Fashion, Beauty & War: How They’ve Forever Been Linked

It seems like an odd combination but it’s a known fact that war has had a genuine impact on what we wear and how we groom ourselves. Trends have changed due to limitations of resources, labour or lack of funds and in certain points in history, women and men have made conscious style or beauty choices, as they considered it a patriotic duty not merely a fad. Here we look at wars and how fashion and beauty are intrinsically linked to them.

Beauty on Duty

WAR PAINT. During both world wars, women began to take up the work that men had left behind to go and fight. This newfound responsibility gave women freedom and control they’d never experienced before. Of course, this wasn’t an easy transition for everyone and women were encouraged to “uphold gender norms” by wearing makeup – lipstick was of particular importance. Beauty advertisements of the time pushed the message that women had a “duty to beauty” and propaganda posters cheered that the best way to fight the enemy was for women to look fresh-faced and “optimistic”. During WWII it was widely known that Hitler loathed makeup and females attending his lodge were forced to abide by a set of rules including minimal makeup, no painted nails and definitely no red lipstick. This knowledge meant the enthusiasm for makeup amongst allied countries grew exponentially. Simultaneously beauty experts warned of the devastating effects the stress of war and work can have on the skin and touted their skincare to products to prevent the early onset of aging skin due to the modern women’s woes. Women were frugal but the desire to look their best never waivered. Interest in beauty regimes rose in some respects, women got quite creative with their money-saving tips and with it, an entire industry began to blossom.

CARGO STYLE: The drastically changing lifestyles of women meant long skirts were impracticable for many forms of work and heaven forbid, trousers were on the radar of many women workers. Those who took up agricultural work gained the nickname ‘Land Girls’. Land Girls were never officially given trousers as part of their uniform however they sought out pairs from family and they fast became their unofficial uniform. While women wearing pants did not become mainstream post-war it set the wheels in motion and females with physically-demanding lifestyles saw the advantages of trousers over cumbersome skirts for the first time. While skirts still remained popular among many women during both wars, textiles were in short supply. The demand for fabric saw the end of the grander, layered skirts of years gone by and while we were decades away from the mini, women’s skirts became more streamlined to conserve materials for uniforms.

Women were paid significantly less than their male predecessors
Member of the Australian Womens Land Army and visitor, Redland Bay, 1944

ORIGIN STORIES – War didn’t just have an effect on current fashion, in this case, it helped launch one of our best-known men’s brands, Hugo Boss. Hugo Ferdinand Boss was an active member of the Nazi party, his company manufactured elements of the SS uniform and Polish and French prisoners of war were used as forced labour in their factories. Post-war, Boss was fined, lost his voting rights and went through trials and re-trails to keep his company. He was eventually ruled to have the less-severe label of a “follower” rather than an “activist, supporter and beneficiary” and his son-in-law, Eugen Holey took over the family business. The company has since formally apologised for their murky beginnings and is one of the largest menswear designers to this day.

French designer, Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel opened her first store in 1913 and her casual-yet-refined designs were considered a breath of fresh air for women who desired a more paired-back look. She unveiled a second store in 1916 and rumours circulated about Chanel’s close relationship with the current German occupiers of France. After spending time in Switzerland post-war, Coco returned to France to reinvigorate the business that was soon to become one of the most prestigious fashion houses of all time. It had been long known that Coco Chanel was a lover of Nazi officer, Hans G√ľnther von Dincklage, however, less than ten years ago, newly declassified documents eluded further that Coco Chanel had in fact collaborated with German intelligence.

Hugo Ferdinand Boss pictured right.

The links between beauty and war have never really wavered. Recruitment techniques for nurses to serve during the Vietnam war may have been the first to focus on nursing as a career option for women, however, they still pushed the idea of maintaining ones looks as a matter of national duty. Nurses were the first women that injured soldiers saw and were encouraged to be primped – one Australian nurse saying she would wear perfume for the soldiers who may not have been able to see but could smell they were in the safety of the military hospital.

Throughout the Cold War consumerism was highly encouraged to portray a prosperous western world. Beauty purchases were the particular focus of the American propaganda machine, as well as household appliances, which when combined would work to boost the image of the perfect American housewife and her ideal life compared to the Soviets.

With the ongoing war in the gulf, it’s hard to say if we are experiencing the same links today but in years to come it will likely be much clearer. We already know that economic downturns influence all aspects of our spending [even as recent as 2008 the versatile monochrome trend had been cited as a result of the Global Financial Crisis] and war and the economy are entangled beyond compare.

The effects of war on fashion and beauty have been both subtle and at times, overt but what is clear is that they’re intrinsically linked.

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