.

It was bad enough being tired all the time and dirty most of the time, but worst of all the first week was having to go to work in slacks – down Fourth Street where people who knew us acted as if they didn’t, or down Third Street where people who didn’t know us whistled as if they did.

The two friends found that clerks in stores ignored them, other women on the street scorned them  and men on buses would not surrender their seats to them like they did to women wearing skirts.

It was a great shock to C.M. and me to find that being a lady depended more on our clothes than upon ourselves… This summer we found out that it was not out innate dignity that protected us from unwelcome attentions, but our trim suits, big hats, white gloves, and spectator shoes.  Clothes, we reflected sadly, make the woman – and some clothes make the man think he can make the woman.

Some women in the factories, the “women’s counselors” and nurses, were allowed to wear skirts. Constance and C.M. “hated” those women.

On the positive side, the two did not have to worry about their figures that year, as all the walking just getting to their spot on the assembly line was sufficient exercise, and then the job itself was quite physical.

Slacks and Calluses is a light, fun read that gives a view of WWII that is rather hard to come by.  In the updated version, Reid wrote an epilogue, in which she says she was a bit embarrassed by the book.  That is because she went on to write books about math and number theory and became quite renowned for this work.  She died in 2010 at the age of 92.

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Filed under Currently Reading, World War II

Ad Campaign – Bates, 1944

Blueprint for tomorrow by Barbara Stanwyck

Barbara Stanwyck, star of “Double Indemnity”, a Paramount Picture, plans to commute by helicopter from Hollywood to her home – after the war!  You will be able to travel by air too, and perhaps have your own plane if you buy enough War Bonds now!  Those who want a touch of tomorrow in their homes today are selecting Bates bedspreads, designed to provide warmth as well as beauty… and they see in Bates spreads with matching draperies tomorrow’s answer to decoration.

This has got to be one of the oddest star endorsements of all time.  Here is the glamorous Barbara Stanwyck in a bedroom decorated with cotton bedspread and curtains that are covered with log cabins and pine trees.  I somehow had her pictured as more of the satiny boudoir type.

And then there is all that talk about the future, with good reason.  “For the duration” was a common way of referring to wartime life, with the hope of a brighter future being one of the things that got people through all the shortages and sacrifices.  Still, it seems to be strange that a fabric covered with log cabins is being touted as the answer to tomorrow’s decorating problems!

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Filed under Advertisements, World War II

The Significance of the Object

I bought this box of ribbon candy for my husband after he spotted it in a catalog and recalled how his grandparents always had a box at Christmas.   Ribbon candy seems to have made a bit of a comeback lately, probably more for its lovely design than for its taste.  I’ve seen it featured this year dangling from the Christmas trees in several style and how-to blogs.  And that’s great, because I  hate to think of this traditional 20th century treat as passing into obscurity.  And because this is mainly a holiday candy, I’m sure many families have stories associated with it.  And here is ours:

My mother was 13 in December, 1944.  My grandmother was in the new hospital of our little town,  having given birth to my Uncle Neil.  Every day after school my mom would walk from her school to downtown Canton to see her mother and the new baby.  For some odd reason, after centuries of women giving birth at home, it was somehow determined that a week-long hospital stay was now necessary.

One day in mid December, when Mama arrived at her mother’s room,  Mamaw was waiting for her with a dollar.  She handed to her daughter in a hurry, with instructions to run to the Company Store, as a rumor was going around town that there was candy to be had.

I can just picture my 13 year old mother running the three blocks to the store, as she (and no body else in the country!) had had any real candy in several years.  To her delight, there were boxes of ribbon candy, and though people were mobbing the counter, she was able to get her hands on a couple of boxes.  It was a happy day for the Bumgarner children, and for my grandparents as well.

My mother had a life-long sweet tooth, and I can’t help but wonder if  the absence of it in her late childhood somehow stuck with her – that even after candy was plentiful again she never lost sight of how very special it was.    I just hope that in our lives of plenty, that we all take the time to appreciate the specialness of the gifts we’ve received.

