Margaret Mitchell begins the initial statement of one of the world’s best selling novels with, “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it…” If Scarlett, with her pure green eyes, black lashes, dark hair and ivory skin was not beautiful, then it is hard not to imagine that she must have been at the very least quite attractive and attracting. Scarlett’s looks reflect those of Mitchell herself. The novel begins with Scarlett, at her family’s plantation, Tara, on the front porch, gossiping with two twin beaux of hers, the tall red headed Tarletons.
Scarlett was bred to be a lady and to catch a husband. Wealthy Southern women during the mid 1800s were expected to be ladies and businesswomen. As soon as their coming of age, at about 15 or 16, they could be wed and running plantations of 100 persons or more including husband, children, slaves and personal staff.
Though, on the day of the start of a Georgian summer, the sixteen year old Scarlett is thinking less about the ins and outs of plantation life as she is about Ashley Wilkes, (the man, women of the novel seem to have a crush on though, as a reader, I simply find him annoying). Ashley is tall, with large grey dove like eyes and blond hair. He sports the rare affiliation among Southern aristocrats: a Harvard education. Ashley; with his books, poetry and dreams. The most likeable quality about Ashley is his admitted imperviousness toward reality. He sees the world around him, and neither likes nor dislikes the people in it. He simply prefers the beauty of his music and his books and after doing a once about gaze toward life, shrugs then returns to his most natural element; a world of dreams. Reality just isn’t his thing.
Scarlett and Ashley have nothing in common other than they are exact opposites. Scarlett can never understand Ashley’s wisdom nor his poetry. Though, he seems to understand her perfectly well. Which is why he decides not to marry her. Scarlett is not the type to have affairs, at least she never does throughout the entire 1023 page novel, but she does attract attention wherever she goes. And Ashley needs the quiet comfort of someone who he knows would be all about him, the constancy within a wife, who he can depend on as a woman to him, though he lacks manly capabilities, in a man’s world. This woman of his chosen suit is also his cousin, Melanie Hamilton.
Melanie with her large brown eyes, small bust and small hipped figure, resembles a Calvin Klein waif of a beauty. She never fully develops her figure and for women at the time this is no more of a dilemma for child bearing than for small hipped women today. It simply makes it harder to carry and birth a child when a woman's hips are too small. And not only harder, but more medically dangerous. Despite her physical setbacks, Melanie does understand Ashley in a way Scarlett never could. Melanie can share with Ashley and support him and his perspective of the world, in the manner of no other woman.
Though, she dreams of Ashley, Scarlett, could literally have any beaux in the county. In the next three counties for that matter. Scarlett’s overall attitude toward men is predatory, calculating and expansive. She sports a post corset, 17-inch waist, a developed bust and the curves to match. Wherever Scarlett went, so did the men.
Scarlett is not one to trouble herself with thoughts toward books. Libraries depress her. She enjoys people, the country and open air. It is hard not to fall in love with Scarlett by the end of the first page. For Scarlett is neither a man nor a woman. She is Scarlett. She is herself. It is likely the state of Scarlett’s universal appeal that makes Gone With the Wind one of the most widely read novels of all time.
From her French aristocrat mother, she inherits her penchant for math. For adding up numbers quietly and favorably. From her Irish father, Scarlett inherits her spirit, including her love for land.
When her mother, Ellen Robillard, prize daughter of an elite Savannah family, tall, of beauty and graceful, agreed to marry Gerald O’Hara, the plucky self made Irish man 28 years her senior and a head shorter, Gerald simply could not believe his luck.
“That was the year when Gerald O’Hara…came into her life-the year too, when youth and her black eyed cousin, Phillipe Robillard, went out of it. For when Phillipe, with his snapping eyes and his wild ways, left Savannah forever, he took with him all the glow that was in Ellen’s heart and left for the bandy legged Irish man who married her, only a gentle shell. But that was enough for Gerald, overwhelmed at his unbelievable luck in actually marrying her. And if anything was gone from her, he never missed it.”
Their love affair is one of marked humor and infinite sadness. Ellen found it to be a man’s world and she listened to Gerald drone on about politics, raised her daughters with care, fed and clothed an entire plantation, smelled of lemon verbena sachet; and was the perfect martyr in every way. She never really loved her husband, yet it never mattered that she didn’t. Her dying words were for “Phileep! Phileep!” But God, did Gerald love her.
For when the Civil War came and Ellen, always caring for others, was unable to pull through Gerald quite simply lost his mind. “He would never be any different and now Scarlett realized the truth and accepted it without emotion-that until he died Gerald would always be waiting for Ellen, always listening for her. He was in some dim borderline country where time was standing still and Ellen was always in the next room. The main spring of his existence was taken away when she died and with it had gone his bounding assurance, his impudence and his rest-less vitality. Ellen was the audience before which the blustering drama of Gerald O’Hara had been played. Now the curtain had been rung down forever, the footlights dimmed and the audience suddenly vanished, while the stunned old actor remained on his empty stage, waiting for his cues.”
And the moral of this heartrending love story? Do not ever actually need anybody. For to need is to run the risk of one becoming a daft wandering fool. Scarlett inherits from her mother a certain quality- she utilizes chimeras, muses for her love, while caring less about those who are actually around her.
Scarlett, is the opposite of the sad little match girl, and is made for survival in every manner. She is born into a loving family and has a small waist, large hips, full breasts, never catches ill easily, recovers from births quickly and has never once actually needed anyone in her whole life. When she needs a husband Scarlett marries one. She never once actually needs the husband, himself.
Her first husband is Charles Hamilton, Melanie’s brother, who she marries out of spite, since Ashley is marrying Melanie. Charles does love Scarlett, though, she does not seem to care that he does. He proposes to her while at a Twelve Oaks barbecue on the eve of the Civil War, and when he does, he gives her the most pure and noble look from his brown soft eyes, that Scarlett ever has or ever will receive from a man. Though, Scarlett does not realize this. She merely equates his ethereal gaze to that of a dying calf, and a swift calculation plays in her head. Then that is it. She thinks nothing more about it.
Scarlett’s first husband gives her Wade, named after a general as was popular in those days. She cannot believe she is a mother and has no particular natural motherly instincts, though she provides for Wade as is necessary. She is also no more than 17 years old and still thinks very much like a teenager. Charles dies shortly into the war, and Scarlett becomes a bewildered widow. She moves to Atlanta, to join her Aunt Pitty and Melanie, for a change of scene. She stays in Atlanta until the war comes to her.
Melanie is pregnant, and gives birth while Atlanta is besieged and burnt down by Yankees. The birth is hell, Scarlett is drenched in sweat, Prissy, their house slave is of no help, and the only doctors in town are caring for the hundreds of dying men. The birth nearly kills Melanie but doesn’t. Scarlett, with the help of one of her beau, Rhett Butler, gets Melanie, Prissy, Wade, the new baby and herself out of Atlanta and to Tara all in one piece somehow.
Once at Tara, Scarlett becomes the protector, the overseer, of her lost father, her two ill sisters, the recovering Melanie, and the children; with the help of the house slaves, including Mammy and others. (It’s odd to me, that the beloved Mammy never seems to want a husband or children of her own. I also find it comical, that when the time comes for picking cotton, everyone argues about who has to do it, because even the house slaves are horrified at the idea of doing field hand work). Yet, Scarlett troops along. She does the books and finds food somehow. It’s actually amazing any of them lived at all considering the food shortages and from what is described, they could not have been living on more than 500 calories a day each during the darkest parts of the war. But all of them survive, in one way or another. And the house also lives in constant fear of Yankees returning to steal what they have not taken already. Wade is certain that Yankees are coming for him, and Scarlett does not have the time or inclination to calm his child like fears.
