At the beginning of The Girl is Murder, Iris is thrust into the world of public school, where not only does she have to deal with going to school side by side with boys for the first time, but she’s no longer able to disappear into the comfortable anonymity of a school uniform. And you know what that means: agonizing about what she's going to wear each day.
So what did young women wear in the forties?Keep in mind that shopping options weren’t what they are today. You could buy off the rack, but it would cost you, especially during the war when the options were severely limited by restrictions on cloth. Your wardrobe tended to be small, and much of it was probably home-sewn, or passed down from an older sibling and adapted to look a little bit more modern (raise the hem, change the buttons, add a belt).
For girls, clean and tailored was the look, whether young or old. Shirt and blouses were tucked in, clothes were fitted, never too big, (clothing rationing, to the joy of men everywhere, meant shorter skirts and tighter sweaters). The exception was the sloppy joe sweater, which was long and loose fitting. For school, you most likely would’ve worn dresses and skirts cut to knee length, and a blazer or a cardigan.
For casual wear, teen girls often wore baggy blue jeans that were often rolled up just below the knee (and sometimes they’d embellish their pants with paint and drawings). In fact, teens were encouraged to wear more pants than in past years, especially girls who got wartime jobs, where clothing (and long hair!) could present a real danger. Plus, pants had the added advantage of being good hand me downs since they weren’t gender specific (of course, try convincing your little brother of that).
Hair tended toward more elaborate for adolescent girls since clothing was so heavily rationed. So if you wanted to express your individuality, you did it by twisting, curling, and teasing your locks like your favorite Hollywood stars, especially Rita Hayworth and Betty Grable. Similarly, hats were a great way to express yourself and they weren’t rationed the way other pieces of clothing were.
Shoes were flat unless you were going swing dancing. Girls would wear loafers, oxfords, or saddle shoes with short, cotton socks. Shoes were heavily rationed too (more on that in a future blog) so odds were good that you didn’t have a lot of pairs to rotate through.
Since nylons were also being rationed, if you didn’t wear socks, you went barelegged. Young women who didn’t like the casualness of this look (which also meant – gasp – having to shave) would put makeup on their legs to mimic the effect of stockings, and draw seams up the backs of the legs to create the illusion that they were fully dressed.
Oh, and as for bras and underwear? They were formidable -- all about creating shape, not ensuring comfort. If you couldn't afford to buy one, or -- gulp -- receive one as a hand me down, yours may have also been home sewn using parachutes or old wedding dresses to provide the silk.