FASHION IN THE 1940s

In September of 1939 Germany invaded Poland, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany, and the Second World War began. For the next six years the fact of war ruled the lives of people throughout Europe, Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, and North America.

Fashion had its place, even in wartime. In France, most couture houses kept going until the German army occupied Paris. Some couturiers then closed down, while others changed location. Mainbocher, an American, went back to New York City and reestablished his house there. Elsa Schiaparelli came to New York during the war but reopened her house in Paris in 1945. Edward Molyneux went back to London. Many houses, however, felt that keeping their employees working in Paris would safeguard them from forced labor in war industries.

The United States did not enter the war until December of 1941; more than two years after it had begun. Until then, some Paris fashion trends were followed in the States, but travel difficulties meant that many American designers received more attention from the press than ever before.

In all the countries at war, fashion took second place to providing basic necessities to the men and women in the armed forces. Many factories were given over to producing military supplies. The remaining fashion houses worked with restrictions on how much fabric could be used in any garment, and consumers had to fit clothing into their allotments of ration coupons.

Even before the war was over, in August of 1945 (with the surrender of Japan) Paris couturiers had begun to bring French fashion back into the forefront of style. As soon as Paris was liberated by Allied forces, fashion editors began to show French designs again in magazines. By 1947, when Christian Dior reacted against the deprivation of the war years by showing his "New Look," which drastically lengthened and widened skirts, the Paris couture was again the leader. American ready-to-wear fashion, however, had become very important, and American designers had begun to take a more prominent place in the world of fashion.

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