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Moment 15: Law of Austerity

WWII marked an era of sartorial austerity when the enactment of Law 85 restricted the use of silk, cotton, nylon and wool and regulated business practices.

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The Andrews Sisters 1941

The Andrews Sisters, 1941.

Photo By GLLES PETARD/GETTY IMAGES

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD 100 issue 11/01/2010

World War II ushered in an era of sartorial austerity in Europe and the U.S. In Washington, the enactment of Law 85 by the War Production Board, a subsidiary of the Department of Defense, restricted the use of silk, cotton, nylon and wool. On April 8, 1942, WWD ran “Fashions for Victory,” a piece that noted the law’s implementation and called on designers and private citizens to follow its rules. These restricted designers and manufacturers not only in terms of fabric choice, for instance, swapping rayon for silk, but in other aspects of business, such as mandating economical approaches “in the use of samples,” and “packing by increasing the number of units per package.” Designers were also required to “standardize sizes, length, widths, and the like” to improve durability of clothes. As for wartime aesthetics, though the military silhouette had a boyish vibe, an important underpinning development was sparked by the war: Underwire bras—produced with an economical mix of rayon, nylon, wire and elastic—hit the market.