Thursday, July 30, 2009

This Day in History: 7.30.1942

1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a bill creating a women's auxiliary agency in the Navy known as Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, or WAVES.

The crisis of World War II called women out of the home and into the work, volunteer, and military service in greater numbers than ever before. The influence of the war and the greater acceptance of women into military service had a widespread influence on the fashions of the day.

One branch of military service that was reinstated for women was the WAVES.

"Recruiting had to be undertaken (or at least managed, as the number of interested women was vast), training establishments set up, an administrative structure put in place and uniforms designed. The latter effort produced a classic design that still has many elements in use nearly six decades later. Difficulties were overcome with energy and indispensable good humor, and within a year 27,000 women wore the WAVES uniform."

A wide variety of recruitment posters were designed that depicted the WAVES as patriotic, feminine, and modest.

Some women had never ventured away from their hometowns and longed for the excitement of travel, jobs and new friends. Others joined to escape unfulfilling, low-paying jobs, the isolation of an "empty nest" or the routine of full-time housework.

"While traditionally female secretarial and clerical jobs took an expected large portion, thousands of WAVES performed previously atypical duties in the aviation community, Judge Advocate General Corps, medical professions, communications, intelligence, science and technology. The wartime Navy's demand for them was intense as it struggled to defeat Hitler and Mussolini in Europe and the Japanese in the Pacific. At the end of the conflict, there were well over 8,000 female officers and some ten times that many enlisted WAVES, about 2 ½ percent of the Navy's total strength. In some places WAVES constituted a majority of the uniformed Naval personnel. And many remained in uniform to help get the Navy into, and through, the post-war era."

Reading the biographies of these pioneering women is truly fascinating.

The increased patriotism and rationing of fabrics and supplies lent a military flavor to civilian fashions of the time marked by a highly tailored look, broad padded shoulders, belted waists and large pockets. Pencil skirts came to the knee and were not so tight as to restrict movement for this active generation of women. The overall look was austere and it was considered unpatriotic in a time of shortages and rationing to wear clothing and accessories that were too ostentatious. There was a resurgence in popularity of the sailor look as well.

Quotes from the Naval Historical Center.

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