1940s Fashion - back to 'Civvie' Street

costume detail

Demob Suits


When the War ended men leaving the armed forces were issued with new clothes to ease their progression back into civilian life. As part of demobilisation, these 'demob suits' came in a variety of different sizes, colours and packages. If the full suit, including waistcoat and other items such as shoes and hat, were purchased, the customer had bought the 'Full Monty'; a term derived from the owner of the Burtons clothing store, Montague Burton, the main stockist for Demob suits. In reality choices and sizes were limited. Suits were only produced in several sizes which often meant they were ill fitting, and colour and style was determined by the location of the demob centre. For some men this was their first ever suit. For others aspirations of walking out a fashionable man on "Civvie Street" were not always fulfilled!

Christian Dior and New Look

Woollen grey dress with pencil line skirt and wide collar, c. 1950=55
In February 1947, fashion designer Christian Dior showcased his new spring collection in Paris. After years of wartime austerity and continued shortages people wanted something more glamorous, feminine and graceful. Dior's spring collection featured narrow shoulders, a round bust, small waist, padded hips and a full long skirt reaching far below the knee for a long pencil skirt. The style was soon dubbed by fashion journalist as 'New Look' although in many ways it was highly reminiscent of the mid 19th century dress silhouette. The New Look inspired a range of feelings from awe to strong resentment. It was considered inappropriate and irresponsible by the Board of Trade in London and some fashion designers agreed that the new skirt length made no economic sense and was unpatriotic.

A ridiculous extravagance?


The British Housewife's League and the Women's League of Health and Beauty joined the protests denouncing the fashion as ridiculous extravagance. Some people saw the New Look as anti-feminist, requiring women to constrict their figures, making it hard for women to work and turning the clock back to the era of a 'caged bird attitude'. Such an attitude was irrelevant to the majority of working class women in the late 1940s. New Look was warmly welcomed in Paris and was featured in American Vogue October 1947. Despite protests the spring collection was a huge success and worn by fashionable figures such as Rita Hayworth, Margot Fonteyn, Princess Margaret and the Duchess of Windsor.