She tries to prostitute herself to Rhett to pay the taxes on Tara, but when that doesn’t work, she marries Frank Kennedy, a beau of her sister, Suellen. Rhett claimed his assets were frozen, but it was probably more that he simply loved her too much. Scarlett, moves to Atlanta and takes lumber mills from her husband’s control to expand their profits immensely. Frank is stunned that his pretty little wife, can do math so much more quickly and accurately than he can. He is even more stunned by her incentive to do business. Scarlett is prone to rages when she does not have her way and there is no one in Atlanta to cross her path on that count. She does business with Yankees, drives a carriage by herself, until Rhett gives up watching her and drives her about town himself. In short: she acts like a man nearly to the point of outcast. The pretty little bell of the ball, is now doing what it takes to make it through, regardless of gender based propriety. And the whole town talks about it.
Frank Kennedy is killed defending her honor after she is molested during one of her carriage rides by herself. Rhett protects the rest of the men, by claiming they were all drunk at the local whore house at the time of the shooting. For at the time, all white shootings were investigated by Yankee officials.
Melanie remains Scarlett’s best friend throughout. For really Melanie knows that Ashley is useless and she must be married to Scarlett in order to survive and provide for Beau, her child. Scarlett gives Ashley a job at the mills, but he blunders it and the Wilkes household is always skimping by. But Melanie does pay Scarlett back. She does not have the physical strength but she does have the connections. For Scarlett just does not think politically or abstractly. She is a calculation machine. Melanie tends to think in terms of people, sex and ability. She weighs the merits of humanity with the same efficiency as Scarlett plays cash machine. Melanie is as political as Scarlett is financial. The two make a fine pair.
And when Scarlett is caught in the arms of Ashley Wilkes (nothing actually happened…but it was enough to scandalize the town), it is Melanie who defends her and prevents Scarlett from being more of an outsider to the Southern Confederate community, than she already is. For if Scarlett is entirely disgraced then the mills might lose too much money and how would Melanie then provide for her family?
Scarlett wears the crown of King Rat and she is too busy to feel its weight. When her third husband, Rhett, walks out the door on her with the famous line, “My dear, I don’t give a damn,” it is a lie. For Rhett very much still did give a damn. It was truly Scarlett, for all her beaux, babies and money, not once in her life did Scarlett O’Hara ever truly give a good god damn. (Perhaps for the love of her mother, but that was it.) She would not be Scarlett if she did. And in her heart of hearts it is hard for one to believe Melanie ever gave a damn either. They were both little women, who were born into a certain world, and upon a certain way of life. Both needed to survive and that they did.
Melanie’s legacy is carried on in Beau, and for Scarlett, her true legacy, lies in Wade, her child by the man, Charles, who she so coldly related to a dying calf. Her other surviving child is Ella, by Frank Kennedy. But somehow, it is of doubt Scarlett will ever realize what she has in Wade, just as she will never realize what she had in that soft, pure gentle brown eyed look that boy gave her that day at the Twelve Oaks barbecue. And the worst-best part of it all is that it will never really matter that Scarlett will never know. For Scarlett did more than know. She survived.
By Sarah Bahl
“Liberia, a West African country of 3 million people, was founded in 1847 by freed American slaves. Their descendants formed an elite class, which dominated indigenous ethnic groups for more than a century. Rising tensions finally erupted into civil war in 1989. From then on, Liberians suffered a prolonged period of violence. At times, fighting was congregated to the countryside. Other times, conflict raged through the capital, Monrovia. By 2002, over 200,000 people had died. One out of three people had been displaced. There was no end in sight. Then, ordinary women did the unimaginable.”
The Liberian Civil War began on Christmas Eve 1989. Charles Taylor began in full earnestness, his bloody ascent to absolute political and financial power over Liberia. Taylor utilized whatever means necessary to formulate his path to a most vile form of power imaginable. Taylor had The Small Boys Unit, consisting of youths from the ages of nine to fifteen, commissioned as child soldiers. They were fed drugs and given weapons. The war to, “Reconstruct the minds of the people,” went on for years. Leymah Gbowee, a Social Worker, states, “Liberia had been at war so long that my children had been hungry and afraid their entire lives.”
The war was blamed on many factors including ethnic tensions, resources and wealth. But Gbowee states, “There is nothing in my mind that should make people do what they did to the children of Liberia.” Gbowee, had at one moment, to tell her three year old son that she had no food, no donut, to give him. Her son replied, that he hoped for a piece of donut all the same. This was after Gbowee, while five months pregnant, traveled with her three-year-old son and two-year-old daughter under a rain of bullets to her parents’ house.
The next series of scenes are of a boy, holding a skeleton in his hands and dancing with a group of other boys. The skeleton is of a human skull. A boy with his arm cut off looks ahead, his eyes accepting and full of fear. Another boy holds a gun to his head, the gun sounds, while a group of adolescents stand around. One of them smiles.
Charles Taylor, in a filmed interview says, “We had an opportunity, starting from 0 to reconstruct the minds of our people.” None of the soldiers seem to be over 17. Incredibly disturbing that their faces are those of frightened lost children, and at the same time, they brandish huge weapons. According to headlines, Taylor terrorized Liberia into electing him, in 1997. “We lived in fear,” Gbowee states. She prays for the killings, the shootings, and the hunger to stop. Gbowee says, “I had a dream and it was like a crazy dream, that someone was actually telling me,” to gather the women of the village in order to pray for peace.
The following scene occurs at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Monrovia, June 2002. Gbowee is a speaker for a congregation. She states, “We are tired…” and from the fear and exhaustion is born the Christian Women Peace Initiative; out of mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts. From the ordinary women of the village was born a great organization.
Asatu Bah Kenneth, Assistant Director of Liberian National Police attended the service as the only Muslim in the Church. “We’re all serving the same God,” Kenneth states. She promises to move the movement forward with the Muslim women. “I wanted it to be an initiative that was going to continue,” Kenneth adds. The message the co-joined womens’ forces took on was, truly a question with an obvious answer: “Can the bullet pick and choose? Does the bullet know Christian from Muslim?”
In opposition to Taylor is the mens’ movement, LURD, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy. “Taylor does not listen to any peace, any negotiations. That is why we are in the bush,” says National Chairman Conneh. The Warlords of the opposing council commission male child soldiers. “The Warlords would just give these boys guns and send them off. They just told them to take whatever they wanted along the way,” Gbowee states. The countryside is terrorized.
Janet Bryant Johnson, Journalist, says, “These boys would go to your home and they would rape you in front of your children, in front of your husband, and they just do anything because, they had guns.” The Warlords are said to come for absolute power in opposition to Taylor and by March 2003, LURD controls most of the countryside. Taylor is Christian and LURD is Muslim. Refugees pour into Monrovia, in overwhelming flocks with their possessions piled on their heads. People in the camps live in absolute poverty. Complete, entire and abysmal poverty.
The womens’ group came to the camp to overview the conditions. There were tears, as there seemed no hope in terms of positive outlet for the Liberians. Tales of rape and horror by soldiers abound among the camp’s occupants. (United Nations Resolution 1325, adopted in 2000, notes that, ‘civilians, particularly women and children, account for the vast majority of those adversely affected by armed conflict, including as refugees and internally displaced persons, and increasingly are targeted by combatants and armed elements’…In 2008, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1820, characterizing sexual violence as a tool of war and demanding its immediate cessation.) Discussion Guide, Teachers College, Columbia University.
One woman was told by soldiers; to sing, to dance, and to clap, while her husband’s head was slowly sawed off and her 12-year-old daughter was raped. The woman survived but she kept singing and clapping the same tune she sang and clapped for the soldiers that day. Her daughter became pregnant from the rape.
Many women showed unusual resiliency despite the atrocities. “These woman had seen the worst of the wars, but they still had that vibrance for life.” Hope baptized the women into their movement for peace. Taylor gives a sermon regarding his mission in life and God’s protection. But his statements do not click together, and ultimately his speech makes no sense. Gbowee: “Taylor could pray the devil out of hell, and we said if this man is so religious, we need to get to that thing, that he holds firmly to.”
