Friday, April 22, 2011

Garment regulations by the numbers

We've all heard the WWII slogan, "Make Do and Mend."  And of course this was the most noticeable within the garment industry.  In the pre-war years, it is estimated that 50% of American women were sewing clothes for their families.  By 1944, this had increased to 82%.

Various booklets and patterns were produced for the home sewer.  Women could choose from the Singer Make-Over Guide, or the Butterick Remake Booklet.  A man's suit could be cut apart and made over for his wife with help from the Make & Mend for Victory booklet.  The Campfire Girls were addressing the younger generation with their "Serve by Saving" campaign.

A huge campaign was launched by the War Production Board to regulate and restrict home sewers in an effort to channel needed materials towards the war effort.  In 1941, approximately 8000 tons of metal was being used for fasteners, zippers, hooks & eyes, and buttons.  War restrictions stipulated that buttons be made from ceramic, shell or glass.  All silk and nylon was reserved for ammunition bags and parachutes.  Wool and cotton was in short supply for civilians being replaced with rayon and acetate.

In April 1942, the War Production Board imposed General Limitation Order L-85 on the garment industry and single-handedly changed the look of wartime fashions.  The new regulations were as follows:

72 ins - maximum sweep of skirts                25 ins - maximum length of jackets             2 ins - maximum depth of hems                 2 ins - maximum width of belts
  *one pocket per blouse
* no bias-cut sleeves (such as dolman or leg-of-mutton)
  *no patch pockets on jackets
  *no cuffs on trousers
* no pleats on trousers
* no vests required with suits

The Red Cross had a huge influence on home front support for the war.  Tapping into the growing number of home sewers, the Red Cross approved and printed a series of thirteen patterns.  These were basic, simple styles designed for men, women and children.  Women were encouraged to sew and donate these clothes to the Red Cross which would then deliver them to those in need.  The program was very successful and continued to run after the war.  By 1948, forty million garments had been distributed to war-torn countries in Europe. 

If you are interested in more information on the home sewing industry, I highly recommend Blueprints of Fashion: Home Sewing Patterns of the 1940s, by Wade Laboissonniere (2009, Schiffer Publishing).  The book begins with a concise history of the home sewing industry and the development of pattern companies.  It explains about the sewing classes, store promotions, and marketing plan used to promote the industry.  The latter half of the book includes hundreds of pattern envelope illustrations, chronicling the style changes throughout the1940s. 

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