Erata… Peep toe shoes and CC41…

(Originally blogged October 16, 2009)

I hate being wrong and usually avoid being corrected by rarely stating absolute truths unless I know I can prove it, however I am the first to admit fault when I have found the error of my ways and to that end, I have to offer up some new tidbits of information that change a couple of facts in my books.

December 1935 advertisment for open toe shoes

When I wrote The Seductive Shoe I stated that the open toe, sling-back shoe was introduced in 1938. I still hold to that date for when that style became popular, however, Bret Fowler, a friend of mine and former Fashion Institute of Technology collections manager, found this advertisement from December 1935 that refers to the introduction of the peep toe shoe. I should have known better, since it usually takes a couple of years for a new style to catch on and become popular.

September 1941 snippet defining CC41 as standing for Controlled Commodity

In my Forties Fashion book I refer to CC41 (the British wartime clothing scheme), as standing for ‘Civilian Clothing 1941.’ This is the common definition found in every book I referenced although sometimes Clothing Control is said to be the definition. However, I never liked either explanation because the scheme was also applied to furniture and domestic textiles. I never found an official period reference that defined what the CC stood for; definitions of the term only show up after the war, in reminiscences, and memory is never a good resource. A snippet, that appeared in several American newspapers in September 1941, was turned up by Lynne Kranieri, a Vintage Fashion Guild member who is also adept at scrounging up newspaper articles from her research. The American press probably got their information for this story from a British source at the time, who defined CC41 as standing for Controlled Commodity – a sensible definition, considering the mark was used on more than just clothes.

Millinery and espionage

(Originally blogged November 7, 2008)

Rose Valois brown wool felt hat with feather and wood ornament trims, c. 1940

While I was researching my book ‘Forties Fashion: From Siren Suits to the New Look’, I ran across an interesting tidbit but I couldn’t find the right place to fit it into my text. Last night I watched Charlotte Gray, a film about a fictional Scottish woman who volunteers for the SOE (Special Operations Executive) during World War II. I was reminded of the tidbit I didn’t use in the book, so here it is…

The British clothing coupon scheme and the Make Do and Mend promotion came from the office of Hugh Dalton, Minister of Economic Warfare. But it was also Hugh Dalton’s idea to create the Special Operations Executive. Inspired by groups like Sinn Fein in Ireland, this organization was to help the French continue to fight under the German occupation as well as General Petain’s Vichy government. Independent of the War Office, the SOE was created to aid the French underground and undertake acts ranging from the dissemination of propaganda to sabotage and assassinations. It was by this organization that the fictitious Charlotte Gray was recruited, however, there were real women in the organization.

In April 1942, Winston Churchill gave approval for the SOE to send women into Europe. Women were already involved in the SOE as coders, wireless operators, and conterfeiters of identity papers but in the streets of France women spies were less conspicuous than men and could carry parcels without suspicion. Thirty-nine women were sent into France by the SOE including Vera Leigh.

Born in 1903, Vera Leigh was abandoned as a baby but adopted by an American father and English mother. After training with the Parisian milliner Caroline Reboux she went to work as a designer at the newly founded Parisian millinery Rose Valois in 1927.

When France was invaded by the German Army in 1940, Vera joined the French Resistance. She helped Allied servicemen get out of France until 1942 when she too left France. Recruited by the SOE, Vera was given the codename ‘Simone’ and flown to Tours in May 1943. She travelled to Paris where she worked as a courier but was captured while meeting another agent at a cafe in the Place des Ternes on October 30, 1943. The following May she was transported with seven other captured female SOE agents to Germany and was executed at Natzweiler on July 6, 1944.

Forties Fashion – From Siren Suits to the New Look

(Originally blogged October 29, 2008)

Cover of English language edition

Forgive the blatant self-promotion with this post as I herald the release date of my latest book. I have always found the Second World War a fascinating topic but our connection to that period of history dissipates as that generation passes away. Although I came from a family who were too old or too young for military service, their wartime stories never bored me. An aunt who had married a Norwegian ship captain was caught by the unexpected Nazi invasion of Norway and ended up living most of the war in a ski cabin while her husband worked for the underground. A great aunt, who had worked as a nurse during the Great War, was living in Honolulu when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred; she volunteered her services to help the injured sailors. My father, who was a teenager at the time, worked in the kitchens of a prisoner of war camp for German soldiers who were labouring as lumberjacks in Northern Ontario for the duration.

Cover of French language edition

My calling is fashion history, so rather than write a general book about World War II, my interest is in uncovering the story of fashion during the war. What I felt was lacking was a book that showed how civilian fashions varied because of wartime restrictions in designs and materials. The war experience differed according to who and where you were – women in Paris, London, Berlin, and New York were dressing in different ways because of how the war was affecting them and which materials they were limited to using.

The last chapter of the book is devoted to the postwar reconstruction of the fashion industry and how the New Look myth was born. I was never a fan of the New Look gospel. Don’t get me wrong, I greatly admire Christian Dior’s work, but his 1947 silhouette was not the earth shattering revelation as is often reported.

The book uses original garments, period fashion illustrations, and accounts from those who were there to bring to life the varied experiences of fashion in a time of crisis. I hope you enjoy the book and make it a Christmas gift to all your friends!

Some nice reviews: