People In Costume: 1930s and 1940s, by Jennifer Ruby,
In the hands of a capable illustrator and a skilled writer, fashion can tell a story. It is not always the sort of story that one enjoys reading but it certainly adds a worthwhile context to one’s historical investigations. As someone who wonders about the possible effect that health and economics could have on the fashion of our contemporary age, it is worthwhile and interesting at times to ponder what it is that fashion says about us, and to note what led the author to draw in such a way as to appear to be judging the fashions of the time from more contemporary standards (given the generally boyish characteristics of the women being drawn) and what led her to think about fashion in a way that seems to invite social commentary. As this book is part of a much lengthier series, there are at least some threads that carry on between one volume and another. If this is not an amazing book it is certainly an interesting book and the sort of work that would be valuable for someone who was trying to do costuming for the period in the UK, which is where this book focuses on.
This book, as it states in its title, looks at the costumes and fashion of the 1930’s and 1940’s in England. The book is divided between the 1930’s life in the English countryside and 1940’s city life in London. The first part discusses what would be worn at a polo match as well as evening wear and tennis wear for upper class people. There is a look at menswear and lingerie, again for the upper classes, and the author discusses the influence of Golden Age era Hollywood on the fashions of the time for those who were able to and inclined to afford it. After that the section ends with a look at home dressmaking for those who were less fashionable and elite as well as a look at the simple and plain fashion of evacuee children. The second part of the book then contains a look at the practical clothing of the early-to-mid 1940’s, with a focus on utility styles that were rationed for women and with rather square cuts as well as non-utility styles and women in uniform. There is a look at men in uniform, and a look at how people dressed at dances. After this there is a discussion of what people looked like in the queue line and how people made do who were worse off, as some people have always had or chosen to make do. Finally, the book ends with the new look that followed World War II when fashion choices became less restrictive as well as hats, children’s clothes, accessories, and an index and glossary.