Saturday, 5 February 2011
Book review: The 1940s Look
'The 1940s Look: Recreating the fashions, hairstyles and make-up of the second world war' by Mike Brown
This was a Christmas present from my husband in the run up to a 1940s event. It is for the most part a pleasure to read and full of fascinating information. However, it is mostly useful as an excellent piece of social history, rather than a real guide to how to recreate it, so the title is somewhat misleading. Rather than giving any specific guidance on how to recreate the look in the modern day, such as details of how to style hair, apply make-up, or create an authentic outfit, it more focuses on the challenges that faced womens' dress in the during World War 2 and the ingenious methods they used to overcome them. Specific detail about year by year cut and style is not here, but plenty of social history is.
Luckily, my interest in the social history of clothes is one of the reasons I became so obsessed with vintage fashion in the first place, so I still enjoyed the book immensely. It is generally well written and engaging to read, although there are a few sections where the writer seems to get lazy and there are just lengthy direct quotations from magazines of the time without much exposition about them. However this use of primary sources is also one of the strengths of the book. There are plenty of things you can try out for yourself, such as an original pattern for a crocheted snood. My best friend got her crocheting mother to try it out: it came out enormous and we couldn't quite work out how to make it look right! But we are still persevering with it.
It is beautifully illustrated with lots of original photographs that make for great source material, and examples of 'make do and mend' information sheets, such as how to get 'extra wear from your rayon stockings'.
But the best thing about this book is the way it brings to life the difficulties that our grandparents faced on things we take for granted, and their creativeness in overcoming them. The book lays out the rationing system and how many clothes each person was expected to survive on each year. I told a friend about the limit of six stockings a year and she looked utterly horrified, exclaiming that she ladders her tights every time she wears them! The war effected every part of British life, great and small, and this is a wonderful reminder of that and a tribute to that past generation.