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The Cleveland Show
Feb 01 2012, 12:00 PM by Lori Harito
The fashion of the 1940s was unique, eclectic and colourful. Despite a war that rationed food, fabrics and make-up, women still managed to create stylish looks that embodied their personalities.
Veronica Foster, known as "The Bren Gun Girl" preparing to go to a party. Photo Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada.
Bomb Girls takes those looks and brings them to life on screen weekly, with the characters of Lorna, Betty, Gladys and Kate dressed to match their personalities. We spoke with the wardrobe designer behind Bomb Girls, Joanne Hansen about how specific looks for each character, and how you can bring the style of the '40s to your wardrobe.
1940s fashion has timeless appeal. The combination of soft flowing fabric with a cinched in waist and strong shoulder is truly the signature look of this period. In Bomb Girls, coming out of the ‘dirty 30s’ clothing was still influenced by a vast array of prints in endless combinations of fabrics & colors. The advent of World War II was about rationing of all sorts, including fabric, which in turn influenced the style of the period. Dresses became shorter and less full, often belted at the waist, and shoulder pads were a must (what better way to bolster a young woman entering a man’s world than with a strong set of shoulders). Trousers now were acceptable for women to wear – certainly for work, and casually too – but shape remained paramount. A high waist trouser, with a fitted blouse and short shaped jacket maintained a beautiful female shape, whilst at the same time challenging accepted norms.
The “Bomb Girls” were a cross section of characters from different walks of life, their varied clothing choices all reflect the fashions of the early 1940s, wartime Canada. Lorna Corbett, the matron of the bomb factory, is more focused on her work and family than her clothing, but that in and of itself becomes a wardrobe choice. Simple house dresses, one apron, one coat, one pair of shoes, one ‘good’ dress. Nevertheless, Lorna wears prints & combinations of prints that are reflective of her life. Kate Andrews, poor as a church mouse. A beautiful young woman with the voice of an angel. Kate’s dresses are few, and modest. Kate wears blues & greens to offset her red hair & hazel eyes. An older coat remodeled to lend shape to the waist, could have been a hand-me-down from her mother.
Betty McRae, bold and confident looking in her beautiful high waisted trousers and fitted blouses, retains her femininity in her choices of shape and color. A glimpse of the softer side of Betty can be seen when she chooses to wear a soft print dress to the dance.
One of the first times we meet Vera Burr is at a dance wearing a graphic print black & white dress, beautifully shaped & punctuated with red earrings. She’s the gal that draws her seamed silk stockings on her legs rather than worry about not having a pair. Though injured and scarred from an accident at the bomb factory, Vera uses all her assets to her best ability. Resources may be scarce, but Vera always dresses to her best advantage – like the peach satin robe & PJs she wears throughout her hospital convalescence. Despite her dire circumstances there is a glimmer of hope, reflected in her costume. And then there’s Gladys. Socialite, gifted with resources & the confidence that goes with it. Gladys is challenged by her curiosity and sense of duty up against a world of privilege. When we first meet Gladys, she arrives at Victory Munitions over dressed & out of place in a navy & white dress, hat, gloves & spectator pumps. As Gladys’ new understanding of the world she inhabits evolves, so do her costumes. We never lose Gladys’ sense of self, though she adapts her look as she adapts her outlook. Gladys remains true to herself, without appearing to be ‘above’ her new friends and co-workers. The elegant fabrics & attention to detail of construction of Gladys’ clothes are what separate her look from the other women. Silhouette and shape are the common thread of the period, silk, satin, trim & details are the distinction of her character.
In 2012, fashion is evolving more quickly than ever before, and our influences span the periods. Today, a high waisted trouser, with a flat brogue shoe, is a modern interpretation of Betty – a confident girl around town, is available at stores like Urban Outfitters or The Gap.
For your own interpretation, seek out local vintage shops and thrift stores, or search the internet for sites that sell vintage clothing or patterns of the period. Remember, a cinched waist, a soft draped fabric & a good set of shoulder pads and you’re well on your way to the best of wartime fashion.
Take a further look at the style of the '40s by visiting the interactive website.
Tune into Bomb Girls Wednesdays at 8.00 et/pt or catch up on full episodes online.