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Filed under Holidays, World War II

WWII Silk Escape Map




I had read that in WWII airmen and paratroopers carried special maps printed on silk, and I’d seen a photo in Jonathan Walford’s book, Forties Fashions, of maps that were made into a blouse.  But I’d never run across one in all my flea marketing.  But that changed last week, when I spotted the above map at the Charlotte Metrolina.  At first I thought it was a folded paper map, but I knew what it really was the minute I picked it up.

Unfolding it, I realized it was in perfect condition, meaning that it probably was never used.  And even though the USA made fabric maps during the war, this one is British.  It is map 43-A, France, Holland, and Belgium, and on the reverse, 43-B, the German Swiss Frontier.

Many of these maps were actually smuggled into German POW camps by way of Monopoly games.    The Germans did allow relief groups to send games and such to the captured Allies, so the makers of Monopoly in Britain, Waddingtons, printed the maps on silk and inserted them in an indention made in the board.  The indention was then covered by the paper of the playing surface.

The maps were also carried by airmen, sewn into their clothing, or sometimes hidden in the heel of a boot.  The dyes were formulated as to not run when wet, and the silk would not disintegrate in water.  It was also an extra layer of warmth when put in the clothing.


After the war was over, life did not automatically return to normal.  In Britain there was still a fabric shortage, and the  system of rationing continued.  People used whatever fabric they could find in order to keep themselves properly clothed.  And that included the surplus escape maps.  The Fashion History Museum has a beautiful example in their collection of a blouse made from some of the maps.  You can also read about this map blouse in Forties Fashion.

Photo courtesy The Fashion History Museum
Comments:
 

Posted by edgertor:

I’ve always wanted to take a bunch of them and make them into a dress–but they cost a lot, even on ebay!

Monday, October 4th 2010 @ 6:17 PM

Posted by Jonathan Walford:

What a great find! And yours is in such good condition too. I read somewhere they were often used to make lingerie pants as well.

Tuesday, October 5th 2010 @ 6:31 AM

Posted by The Red Velvet Shoe:

I am ashamed to say I never knew this…I adore old maps, so finding something like this would be a true treasure. It would make a great scarf, but I’d probably have it framed and hang it.

Tuesday, October 5th 2010 @ 6:36 PM

Posted by Lizzie:

You know, this might make a great Spoonflower http://www.spoonflower.com/welcome design, though I’d have to check into the copyright.I can see these in the form of knickers, Jonathan!

I’m sure many of these were tied around a post-war head!

Wednesday, October 6th 2010 @ 9:26 AM

Posted by becca:

What an amazing piece of history, Lizzie! I would feel faint (I think) if I ran across something like this!

Wednesday, October 6th 2010 @ 8:17 PM

Posted by Catherine Janda:

this is one of my favorite parts of history that women/men who would line their jackets with maps. Very happy for you to have found such a gem. My second fav is how women wore their skirts so low not to show ankle. Staircases would be lined in fabric so no one could catch a glimpse of one walking up or down. Any posts on that? love your blog.

Saturday, October 9th 2010 @ 11:21 AM

Posted by Em:

Amazing find! I always enjoy all of the background you provide in your posts

Sunday, October 10th 2010 @ 8:15 AM

Posted by Mrs Exeter:

I’m an avid fan of war films and airman memoires but I’d never heard of these. How ingenious!

Monday, November 15th 2010 @ 12:29 AM

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Filed under Curiosities, World War II

WWII Farm Girls and their Overalls

I usually don’t take the time to look through stacks of old cards, but maybe I ought to do it more often.  Otherwise, I’ll be missing some great things like the sweet card above.  I found it last week in a pile of miscellaneous paper items at the Charlotte Flea. I ususally don’t think of old greeting cards as being fashion illustration, but it does happen that you can see a lot of the fashions from the past reflected in print of all kinds.  What caught my eye about the card was the fact that I already had a pair of overalls like the girl is wearing.

I found these 1940s overalls two years ago at an antique mall in Virginia and just couldn’t believe my luck! During WWII, many women did jobs that previously had been held by men. And while Rosie the Riveter is a well-known 40s icon, the farm girl was just as important. The raising of food was a vital part of the war effort, and many college women spent their wartime summers on farms, filling in for the farmhands turned servicemen.

The blue overalls were standard wear for these farm girls. I think it is great how they took a garment that was all about function, and managed to make it look cute!

