December 2nd 2015 – the day parliament voted to bomb Syria. Whether you think it’s futile, barbaric or unnecessary. It’s happening. So, what does fashion have to do with conflict? It provides consistency, self-expression and escapism.
Words: Michelle Whitney Subeditor: Teh Yusof
Times of conflict generally bring innovation and resourcefulness, particularly in fashion. If we refer to WW2, women were forced to re-use, and re-work existing items. And clothing coupons meant that new purchases were limited. Women become more creative with their clothing; for example converting an old dress into a top, and a whole fashion black market existed as items were in short supply. The government introduced a ”Make Do and Mend” scheme which included a pamphlet on how to utilise clothing to its fullest extent.
Rationing forced people to only buy what they needed, choices had to be practical and economical. And items which would take you through all four seasons were preferable. The pamphlets issued by the government encouraged women by using sexist propaganda, implicitly stating that if they didn’t take adequate care of their appearance this would directly affect war effort negatively.
Above you can see how women were pressured to still look ”sexy”, or feel guilty that this would damage the country’s war effort.
How did the war change fashion?
Women began to wear trousers for the first time, as practicality was more important than ever. And they had to take on traditionally masculine roles; working in factories, as cooks etc.
Materials were bland, but could be renovated through dying, sewing or adding embellishments.
As ever, the curvaceous silhouette was encouraged – women had to look sexy to keep up war efforts.
Silk was used for other war efforts; so women would use cold teabags to stain their legs as if they were wearing tanned stockings (there was an official ban on stockings). Eyebrow pencils would be used to draw on seams.
Class barriers in fashion diminished, because rationing and regulatory bans were universal.
No matter the futile violence occurring in the forefront of their lives, women still wanted to look attractive (and were actively forced to). Reinforcing the fact that the importance of fashion to women doesn’t deplete.
What does fashion mean to women today?
In our ”democratic” society, we actually have very little choice or control over what happens to our country politically. Whereas, fashion choices have zero boundaries. You have complete control over outfit choice, and within a fairly liberal society we have more choice now more than ever.
As well as choice, you have the opportunity to express yourself. Fashion choices can speak volumes. You send out subconscious connotations about your personality. For example, in the 1970’s the punk movement portrayed rebellion and anti-establishment views. Even nowadays we categorise our styles, ”hipsters” are seen as the rebels of today.
Confidence. When you have choice of self-expression, you feel good about yourself. As you are able to portray yourself exactly as you desire in your mind. Once you establish what works for you, and how you wish to convey your personal style. With comfort, comes confidence.
Although the conflict in Syria cannot be compared to WW2; fashion still holds the same relevance, and resonance in society. It’s something, as a woman that you can always turn to. The pillar of consistency; held dear to us as a form of self-expression and escapism. After all, as pretentious as it sounds, looking good on the outside gives an immense self confidence.