“Thread of Victory”: American Fashion and World War II

This seminar takes its name from a 1945 publication explaining the United States government’s wartime program of conservation and rationing, emphasizing why dress and raw materials played such a key role in the war effort. This course will examine fashions designed, made, and worn in the United States during World War II alongside dress from other combatant nations, both Allied and Axis, as well as considering the trajectory of fashion before and after the War. In the early 1940s, the American fashion industry grappled with existential questions of who they were and how they could move forward, in the midst of a World War that blocked the flow of ideas and demanded that many of the materials of fashion be diverted to military uses. Topics will include the American fashion industry’s mode of operation, regulating and rationing of items of dress, fashion and communities of color, department stores and consumption, ready-to-wear sizing systems and standardized bodies, beauty as duty, promotion and advertising, “everyday” dress, and the immediate postwar period. Readings include fashion history, theory, and method, as well as period perspectives and later reflections. 3 credits.