These lowly overalls also played an important role in making women pants-wearers. Many women had been wearing pants for very casual occasions since the late 1920s, but it was the daily wearing of them during the war that made pants more accepted among women.

Some  images from my 1940s fashion magazines:

And here is a look at the clothes of the British Land Girls.

Comments:

Posted by Stacey Brooks Newton:

Hi-
Love the post! So informative! I would never have thought of the history of these overalls without your information. Thanks:)

Saturday, October 11th 2008 @ 8:54 PM

Posted by Lizzie:

Hello Stacey, Yes, it’s amazing how the simplest of items can have an interesting history!

Sunday, October 12th 2008 @ 8:19 AM

Posted by maria:

hey well thank u so much..for this information..i have to dress..in the early 1040 for the school and i was goin to wear a dress but this i a better way..:)

Tuesday, February 24th 2009 @ 6:57 PM

Posted by Laura – threesaparty@hotmail.co.uk:

Hi,

Awesome post! DO you have a picture of the back of the overalls by any chance?

Friday, August 7th 2009 @ 4:26 AM

Posted by Lizzie:

Laura, I don’t have a photo of the back, and they are packed away. The straps criss-cross the back and attach at the waist. Hope that helps you visualize!

Friday, August 14th 2009 @ 6:55 PM

Posted by lilly:

wow do u have any evacue girls clothes?:)

Sunday, November 22nd 2009 @ 7:44 AM

Posted by Lizzie:

No, I’m afraid not. Was that a British thing?

Sunday, November 22nd 2009 @ 7:53 AM

Posted by Lowongan kerja:

That’s great

Sunday, April 11th 2010 @ 11:59 AM

Posted by Wilbur Clinet:

excellent blog

Tuesday, April 13th 2010 @ 7:33 AM

Posted by Diane:

Oh, the cute-ness! Those look pretty tiny… what size would you say that they are?

Saturday, June 26th 2010 @ 5:51 PM

Posted by Lizzie:

Diane, They are pretty small, with a waist of about 25″!

Saturday, June 26th 2010 @ 6:40 PM

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Filed under Vintage Clothing, World War II

Past Fashion Trend – 1940s Alpine Fashions

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 activly 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’ve not been able to find an answer to the question, and would appreciate hearing from anyone who can shed some light on the matter.

I do 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 30s and 40s 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!

Comments:

Posted by Inky:

beautiful things Lizzie!! thank you for the back story on this fashion trend.

Wednesday, March 24th 2010 @ 1:59 AM

Posted by Debi:

Fabulous outfit photos! thanks for posting!

Wednesday, March 24th 2010 @ 2:51 AM

Posted by Sarah:

What a terrific collection you have, Lizzie! This is certainly a fascinating and puzzling trend, especially given the historical context. But the clothes themselves are so pretty and appealing, I’m not surprised they were popular.I once posted a photograph of a German family taken in 1937 on Flickr and noted their folk style dress and its connection to Nazi ideology. Some of the commenters were quite adamant about how wrong I was to even suggest such a thing, so it clearly still hits a nerve. I’ve learned to tread cautiously!

But just checking now, I’ve found a review of a book about women’s fashions during the third reich which also confirms that the folk dress style was indeed promoted by the Nazi regime:

http://www.forward.com/articles/3566/

I’m sure you know that Switzerland was neutral during the war, of course, but the regional/folk clothing does share stylistic similarities with its German neighbour.

Wednesday, March 24th 2010 @ 3:18 AM

Posted by Lizzie:

I appreciate the comments. Yes, these clothes are appealing!Sarah, I heard Irene Guenther, the author of the book you linked to, present her research at the Costume Society of America convention several years ago. Both she and Walford present plenty of evidence to show that this was a deliberate part of the Nazi propaganda message. What I hate most about the internet is that people can state opinion with no facts with which to back them up, as in the case of your rude flickr posters.

It was hard for me to even come up with a name for this style, which is why I tried to include all the regional names. I’m sure that are plenty of differences between actual Bavarian costume, and that of Switzerland and Austria, but it is lost on most people outside the region who only see the similarities.