The women pressurized the pastors to place influence on the bishops, so it would travel to the leaders. The women of the mosques were to place insistence for peace on their imams, who would pressurize the Warlords, in turn. Both womens’ groups spoke for an end to the violence with their religious leaders.
Still, the war was closing in and only ever increasing in violent velocity. “We needed to do something more forceful, more dramatic. We decided to have a protest,” Gbowee states. The women utilized Christian radio to get their message for peace across. The Christian women seek inspiration from The Bible, particularly Ester, who wore ashes and a sackcloth. Ester says, “I mean it.” The Liberian women then put on plain white clothes and tied their hair, to symbolize the goal for peace. Thousands of women congregated to the fish market to pray for peace. For the first time in Liberian history, Muslim and Christian women joined forces. They held a banner with the slogan, “The Women of Liberia Want Peace Now.”
Over 2,500 women lined up with the placards for peace. President Taylor’s convert slows, as it goes by on the road, but does not stop and the women are left unharmed. The woman sang for peace. And danced for peace. Still, neither Taylor nor the rebels would come to the peace table. The women then presented a position statement to the government of Liberia. The women demanded peace. They were not appealing. They continue to protest wearing white.
Finally Taylor agreed to the peace talks. The talks are strained, as with Taylor it is known he could be smiling at you and the next moment order the recipient of his gaze to be killed. Peace talks occur in Ghana while Monrovia is engulfed in war. Everyone is trapped inside, away from the gunfire, without proper food supplies. Still, the women continue to sing, “Liberia is my home.” Though, the peace talks turned into discussions of how to divvy out the power, rather than how to employ peace. The missiles rain down as the women still sing and pray.
Some of the women went to Ghana and held the men inside with their protests. One of the warlords came to the door to exit and was pushed back by the women. The women wanted peace. Finally, it is agreed at the discussions for Taylor to be exiled to Liberia and for a UN peacekeeping force to enter Monrovia. A transitional government is established. On August 4, 2003, International Peacekeeping forces enter Liberia. Taylor leaves for exile, saying; “God willing, I will be back.”
The women come back from Ghana celebrating. One woman was asked how she managed and dressed in white, she replied: “With this T-shirt, I am powerful.” The violence is hard to forgive. Liberia becomes the first country in Africa with an elected female president. After 2 ½ years the womens’ peace campaign comes to a successful end.
By Sarah Bahl.
Farewell, My Queen (Les adieux a la reine) directed by Benoît Jacquot; provides a uniquely intimate portrait regarding the ending climax of King Louis XVI's reign. The intimacy is due to the perceptions of the story being told from the perspective, not of the reigning nobility, but from that of a top end servant girl, who works and lives among the most powerful members of court-life at Versailles Palace (about 14 miles from Paris).
The film begins with a very realistic opening scene of Sidonie Laborde, on July 14th 1789. Sidonie, is the servant who drowsily and slowly wakes within a sun filled simple room, wearing loose fitted white night clothes and scratching mosquito bites as flies buzz around her. It is easy to feel the heat of the day in the room and one wonders how the nobility manage wearing so many layers of clothes during the summer. I find Sidonie's daytime work outfit to be beautiful and intricate. Her hair is simply placed on top of her head uncovered and she wears no makeup.
Despite Sidonie's natural beauty, I realize what she wears is nothing compared to the detail and marked sophistication of Queen Marie Antoinette's unusually stunning garb. The Queen's eyebrows are light and when at court she wears full make-up. Within her private chambers, she does not.
There are details within the film, that reveal the lack of hygiene behind the daily lives of those in court, despite all the finery. For instance; Sidonie's arms are covered in welts from bites and she wears the same dress everyday, except for one. How much the smell could have matched with the look is of question.It appears Sidonie only has three outfits. One, her nightdress which might be the same as what she wears under her day dress. Then there is a formal dress of her own she wears toward the end of the film. Though, the hygiene efforts do speak of the general standards throughout Europe at the time, it still causes one to wonder: if this is the standard for the fairly well off Sidonie, how much are the multitude of persons within France suffering on a daily basis?
