Book Review: Everyday Fashions Of The Forties By JoAnne Olian

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When I first picked up sewing as a hobby, it was almost an accident. I’d been on the lookout for an activity that would help me to channel the relative chaos of my life and had already cycled through a pretty impressive number of potential outlets – drawing and photography among them. I’d never had any previous inclination to take up sewing. In fact, my only encounter with a sewing machine when I was very young had left me terrified and certain that I would never touch one again. When I eventually decided to give sewing a go, it wasn’t due to a desire to overcome this long-established fear or a real passion for the idea of making my own clothes. Rather, it was a love of history – and vintage fashion, in particular – that first sparked my interest in getting reacquainted with the sewing machine.

I had always had a fascination with vintage styles. I’d taken up swing dancing while at university as an excuse to dress myself as authentically as possible. At the time, however, it never occurred to me that I might have greater success finding the outfits I was looking for were I to make them myself. Instead, I spent countless hours trawling eBay and a number of other sites for any authentic or replication 1920s-40s dresses and accessories. I didn’t have a whole lot of luck and, eventually, my passion for the jitterbug died out. But the fascination with vintage styles never disappeared.

Although my sewing skills have developed substantially over the past couple of years and I therefore depart every so often from sewing exclusively vintage-looking garments, I’m still constantly looking to bring sewing and vintage style together. When I’m not sewing vintage, I’m typically researching it. And my growing library has played a key part in delivering me great inspiration when it comes to my sewing.

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Everyday Fashions of the Forties edited by JoAnne Olian is one of my favourite sources of vintage fashion inspiration. Alongside Vintage Details: A Fashion Sourcebook (which I’ve previously reviewed), it is my go-to resource when I’m searching for that spark of creative instinct in designing or planning a make. The book contains a truly wonderful collection of advertisements used by Sears during the 1940s – ranging from women’s wear, to men’s wear and children’s wear. It is a truly thorough accounting of the styles that dominated the period.

The book opens with a detailed and incredibly interesting introduction, contextualising the whole collection with information on fashion in 1940s America. The manner in which the war impacted fashion choices is especially interesting:

“In spite of war-imposed shortages and hardships, and ‘sorry, not available’, stamped with increasing frequency over items in Sears wartime catalogs, the smiles of the clean-cut American women modeling in its pages never faltered. Wearing cotton stockings or leg makeup and rationed leather shoes, they took Sears’s advice and saved their treasured service-weight rayon stockings for ‘furlough dates’, conserving gasoline by walking in comfortable low heels or wedgies. They wore slacks for comfort and warmth even when pregnant.”

However, you truly come to this book not for the introduction (however interesting it may be) but rather for the amazing advertisements. The whole collection is an incredible historical snapshot. I mean just look at the hats:

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As with the hats pictured, the collection of advertisements gives a great amount of insight into 1940s accessories – as well as clothes. We get to see beautiful shoes, pins, and belts, in all of their authentic glory. There’s even an amazing ad for ‘leg make-up’ designed to offer “that silk stocking glamour”! I mean you really can’t more authentic in terms of understanding the 1940s war-time style environment than that!

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The layout of the book is impressively. Although obviously the ads are presented in black and white, they are all incredibly visually clear. You’ll also notice that the year of the ad’s publication is in brackets at the top of the page, meaning that you can track the advertisements and the styles they present with a mind to the social and historical context!

I can’t recommend this book highly enough to those with a real interest in 1940s fashion. Whether you are looking for personal style inspiration or simply a wonderful historical snapshot, you really can’t do better do better than this amazing collection.


Everyday Fashions of the Forties edited by JoAnn Olian is available in both the US and UK. You can find it on Amazon UK here and Amazon US here.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Everyday Fashions Of The Forties By JoAnne Olian

    • sewforvictory says:

      It’s such an amazing book (and actually really reasonably priced compared to many of these sorts of books on the market)! It definitely helps get a clearer idea of what everyday outfits actually looked like in the 1940s – I think we tend to get a pretty glamourised version of this, since much of it comes from films. I’m really happy the post was able to give you a good look inside!! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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