Monday, May 25, 2015

World War II Homefront Fashions

In 1942, the War Production Board, or WPD, implemented Limitation Order L-85 in the United States. Its purpose was to ensure that fabric and materials were ear-marked for military purposes. Included were restrictions on nylon, rubber, silk, leather and wool. It gave specific guidelines and measurements regarding new clothing. Pattern companies were affected, as new patterns issued after L-85 also had to conform to the guidelines.
Below is one section from Limitation Order L-85: Curtailment:

(g) Curtailment on Women's, Misses' and Junior Misses' Daytime and Evening

Dresses. No person shall, after the effective date of this Order with respect to such

person, put into process or cause to be put into process by others for his account,

any cloth for the manufacture of, and no person shall sell, any

(1) Daytime Dresses, as follows: 
(i) with a separate jacket, redingote, coat, cape, or bolero to be sold with a one or
two piece dress at one unit price. 
(ii) with a separate or simulated jacket or top that is longer than 25 inches from the nape of the neck to the end of the finished jacket for size 16; other sizes varying in accordance with schedule B attached hereto. 
(iii) with a separate or attached hood, shawl, cape or scarf, 
(iv) exceeding 43 inches in length for size 16; other sizes in accordance with
schedule C attached hereto. 
(v) with a lining known as a bodice attached to skirt of a two piece dress. 
(vi) with a petticoat, overskirt or apron, 
(vii) with more than 78 inches of material other than wool cloth at its maximum
width or sweep, exclusive of seams, for size 16; other sizes in accordance with
schedule C attached hereto. 
(viii) with more than 72 inches of wool cloth weighing 9 oz. or less at its maximum
width or sweep, exclusive of seams, for size 16; other sizes in accordance with
schedule C attached hereto. 
(ix) made of wool cloth weighing more than 9 oz. per yard, containing at its
maximum width or sweep more than 64 inches of cloth, exclusive of seams, for size 16; other sizes in accordance with schedule E attached hereto, 
(x) with a separate or attached belt or sash exceeding 2 inches in width. 
(xi) with a three-quarter or full-length sleeve exceeding 14 inches in circumference at the bottom of the finished sleeve, for size 16; other sizes varying in accordance with schedule C attached hereto.” 

In addition to delineating the length of jackets and dresses, hem circumference, and width of waistbands and cuffs, it also specified the number of buttons (preferably plastic rather then metal) which could be used and the quantity of new leather shoes which could be purchased per year.  Many companies offered non-rationed shoes made of canvas and non-leather material. The wedge shoe and espadrilles became very popular during the war years due to rationing.  The wedge was originally created by Salvatore Ferragamo and used cork for the soles rather than leather.  

1940s shoe store ad for Salvatore Farragamo in "Novus" magazine

Layered cork and crocheted raffia wedge heeled sandals by Salvatore Ferragamo, 1942
Dress silhouettes became narrower and skirts shorter to comply with the new restrictions.  The intent was to eliminate waste and to conserve non-military use of fabric, machinery and manpower.  Women were encouraged to re-purpose old clothing and other materials in the making of new.  Feedsacks were popular sources for aprons, dresses, and children's play clothes. Women would trade with one another in order to obtain enough matching sacks to make an item.

Mending became a patriotic duty.  With their men serving in the military, many women re-made their husband's suits for their own use or to make children's clothing. Out-grown sweaters were unraveled and new items knitted or crocheted from the yarn. Fabric purses replaced leather. 

Double-breasted jackets gave way to single breasted for both men and women.  Shoulder pads for women emulated military uniforms.  Other restricted embellishments included pleats, ruffles, attached hoods and shawls, full skirts, and balloon, dolman, or leg-o-mutton sleeves. Women were encouraged to wear neck scarves beneath their suit jackets rather than blouses to save fabric.  Since new metal zippers were unavailable, wrap skirts were introduced.
Women began donning cuff-less pants and working in factories. The width of the pant leg was also restricted by L-85.  Turbans, home crocheted snoods, and scarves were part of this uniform to prevent accidents arising from long hair getting caught in machinery.
Clothing exemptions were allowed in specific instances.  Bridal gowns, maternity clothes, and religious vestments were not restricted.
To conserve money, hair was grown long.  Recycling hair pins and metal combs was done by all women on the homefront. Veronica Lake's long, wavy hair caught the attention of the public and women easily re-created the same style using their saved bobby pins or fabric curlers made from scraps.
One unforeseen effect of L-85 was the way Hollywood and the fashion industry capitalized on abbreviated clothing. Citing "morale building" as well as saving fabric, film stars and starlets were shown wearing shorts, playsuits, midriff tops, and swimsuits.  The two-piece swimsuit quickly gained popularity.