Wednesday, March 24th 2010 @ 6:55 AM

Posted by Sarah:

I think some people might have taken offence and assumed that I believed contemporary wearers of German folk/regional dress had Nazi views, which was not my contention at all!And I only pointed out Switzerland as a result of my super-cautiousness! I can see how it would be tough to come up with a generic name for a multitude of folk/regional dress styles which spans three separate countries without doing a disservice to the distinct qualities of each. Er, Germanic [e.g. German speaking areas] folk/regional costumes? See, that doesn’t work either!

Wednesday, March 24th 2010 @ 8:38 AM

Posted by becca:

Lizzie, loved this article. I am always on the lookout for Tyrolean inspired wear. It’s a big favorite of mine. Our kitchen is even decorated with small cuckoo clocks and German smokers. Of course, I realize that the movie was not made until the 60s, but seeing these lovely fashions remind me of Maria von Trapp’s stylish clothes.

Thursday, March 25th 2010 @ 5:42 AM

Posted by Shay:

Another reason Lanz was popular may have been that the clothes were very pretty and very well-made.

Saturday, April 3rd 2010 @ 5:24 PM

Posted by Lizzie:

Shay, the well-made part was most certainly part of the appeal. I can remember my mom telling me several times that during WWII her family always bought the highest quality clothing and shoes they could find, as these things had to last a while. Great point!

Sunday, April 4th 2010 @ 8:12 AM

Posted by samsara:

Hi Ms. Lizzie, thanks for posting all these great examples of tracht. This is a subject that I have wrestled with at some length–so I have a lot of answers, but I’ll try to be brief.I went to school in Germany in the mid-80s. As I understand it, tracht is the term for all folkloric clothing (from dirndl dresses to lederhosen to those knee socks they wear with lederhosen) worn in Germany and Austria. (I’ve never been to Switzerland, but I think they call it tracht there too.) My German is very rusty, but I think tracht comes from the verb “tragen” meaning to carry or to wear.

Becca: Yes, “The Sound of Music” is full of tracht. Even the play-clothes made from the drapes!

Until WWII, it was popular to wear tracht on holidays in the country, and for hiking and other outdoorsy stuff. Kind of like sportswear. There is a famous photo of Freud and his daughter Anna both wearing tracht here: http://jwa.org/node/4145 In the early 20th Century, the Alps had Jewish resorts. And when Theodore Herzl or Gustav Mahler hiked around the Alps, it was probably in tracht. (There’s an interesting article about tracht-wearing, Alps-scaling Jews and the German re-appropriation of tracht also in The Forward: http://www.forward.com/articles/108426/)

Ah, yes, tracht-wearing does indeed have the very dirty history of being actively promoted by Nazis. It was part of their aesthetic. There’s no getting around it. In a post-war context the German Government supported folkloric clothing in subsidies: buying tracht was reimbursed by law up to 14% (until 2004). In the mid-80’s, as I experienced it, wearing tracht was a sort of badge of conservative (to right wing) thinking and focused mostly in the south. It still had that connotation. But by the late-90s tracht was being rehabilitated as kitsch and young Berliners with liberal politics could be seen wearing it in techno clubs. I haven’t been to Germany since 1998, so I’m not up on current trends.

Monday, April 5th 2010 @ 11:36 AM

Posted by Maggie:

Neat little fashion history lesson–but I just wanted to say how awesome your little collection is!!! 😮 I LOVE embroidered vintage stuff but I think my favorite is that cute belt you got there. The first dress and jumper and great too! Wow.

Friday, June 4th 2010 @ 3:30 PM

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

WWII Novelty Print Feedsack

I don’t list much on Ebay, but sometimes an item comes along that is too special not to open up to the bidding.  I found this great piece of feedsack fabric in an antique mall, and now I’m selling it to benefit Sarge’s Animal Rescue Foundation.  It is just amazing!

Selvedge reads “Kent’s cloth of the United Nations – 233.”

Even though the UN was not formed until 1945, the term had been in use since 1942.

Be sure to spot the three “Bad Eggs.”

Comments:

Posted by beccanise:

It’s wonderful! I’m not seeing the “three bad eggs” though. 

Friday, February 26th 2010 @ 7:59 AM

Posted by Lizzie:

Thanks Becca. You can see the bad eggs in the next to last photo. It’s Hitler and company in a frying pan! 

Saturday, February 27th 2010 @ 9:57 AM

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Filed under Curiosities, World War II