The two World Wars left an indelible mark on almost all aspects of life in the United States, not the least of which was the world of women’s fashion. As more women entered the workforce, practical clothes became more common. At the same time, the explosion of pin-up art and photography were instrumental in making glamorous and sexy styles part of many women’s everyday looks.
Women in the Workforce
Prior to World War I, women did not wear pants frequently, and when they did they donned loose and flowing trousers that were meant to look more like skirts than pants. However, as many women entered the manufacturing workforce to support the war effort, heavy trousers and overalls became the clothing of choice. It was not common to see women wearing these clothes outside of their factory jobs, and dresses and skirts were still the order of the day for most occasions and events. However, seeing women walking to work in heavy, practical clothes got people accustomed to the sight and prepared them for the more unisex styles that followed in decades to come.
Women on the Page
Glamorous and flirty pin up girls burst onto the scene in the 1930s, but it was not until World War II that they reached the height of their popularity. Though pin ups were unambiguously for men, their towering high heels, perfectly coiffed hair, and daring fashion sense heavily influenced the styles worn by women. Pin ups can be credited with the popularization of stiletto heels, two-piece bathing suits, and shorter skirts favored by the sexually liberated women of the post-war years.
These two styles grew up together during the years that spanned the two World Wars. The new fashions that resulted managed to encompass both in spite of their inherent contradictions. The idea that women can wear both practical and glamorous clothing depending on the role she is playing at the time still persists today.
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