The most popular pin-up of World War II - Betty Grable photograph by Frank Powolney

released in 1946
image from

set of four World War II pinup cards featuring Betty Grable, Gene Tierney, Ava Gardner, and Dolores Moran
image from

Another unexpected result was the scarcity of new girdles - the rubber used to manufacture them went to the war effort. Stockings were originally made of silk, then nylon.  After both became prohibited, a new industry emerged: leg make-up.  Ladies would rub this on their legs then draw a line up the back, usually with an eyebrow pencil, to simulate stockings.  The shortage of stockings in turn increased the popularity of pants for women.
Home sewing was heavily encouraged and pattern companies' business soared.  Hollywood patterns with a star in the upper left corner indicate they were produced during the war years and therefore complied with L-85.

Patterns from the war years frequently show collarless dresses, plain blouses with no or very little pin-tucking or ruffles, dresses with a band rather a belt (this saved a metal buckle), embroidered trim, and short or three-quarter length sleeves.  Interestingly, millinery was not under ration regulations.  Most women took full advantage of this accessory.  Hats were designed in all styles and shapes.  Many sewing patterns for hats were also produced during the war years.
After the end of fighting in 1945, women chafed at wardrobe restrictions and information suggests the order was not strictly enforced.
On October 21, 1946, Order L-85 was formally revoked.

Many thanks to Sherri from sewbettyanddot for doing the collage of these 1940s patterns from the Pattern Patter Team on etsy.

by kinseysue on etsy

Sources and Reference Material:
The United States in War & Peace, Shelby L. Stanton (BlitzkreigBaby)
Library of Congress
Old Magazine
The Impact of World War II on Women's Fashion in the United States and Britain by Meghann Mason
Fashion Design Trends of the 1940s
Ferragamo Museum
Inwood Herald, April 19, 1945

1940s patterns from Pattern Patter Team-----those with longer skirts are post-war patterns

Row One - McCall 1294 from Fragolina; Hollywood 1003 from SoVintageOnEtsy

Row Two - McCall 1075 from allthepreciousthings, Simplicity 2026 from PeoplePackages; Hollywood 1322 from WEAREVINTAGESEWING

Row Three - New York 1617 from RomasMaison; Simplicity 2014 from sydcam123; Simplicity 4295 from PengyPatterns

Row Four - McCall 6791 from KeepsakesStudio; Mail Order 2142 from FloradoraPresents; McCall 6361 from GreyDogVintage

Row Five - Butterick 4649 from BlueTreeSewingStudion; Simplicity 1199 from LagunaLane; Simplicity 3779 from Clutterina

Row Six - Simplicity 3322 from sewbettyanddot; Vogue 9630 from PurplePlaidPenguin; McCall 6794 from FriskyScissors

Row Seven - Vogue 6357 from TabbysVintageShop; Hollywood 583 from PrettyPatternShop; Simplicity 1238 from RedcurlzsPatterns;

Row Eight - Simplicity 4754 from kinseysue (envelope is stamped that pattern does not conform to Canadian fabric restrictions.)

Row Nine - Butterick 4494 from FoxVintageUK


  1. Wow Kinsey Sue--this is fantastic. Thanks for all the effort that went into this--quoting resources and all.

    I'm probably one of few PPT members who actually lived through this period. Women would swoon over a pair of REAL nylon stockings. I think I may be the only woman left in U.S. who still wears them.

    Love those multi-colored espadrilles.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this article Kinseysue! Informative and Interesting! Love the pattern choices too!

  3. Great article! Good job Kinsey Sue!

  4. Really great article!! Great research and information. :)

  5. Fabulous article Kinseysue!!! Love the vintage sewing patterns.

  6. This is a fantastic overview of how fashion was affected by the rationing of WWII. So much great information here, I had no idea it was so detailed. And gorgeous patterns, too!

  7. A great debut! Lots of wonderful information and great examples. Well done!

  8. I love the information about fashion during the war.

  9. Great post, Kinseysue! Very interesting and informative. I did not realize that's what the star meant on Hollywood patterns. Thanks so much for writing this!

  10. Fascinating article, I can not imagine that fabric was rationed in this way !
    Can't wait for your next one kinseysue !

  11. Fabulous post. I cannot imagine having to get by with such restrictions. But I imagine if everyone was doing it, you just did it.

  12. Love this article, so very interesting!! Thank you Kinseysue!

  13. Thanks for this amazing article, it makes us appreciate what we have today!

  14. Really interesting! Thanks, Kinsey Sue!

  15. Thank you very much! I found this so interesting! Of course, I knew about rationing, but now I know so much more than just the fact that it existed. Really, I enjoyed this very much and learned a lot!

  16. Great Info! Thanks for all of the history lessons!

  17. Really interesting, I didn't know there were restrictions in the US as in the UK. The veronica Lake hairdo that you mentioned caused a lotof problems as women ccouldn't see properly (having one eye covered). So much so that she was asked to change it!