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Forties Fashion

From Siren Suits to the New Look

Jonathan Walford


The story of a decade of dress – national costume, uniforms, work clothes, home-made elegance, couture – from zoot suits to the New Look


This is the definitive book on fashion in the 1940s – from French style under the occupation and the ‘make do and mend’ approach to solving clothing shortages, through issues of dress, patriotism and propaganda and the development of faux fabrics and rationing, to the rise of American fashion houses and the New Look of the post-war period.

Some 250 illustrations reveal the wide range of fashions and styles that emerged throughout the Second World War, in Europe, North America, Australasia and Japan. During this period of conflict, fashion managed to express ideals of beauty, femininity and luxury even though practical considerations came first. Jonathan Walford details how fashion was considered not a frivolity but an aesthetic expression of circumstances. While Fascist states tried to create 'national' styles before the war began, by 1940 the pursuit of beauty was promoted on both sides of the conflict as a patriotic duty.

From pre-war to post-war, international attitudes emerge from period advertisements, images of real clothes, and first-hand accounts from contemporary publications. The result is a glorious celebration of everything from practical attire for air raids (hooded capes with large pockets, zipper-fronted jumpsuits and turbans) to street and anti-fashion, and the creation of Christian Dior’s New Look collection in 1947.

Richly illustrated and stylishly designed, Forties Fashion is an essential sourcebook for fashion professionals, and a feast for fashionistas looking for new retro ideas.

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'A must for anyone interested in retro fabrics and clothes designs'

'Lovely … those who are interested in fashion history, vintage garments and retro designs will simply love this book!'
Sewing World

'A delight to pore over … Fabulously illustrated throughout, it will probably be on the wish list of serious textile departments'
School Librarian

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Paperback with flaps

Size: 25.0 x 23.0 cm

Extent: 208 pp

Illustrations: 250

Publication date: 31 January 2011

ISBN: 9780500288979

Contents List

1940s in Vogue • Between the Wars • The World of Tomorrow • Kangaroo Pockets and Siren Suits • Rationing, Utility and Austerity • The Battle for the Capital of Fashion • How America Fared • Zoots and Zazous • Beauty on Duty • Wardrobe • Parachute Brides • Trade, Lease and Loan • Pieces of Resistance • French Style • Fashion Among the Ruins • Post-War Priorities • New Looks

About the Author

Jonathan Walford has held curatorial positions with several institutions, including the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, of which he was founding curator. He now runs his own company, Kickshaw Productions, which promotes the history of fashion through a variety of media and venues.