From frivolity to Patriotism: Fashion under German Occupation
War and fashion are difficult to associate. One takes care of what is superfluous, the other one must cope with everyday life, which is a synonym of restriction and pains. Was there a place for fashion in so shady a context, where survival held more to the problem of the bread supply and fresh products than in meters of laces and ribbons?
If you think, owing to rationing, that French creativity stopped during German Occupation, nothing is more false. Indeed women used stratagems in order to stay well-turned out during world war II, thus the French fashion kept florishing.
1940. Germans started to occupy France. When all minds were turned torward the war, nobody expected a new revolution to get started, the fashion revolution. Women began to create, to find or even imagine tricks in order to live like they did before the war, that is to say free. Luckily they were not alone in this fight: great fashion designers such as Nina Ricci, Jeanne Lanvin or fashion magazines like Le petit écho de la mode or Marie Claire were here to help them.
During the war, such papers were very popular, indeed they gave much advice to the population, particularly to women. They explained how to transform their hats thus they could save money. They proposed a system of barter which was a popular way of exchange.
Rationing forced the population to salvage. Women transformed old skirts into bags, made dresses with curtains and the shoes’ treads are in wood. Hats are made with anything and everything ( cotton, wool, and even newspapers! ). Fashion designers created 2 in 1 dresses, that is to say they can be transformed, for example, into evening dresses.
But Vichy had something to say on the new fashion. For instance, they decreed that belts should not exceed 3 cm of width. Vichy also contested trousers for women, eccentric hats and so on and so forth. They saw in fashion a rebellion against the system, we could call it the ” chic insolence”.
Fashion conveyed a sense of “we”, of community, that is a real symbol of a people’s identity and cohesion. Renouncing it would be a defeat.