The development of American fashion has been influenced largely by European fashion and in turn, has shaped the latter as well as other cultures such as the Middle Eastern. It is interesting to note in this so-called metamorphosis of fashion, that the subjects, of course, the humans, have altered their ways of dressing to adopt to environmental and historical changes such as wars. In this paper, I will examine how American fashion has changed over the course of time and why it became a trendsetter in the world of fashion, rivaling the notorious vogue called Paris.
It is known that there has been a time when women were supposed to work solely at home, doing the household chores, taking care of the children and making sure that the father, the breadwinner of the family, was well-taken care of. Part of the woman’s role in doing her tasks for the husband is looking beautiful. She is supposed to do the “easy” or “light” jobs in the house, be dainty and be visually appealing to the husband who comes home from “hard” work. This culture thus imposed that the woman should dress well, which meant wearing long skirts and “flowery”, girly stuffs. However, World War 1 changed all this, bringing along with it another war that ultimately changed the way women dress today. During WW1, European women who were forced to take on the roles of men as their husbands and sons went to battle (Mason, 2011). Consequently, they had to use clothes that allowed them to work more comfortably. This perhaps gave a window to the women wherein they viewed themselves as able and competent workers who should be given the same rights as the men and so the fight for their right of suffrage begun, catapulting it to many changes, affecting many cultures around the world, including the American culture.
After WW1, women who felt the liberating effects of “manly” clothes, sought for such comfort and coupled with their struggle for equal rights, preferred such types of fashion. Dresses became shorter and women even bobbed their hairs (Kamal, 2015). However, that was not the end of all the battles being fought that time. World War II broke and the women went back to their working clothes. In the United States, then President Roosevelt avoided the war until after Pearl Harbor was bombed that he was forced to join in. As a result, American women were engaged in the works the men have left at home. Hollywood supported this by showing models and actresses with working clothes which did not diminish their femininity but has proven to make them look even better with the shorter skirts and dresses as well as the female versions of the military hats adorned with ribbons (Mason). At this time, silk, which was preferably used by women because of its smoothness and lightness became expensive as Japan thwarted exporting its goods. Fortunately, the nylon fabric was discovered. This paved way to an all-American fashion during and after the war because it became a well-received alternative to silk, having similar qualities.
After the war, fashion became a statement changing from the women’s support to their men to their delight over the finality of the war and their newfound freedom. They expressed such statement with the use of metals in their clothes such as buttons and zippers as well as the lavish use of fabric in pleats and ruffles which were banned during the war (Mason). The excitement over fashion was revived and the American culture was once again made more colorful with its various modern creations. Along with this, European fashion grew with a similar development because with the rationing system used during the war, the United States had to ask European producers to augment their clothes which were made according to a standard design (Mason). From then on, European and American fashion has helped to shape in each other’s culture. With the growth of globalization nowadays, this influence has grown and extended to other countries as well.
For instance, modern fashion has influenced Middle Eastern culture that many of this male-dominated civilization has evolved to donning Western clothing as well as embracing foreign philosophies and ideologies. The Middle East is largely known as Muslim professing countries, using the familiar hijab and long, thick dresses. However, similar to the situations of European countries and the United States during the war, Middle Eastern women were also forced to work in place of their male counterparts who had to enlist for the war (Lewis, 1996). However, with their strict religion, the change in their fashion was more due to the influence of western culture so that Lewis equates Middle Eastern modernization to Westernization.
It is evident that while the wars did a great part in affecting the fashion of the Western and Middle Eastern countries, the realization of the women that they can actually have equal rights as their male counterparts, was a great influence to their fashion. Fashion may not be recognized by most as a statement of one’s beliefs and ideologies but as it was seen in the events that shaped the American, European and even Middle Eastern way of dressing, it can be a strong means of expressing one’s stance.
- Kamal, Hana. 2015, American Fashion Through the Decades. InterExchange. Retrieved from https://digitalscholarship.unlv.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2391&context=thesesdissertations
- Lewis, Bernard. 1996. Middle East, Westernized Despite Itself. The Middle East Quarterly. Retrieved from http://www.meforum.org/290/the-middle-east-westernized-despite-itself
- Mason, Mehgann. 2011. The Impact of World War II on Women’s Fashion in the United States and Britain. (Dissertation). University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Retrieved from https://digitalscholarship.unlv.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2391&context=thesesdissertations