The servants seem to have enough to eat but no table manners. Sidonie, despite her well read proficiency toward life, has no idea how to eat from a fork, nor what to do with her elbows. It is a reminder of how, despite her education and natural intelligence, she is a servant. Kept to a certain place. Sidonie is awoken by a chiming clock, a rare treat for a servant girl to have in her possession. Sidonie is given the task of reading to the Queen. The Queen's attentions flit from one task to another. From plays to fashion designs, to rosewater ointment for Sidonie's welts.
The Queen is married to the King, but they are never seen directly together until the King leaves Versailles. Why he is separated from his wife and children during such dangerous times for the family is not explained.
It is not made known the Queen has children until toward the end of the film. It is a film very much about adult needs, desires, and games. The Queen makes her appetites readily known and she is familiar with both genders on the subject. Her true love appears to be for a high ranking noble woman and this love is known both to the King and the whole court. Marie Antoinette and the King see each other for one very dry, awkward parting farewell kiss with the children present.
Sidonie holds true love for the Queen in her heart, until she realizes, she is just a pawn, in a brutal game of survival among falling powers. The Queen gets what she wants for the most part, and she plays very aptly with Sidonie's lonely emotions, in order to cull her into submission. Sidonie is also outnumbered both by individual powers and circumstance. There is really no outlet for an independent voice of her own within the confines of court life on the eve of the French Revolution. The most human factor in the film, is another one of the Queen's personal attendants, who implores Sidonie not to do what the Queen is about to ask her.
By Sarah Bahl
Séraphine (directed by Martin Provost), recently screened at the French Embassy is a movie about the triumph of human character over circumstance. The story begins with a woman hunched over, collecting mud and water from a pond. She wears a blue shawl. Her body is dowdy, and her dress shapeless. She hums to herself and looks about her with adorable, inquisitive blue-grey eyes. She likes to sit in a tree and smell the air with the breeze blowing her forever unkept hair about.
This is Séraphine, a servant for patrons in a fairly small town at the dawn of World War I in France. She manages, despite the plethora of errands she runs during the day, to paint. And paint she does. By creating mixtures out of nature and some bought supplies. Some stolen, as well. However she needs to paint, she does. She sings to herself as she paints, much to the non-entertainment of the dwellers one floor below her. She is lovable, weird, as awkward as she is natural, and very, very much herself.
One of the tenants, Wilhelm Uhde, is renting a flat from Séraphine’s mistress. Uhde is a frontrunner in the art world and a well noted critic. He takes a liking to Séraphine and she to him. She lets him know she paints and the word of Séraphine’s exploits travels to her mistress; who of course, demands to see Séraphine’s work, only so she can mock it and tell Séraphine to give up.
The mistress’s son, stands up for Séraphine’s work, and keeps his mother from throwing it away altogether. The piece is laying to the side on the wall in the dining room, when it is noticed by Uhde during a dinner. He demands to know who the painter is and the mistress reluctantly has to admit that it is Séraphine.
Uhde becomes Séraphine’s patron and protector. He has to encourage her to sell her work and she seems reluctant because she is afraid of losing her place. Of breaking with the traditions within her own life of servitude. But Uhde convinces her and she agrees to exhibit and sell her work.
It is a “pure” relationship as Uhde informs Séraphine that he will never marry a woman in his life. Uhde has to leave France as the War progresses but comes across her work at a local show many years after the War has ended. The two strike up a relationship once more and Séraphine’s art sells as part of what is known as the naïve genre.
She continues to paint, but her relationship with Uhde is strained due to her spending habits. She spends more than is coming in and on the oddest things. Such as a wedding dress, when there is no actual wedding.
