Monday, July 6, 2009

WW2, Militarism and Development








As I am a student of fashion I am amazed how little pure history there is about the clothing industry. Often clothing is a cursory tale attached to other histories about industrial innovation, advertising, military history, immigration or other such stories. The internet is rife with silly ideas about French fashion houses and hem lines. Often implying that fashion styles were plucked from the "spirit" of depressionary economies, austere fashions reflecting economic realities of the day, or sensible hemlines as a result of rising feminism. This kind of stuff is sophomoric in my opinion.
By the 1940s and the beginning of WW2 the fashion industry in North America was maturing at an incredible rate. After the depression a natural thinning out of badly managed and run companies resulted in lean, mean companies poised to take on the challenges of huge government contracts available because of WW2. Small and large producers lined up for this economic boon. With all this potential wealth available combined with money for research and design, the military demanded quality garments with more practical designs. WW2 set the tone with many manufacturers, building in quality design through researching pattern architecture that improved and invented modern clothing. Bi swing backs, zippers, standardized production techniques and sizing were just a few of the innovations that resulted from the war. Advances in fabrics and synthetics also blossomed, leaving us with outdoor fleece gear and any number of flame retardant, tear resistant, quick drying fashion miracles.