In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Historic Clothing Collection

1940-1950

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Fashion more or less stalled during the war years. Cloth for civilian clothing was limited because production was prioritized for military purposes. Bates Mill in Lewiston produced vast quantities of textiles for war purposes, from uniform fabric and hospital bedding, to parachutes and life rafts. Wool and the new synthetic, nylon, were reserved for the war effort leaving cotton, rayon with some wool for the home market. Clothing was not rationed as it was in Britain, but the War Production Board (WPB) issued order L-85 in March 1942 to regulate the amount of fabric used in garments. Prescribed economies prohibited details such as trouser pleats and cuffs, patch pockets, skirt pleats, shortened skirt lengths, and encouraged a straighter silhouette.

While the collection at Maine Historical Society includes World War II military uniforms, as yet it holds little in the way of civilian war-era fashions. One example, a circa 1943 yellow square shouldered, tailored, fitted waist rayon dress with a just below knee length skirt features two small pockets suggesting it was made from existing pre-war fabric. At present (2020) there are no examples of the simple restricted fabric fitted, short basic skirt suits from the early war years. However, Mabel Graney's minimalist, possibly remodeled slate blue six button wedding skirt suit, with a front pleat short skirt suggests a wartime provenance.

The same chunky square styling seen in outerwear modeled by Hollywood celebrities in late 1942 and 1943 is found in the four-piece ensemble comprised of a coordinated yellow blouse, brown wool short skirt, tailored jacket, and boxy reversible yellow / brown waist length square shouldered cape. Another example, a plum colored, tailored wool jacket and box pleated skirt ensemble also features a matching square shouldered hip length cape. Also among the collection’s period garments is a pale powder blue wool and rayon V neck day dress, whose style lingers in the 1930s, with a matching softly draped scallop edge short shoulder cape.