Séraphine’s eccentricities descend into a sad outright madness. She dons her wedding dress and by herself in bare feet, walks through the town knocking on doors and leaving empty silvered candleholders on the doorsteps. At the top of the town stairs are local authorities, waiting to take Séraphine away, in a van. She seems to know why they are there and submits without any confrontation. She just gets into the van, barefoot and in her beautiful dress. The cinematography throughout the film is breathtakingly clear, as if to reflect the purity of Séraphine’s soul and intentions.
Uhde attempts to visit Séraphine, but she is too far gone. He makes her more comfortable, by buying her a place in a home where she can be alone. And the final scene is of Séraphine, sitting down on a chair in the middle of a field by herself under a large, comforting tree.
Séraphine had the courage to tell a story of a world that begins and ends within herself. She became known as Séraphine of Senlis. It is still not known exactly how her paintings were made. They are of fruits and trees, as if in a child’s dream.
By Sarah Bahl
The image is from madamepickwickartblog.com
by Xin Wen
Recently the death of Bin Laden brought my thoughts back to WWII. Though lasting for over ten years, the war on terrorism has not caused as much trouble as WWII did for ordinary people in America. Even if you include the ‘taking-off your shoes’ inconvenience happening at every American airport, the trouble nowadays can not compare with that of seventy* years ago. For countries that were involved in the war, since all the goods and materials had to be used preferentially by frontline people, there were severe shortages in home front. As a result, rationing system was established in both Britain and America. People were giving coupons to buy daily necessaries. According to Lauren Olds’ Constructing the Past:
‘First the British and later the American governments passed bills limiting fabric usage and rationing clothing items. In 1941, each British adult received 66 clothing coupons, but this number quickly dropped to 48. In 1945, each person received only 36 coupons.’ If you think you can buy 48 pieces of new clothes with 48 coupons, then you are completely mistaken: because ‘a woman’s tweed suit alone cost 18 coupons, half of the yearly ration.’
In 1942, the War Production Board in America set several rules concerning textile and clothing: such as-- ‘jackets could not have more than two pockets; an evening dress could not be made of wool cloth; or people can barely add any attachments on a dress.’ The impact of these regulations on fashion was dramatic: for example, the two-piece bathing suit for women came into being because U.S. government said the fabric used in women’s swimwear had to be reduced.
Faced with shortages, designers and consumers accommodated their aesthetic tastes to tough circumstances. On the designer’s side, (in Lauren Olds’s words): ‘because rubber was necessary for the war effort, designers promoted styles that did not require girdles.’ On consumers’ side: since nylon stockings were unavailable at the market, ladies painted their legs to pretend they were wearing stockings—some even used black eye pencil to draw “seams”. Governments also tried very hard to persuade civilians to make full use of their current wardrobes. A booklet called <800 Ways to Save and Serve or How to Beat the High Cost of Wartime living> contained many handy tips: such as buy more cotton clothes since cotton is cheaper and hard to wear out; or buy fabrics that are tightly woven.
During the WWII, austerity was the key word. Women clothes during war time were indeed simple and practical, after all Rosie the Riveter can not wear feminine gowns to work. However, new designs emerged during war time. According to the research of Lauren Olds, ‘keyhole neckline’ as a new design first appeared in 1941. Apart from this, ‘the variety of ladies hats during the war is also evident…there are hats with wide brims, small caps that rest on the back of the head, and many other unique, fanciful designs.’
In 1945, the war ended. However the haze hovering fashion world did not disappear until the year 1947—when Christian Dior introduced his ‘New Look’. With plenty of fabrics and cloth, women rebuilt their elegant images with long gloves, wasp-waisted silhouette, full-length skirts and high heels. The skirts alone used as much fabric as 10 or even 15 wartime skirts, some using as much as 30 yards of fabric! (Lauren Olds.) Within ten years, rationing, coupons and scarce nylon stockings seemed forgotten by the same generation. Some people said the drabness and uniformity of womens’ clothes during wartime manifested the patriotism of women. However, comparing with the actual sacrifices female soldiers made during WWII, obsolete or stale clothes were only pieces of cake.
Dior----New Look, 1947